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‘I want to tell a story’ – lessons from a beauty brand founder

Maria Hatzistefanis founded The Rodial Group in 1999, after a string of uninspiring jobs led her to follow her lifelong passion for beauty. She shared her business lessons at the Drapers Digital Festival. 

Starting in her home with £20,000 savings, Rodial is today – 20 years later – sold in more than 35 countries worldwide via its own stores and stockists such as Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Marks & Spencer.

Hatzistefanis’ vision has always been to create innovative products that target specific skin problems. She credits its anti-ageing snake serum for catapulting the company into “overnight success” back in 2005. In conversation with Drapers’ Kirsty McGregor, she explained some of her central business rules.

1. Sometimes you have to take risks for things to work out

In 2005, “Rodial was doing all right, but not great,” Hatzistefanis admitted.

She knew that the company had to do something different and it was at this time that it was due to launch a new anti-ageing serum. Hatzistefanis defied her team and called it “Snake Serum”, which she says was a brave move that paid off – it generated a buzz and put the group on the beauty map.

2. Use social media to create your own story

“When I launched Rodial, social media didn’t exist” Hatzistefanis recalled. “We had to rely on journalists to write about our products – which wasn’t always guaranteed – and to write about them and our story exactly as we wanted.”

Now, Hatzistefanis said, social media allows Rodial to share its story with customers directly and to create more engaging and meaningful connections as a result.

Her aim is to empower the modern woman: “I don’t want to just sell products. I want to tell a story and help empower customers in their lives in general, and in beauty.”

3. Look from your customer’s perspective

Rodial deleted its entire reel of 30,000-plus images on Instagram earlier this year.

Why? Because Hatzistefanis decided she no longer recognised the brand image and this needed to change. So she instructed the team to delete the whole thing and, with a new strategy in place, started to rebuild the Rodial account into one that she was once again “proud” of.

What she learnt from this was to “always take your business back to your customer, and look at everything from their point of view.”

“See everything from their perspective,” she advised, “and always ask yourself this: what is your customer interested in? What do they want to see and hear? What can you offer them to create an emotional bond?”

4. Move on from failures

For a brand that spends 25% of its marketing budget and time on influencers, Rodial has made a few mistakes.

Early on it decided to partner with one big influencer with millions of followings, rather than multiple micro-influencers, Hatzistefanis told Drapers. They created a discount code to track the success but made absolutely no sales.

“We had to question why the partnership failed and force ourselves to go back and remember who our customer is.

“Now we always look at whether influencers already use our products, and if they promote similar products or partner with similar brands.”

Today Hatzistefanis is confident that “if Instagram were to shut down tomorrow, I know I’ll have a strong brand,” but warns that all businesses need to analyse their own structures and find out what works for them.

5. Stay tuned to what brands are doing

Although businesses must stay true to themselves, Hatzistefanis said stepping back from your own brand and industry is  instrumental when it comes to finding inspiration and staying ahead of the curve.

“I never follow beauty brands or look to them for ideas,” she said. “To me, the beauty industry is just noise. I’m personally inspired by fashion and what those brands are doing.”

Companies should stay tuned to the world around them and what other industries are going – in terms of technology, social strategies and customer engagement – and transfer learnings to their own line of work.


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