The Rise Of: Go-To Skincare 

With a peachy keen ambition for skincare simplicity, this Australian beauty brand is redefining what it looks like to create a beauty empire.

Go-To Skincare. How do I even begin this one? They’re one of Australia’s most adored brands, have a corporate buy back story that broke everyone’s LinkedIn feeds, and make the sheet mask you’ll always pick up on a trip to Mecca. To date, this has been the most incredibly fascinating brand I’ve ever read about. From their tactical launch to their expansion efforts, their brand positioning and marketing strategies, I found myself in the kind of rabbit hole you don’t want to get out of. 

If this reads like a love letter, it’s because it is. 

When it comes to Australian beauty brands, there are few that compare to the infinitely cheeky, spectacularly witty, wonderfully simplistic, Go-To Skincare. They’re the brand you consider buying as much for your skin as you do for your bathroom vanity. They’re also the brand every beauty founder approaches me with as their copy inspo. “I want my brand voice to be like Go-To” are nine words I hear at least once a week.  

With the distinctive peach branding you’d recognise anywhere and the quick-witted copy the brand has become famous for, Go-To has created a new category in skincare for brands that are as beautiful as they are effective. 

A woman who knows beauty, Zoë Foster Blake created Go-To to fill a void that she was uniquely qualified to fill. With ten years of trialling and reviewing thousands of beauty products, with notable career highlights as beauty editor at Cosmopolitan and then beauty director at Harpers Bazar, Zoë knew the gap in the market she wanted to fill. That gap? Simplicity. “After being a beauty editor for 10 years and testing hundreds of products, I’m well aware of just how many lotions and potions exist, and how complicated it can all be.” She wanted to “create a range that cut through all that noise, and was instantly easy to figure out and use” she tells Elle. 

In 2014 Go-To Skincare launched their direct to consumer offering, leveraging the beauty obsessed, online following Zoë had amassed over her ten year career as a beauty editor. When reflecting on her launch strategy, she told Forbes: “I started beauty blogging in 2006, and launched the first beauty website in Australia in 2008, so I’d amassed a lovely following of very loyal, beauty-focused digital natives. It made sense to me then, to launch an online-only skin care brand. It allowed us to softly enter the market, and enjoy the process, rather than feel the pressure of overheads and sales from the get-go.” 

Fast forward to today for just a moment. Go-To makes some of Mecca’s top selling products. Founder of Mecca, Jo Horgan told the Australian Financial Review “Zoë Foster Blake made beauty simple and compelling. It made perfect sense to me that she would have her own products. Zoë’s winning formula is that she has a great knowledge of beauty, she can communicate it clearly and she understands what the customer wants. I just thought, it’s about time. And I don’t think that often.”

All of this is to say: Go-To was an instant success. The couldn’t-keep-stock-available-for-sale, kind of success. The kind that makes Sephora approach you with a promise to stock you in 1000 US stores. All at once, Go-To wasn’t strictly an Aussie D2C brand anymore. They were a widely praised, fast-growing company with an international presence, stocked in the biggest beauty retailer in the world.  

The Sephora deal presented Go-To with the opportunity to expand by leveraging Sephora’s customer base; providing accessibility to a US audience. Whilst it was a huge milestone, the deal was a lot of firsts for the brand. Too many, maybe. It saw Go-To taking on retail for the first time. Stocked in Sephora both online and in stores meant the brand transitioned from a strict e-commerce proposition, to one that was available on real life shelves, for a real life sensory experience before purchase. The second particularly important one: Go-To went international. 

Reflecting on the Sephora expansion, Zoë told the AFR: “We didn’t have the team, we didn’t have the infrastructure, we didn’t have the packaging, we had nobody on the ground,” adding that her ego drove the decision. “I didn’t have a lot of trusted advisers at that point. Nobody pushed back and said: ‘Do you think that’s appropriate? We haven’t even done retail in Australia yet.” Within 12 months, Go-To retreated from the US.  

Let’s fast forward a little to 2021. Go-To turned over a pretty $37 million in revenue with earnings of just over $11 million. Zoë started to look for a partner who could advise Go-To on how to grow. Introducing BWX. The company was founded in 2013, listed on the ASX in 2015 and by 2018 it had acquired a bunch of Australian beauty and wellness brands. In 2019, Dave Fenlon was put in charge of the company and in 2021, purchased a controlling 50.1% stake of Go-To for $89 million. A little while later, for a variety of reasons that my self inflicted, impending word count limit impedes me from going into, BWX went broke. 

In a deal that’s still spoken about on my LinkedIn newsfeed and will no doubt be unforgettable in Australian corporate history, Zoë Foster Blake reclaimed ownership of Go-To for $21.8 million. Incase you’re in need of some quick maths, that’s about one fifth of the majority stake sale amount sold to BWX around two years earlier. 

Needless to say, Zoë is a bit of an icon. She’s also a beacon of inspiration to countless female brand owners, with her greatest professional triumph that is Go-To Skincare serving more than just glass skin, but lessons on brand positioning and messaging strategy too. 

What we can learn from the Rise of Go-To Skincare:

  1. Understanding your customer is everything 

Not all beauty founders will have the know-how that comes with 10 years of being a beauty editor and director at some of the biggest magazines in the world, but all founders do have the responsibility of fanatically obsessing over who their customer really is. Zoë knew who her customer was because it was the same person she was writing to or about for so many years. Her customer was her follower, her reader, her friend, herself. It was everybody who knew the overwhelm that is the world of infinite skincare options. She understood her customer’s pain points and values because they were also her own. For a founder to create a brand that actually matters, they first need to spend the time to understand who their customer really is. Where they really shop. How they really feel. What they really love. What they really hate. And then use all of this to create a brand that leaves Jo Horgan herself thinking “it’s about time”. 

2. Find your voice and use it 

A brand tone of voice you can’t get enough of from a writer you love to read. Go-To’s design is beautiful, sure. But I think we can all agree that the special something that makes their branding is the distinctive voice that hero’s every element of their marketing. From the self explanatory product names like ‘ Exfoliating Swipeys’ and ‘Properly Clean’ that mimic the brand’s dedication to simple, straightforward and effective skincare, to the conversational tone that carries through the entirely of Go-To’s communications, we only ever see no BS, easy to understand, witty, copywriting in a consistent brand tone of voice we feel like we can can’t help but trust.  Call me biased, but I think it’s Go-To’s voice that is the singular most impressive element of their brand (apart from Zoë , obviously.)

3. Maintain your brand integrity

In an industry that’s infamous for chasing trends and fads, Go-To has never steered away from who they are, who they serve and why they exist. The consistency in their positioning strategies and brand communications is so unique in that it’s never really changed in 10 years. They’ve remained steadfast in their commitment to authenticity, reliability and clarity of purpose. By staying true to who they are and who they serve, Go-To has cultivated a loyal following of customers who trust the brand implicitly. In over a decade, authenticity and brand integrity have never been sacrificed in the pursuit of short term gains, securing Go-To as a long term player in the beauty world.

To put it simply, the story of Go-To is pretty unbelievable. Adored by customers, marketers and aspiring beauty founders alike, it’s a brand that’s truly in a league of its own. The brand (and Zoë’s success) is a textbook example of what happens with you combine passion, expertise and dedication.

My multidisciplinary approach to illustrious brand positioning and messaging strategy is designed for brands who want to be more than just another option. From developing your unique selling proposition, to creating your brand’s tone of voice and then executing it across all mediums, my full service offering combines research, strategy and creative instinct to define your brand’s point of excellence and convey it in a memorable way that demands to be felt. 

Want to have the Go-To effect? Let’s chat. 

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