The Harbinger Group

Marketing That Makes Change: Leveraging Platforms to Lift New Voices

Eileen Ziesemer’s over 15 years of experience in public relations has shown her the power of strategic communication to transform brands. As the former VP of PR at Ulta Beauty, she leveraged the beauty retailer’s platform to drive impact beyond profit. 

When 1 in 3 Black beauty enthusiasts declared feeling unsupported by the broader industry, Ziesemer saw an opportunity for Ulta to advocate for this marginalized community. 

“My role allowed me to redefine our external messaging as well as internal priorities,” Ziesemer explained. “While selling lipstick pays salaries, marketing can also spark important conversations and real change.” 

She spearheaded Project MUSE – an initiative uplifting diverse voices in beauty by directing Ulta’s messaging and significant resources toward inclusion. Ulta identified 100 Black voices across industries who were making an impact but lacking mainstream, visibility and support.  This aligned with Ulta’s larger transition “from a transactional brand into an emotional and purposeful brand.” 

Eileen’s leadership of initiatives like Project MUSE demonstrates how all marketers have a role to play in guiding our brands towards more conscious messaging that breaks barriers.

We can translate her story into tips for developing our own strategies. Continue reading to see how our personal and professional platforms, in ways big and small, can connect brands to a bigger purpose. 

 

Start with Insights

Eileen stressed the importance of listening to consumers and identifying gaps in order to drive true purpose-led marketing. In Ulta’s case, a glaring insight was that ⅓ of their Black customer base felt underserved and excluded by the broader beauty industry. Everything needs to start with the consumer lens – where are groups being marginalized or ignored? Quantitative data is revealing, but also gathering qualitative feedback is valuable. Look introspective at your own brand as well – is your messaging and imagery inclusive? Who is being left out of the conversation? Leaning into these insights creates opportunities for meaningful conversations and action. 

 

Lean Into Your Brand Purpose

Ulta was able to turn these consumer insights into action by leaning into their larger brand purpose – to “use the power of beauty to bring to life possibilities.” Initiatives like MUSE directly aligned with this higher vision to inspire inclusion, celebrate self-expression, and better reflect the diversity of beauty enthusiasts. Eileen noted that especially amidst the cultural reckonings of 2020, DE&I issues took on heightened importance for conscious brands like Ulta. Tie your cause campaigns clearly back to higher deals – how does this program help us manifest our purpose? 

 

Take Action 

Incorporating DE&I into one-off marketing moments lacks credibility and impact. Consumers expect brands to back up bold positioning with sustained commitment and investment. With initiatives like MUSE already happening quietly across the company, Ulta consolidated these efforts under a unifying campaign to demonstrate leadership. They paired the external messaging with an internal review to systematically address DE&I at all levels. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good – identify quick wins to generate momentum while executing longer-term roadmaps. Action speaks louder than words. 

 

Look Beyond 

“It directed real financial resources, training and visibility towards talented voices that may not have otherwise broken through the clutter,” explains Eileen Ziesemer regarding the MUSE campaign. 

The most powerful purpose-led marketing looks outward, not inward. MUSE was not about pushing ULTA products – it was about pulling other voices into the spotlight. This sends an authentic signal to customers and employees about values in action. Look at your brand’s unique strengths, expansive distribution for greater accessibility, and research to inform. Help disadvantaged groups overcome obstacles that you may take for granted.  

 

Commit to the long-term

Progress takes time, but remain agile to dig deeper into spaces you can uniquely impact. Embed social consciousness across ongoing brand initiatives. Set measurable KPIs across both brand lift metrics as well as consumer sentiment and behavioral shifts in your target audience. 

The proof is in the impact – initiatives like MUSE not only boosted ULTA’s brand values, but they helped bring undiscovered stories into mainstream conversation. Now that is moving the needle through purpose. 

 

Eileen’s story represents the immense potential of brands boldly using their influence to drive awareness. Her experience bringing ambitious and first-of-their-kind campaigns like Project MUSE to life at ULTA offers fellow marketers inspiration and tactical advice for embedding social consciousness into brand messaging.

We encourage you to listen to Eileen’s insights in her own words on the Can You Hear Me? podcast, episode 61.