Bulbul Hooda, Head of Brand and CMO, Vella Bioscience Brings Beauty Experience to a New Category

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Here’s an age-old marketing truth: sex sells. But marketing sex, or sexual wellness for that matter, can be a tough subject to bear. Within today’s oversaturated marketplace, marketers are fighting not just for attention on shelves and landing pages, but also for customers’ eyeballs. But when you’re marketing a taboo product, such as a sexual wellness cream, those challenges are magnified and building product awareness becomes your number one goal.

“This is a category that people don’t even know is something that they’re missing. There is no need-gap. You’re filling as much as building an aspiration. There is a product here that’s going to improve your sexual function. And this is something it’s a first of its kind, it’s a breakthrough. 

That’s Bulbul Hooda, Head of Brand and CMO for Vella Bioscience, a CBD-infused pleasure serum designed to act as ‘Viagra’ for women. On this episode of Marketing Trends, Hooda joined me for a candid conversation on the challenges she faces as a marketer marketing a product that consumers might want and need but could be nervous to approach. She discussed the need to normalize products such as pleasure serums, how Vella Bio goes about product awareness, and to succeed in a competitive eCommerce environment. Enjoy this episode.

Main Takeaways:

  • Marketing a category that people don’t know exists: When you have an entirely new product category, you have to get the word out about what the product is before you can convince people that they need it. Doing unbranded campaigns in a market like this can go a long way to educating your prospective customers.  
  • Marketing to Gen Z: As the next generation, Gen Z, has more spending power, their unique interests, and purchasing priorities are starting to affect markets and the products on offer. Gen Z is tending to use wellness categories, self-elevation, and self-improvement. 
  • Test a variety of channels before launch: Test your systems to ensure everything is correctly in place before launch. Run a silent campaign to see if things get rejected. Test whether email might be a stronger channel and shift resources away from social or put effort into retail play. This mixing and matching are better the more and you also need to be analyzing that.
  • Power of Agency Partnerships: The debate about whether or not to use a marketing agency or to keep everything in-house has pros and cons any way you cut it. The benefits of hiring an agency include tapping into their resources both in terms of manpower, time, expertise in a specific field, and relationships they already have in the market.

Key Quotes:

“This is a category that people don’t even know is something that they’re missing. There is no need-gap. You’re filling as much as building an aspiration. There is a product here that’s going to improve your sexual function. t’s a breakthrough. To create that I needed to have those skillsets in my arsenal. Believing in my intuition, obsessively knowing my consumer. The third bit is building a brand together, piece by piece and that is something I truly learned at Unilever.” 

“Two things were happening because of the pandemic. Beauty was declining in color cosmetics. North America is a color cosmetics market. Second, what we are seeing is Gen Z becoming a critical purchasing group. Younger kids have more money, they’re buying stuff, and they are leaning towards wellness categories, self-elevation improvement.” 

“[Social advertising issues] were definitely a small setback, learning every time we put an ad out, our website would get blocked. [Then] you [have to] wait out seven days. Thankfully we were testing this two months before launch. We use social both for organic community, but also for advertising. We collect email signups through our ads on social media. So we now know that we are only talking to people who are genuinely interested and therefore email marketing has, I can’t say that it has completely replaced social media advertising, but it has arrested a lot of that loss for us. It’s 30% of our revenue channel. Beyond that, we use paid search. Ads on Google, both display shopping and search words, and then what we use social media for is advertising through influencers. Influencer strategy combined with email strategy has helped us navigate the restrictions on Facebook ad blocks.”

“I do come from and believe in agency partnerships. My entire marketing team is external. We’ve got somebody who looks after just PR and influencer strategy. There is another agency that does social media, community management, and yet another that’ll do the website and all the updates. Digital marketing, that’s a separate leg. The fourth one is a creative agency. While I truly believe in grooming and leading the team, and I’ve done that, there was just that need in the startup structure to get to market as quickly. Now we are starting to look through the structure and build the internal team. I deeply value all the four agency partnerships that I have.” 

“[Because certain] payment processors do not allow CBD products what you need is an additional app [for that] and we use Pinwheel to navigate that. The second [issue] is in paid search. If the product has CBD, the ads cannot be targeted to people under 18 years of age, which for us was not a problem, given the age of consent is 18. There is a third: shipping the product internationally. In a lot of countries, you cannot ship CBD products, Canada even. So we will need to set up a manufacturing plant in Canada.” 

“Everything is first set out as KPIs and then measured for paid advertising. For Google, we set out a return on advertising, spend ROS, KPIs at the beginning of every month. That takes into account competitors’ performances, the landscape itself if there are any advertising regulations that have changed so on and so forth. And at the end of every month, we will evaluate where are we versus our goal? Exactly for that email marketing, we sent out, what are we hoping to achieve? It should give me a lift of 23%- 24%.” 


Bulbul Hooda is brand creator and chief marketing officer at Vella Bioscience. She has nearly 15 years of experience building & growing award-winning brands by devising their strategic positioning and creative vision along with commercial strategies for long-term revenue growth with a strong commitment to product innovation. Over the course of her global career at powerhouses like L’Oreal, Unilever, and Shiseido, Bulbul has proven success in assessing and meeting consumer needs, engaging target demographics, and directing powerful multi-channel campaigns.

Hooda holds an undergraduate degree from Delhi University, along with an MBA from MICA, a top business school in India, and a master’s degree in Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing & Management from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

Hooda is a fierce advocate of diversity and inclusion. As a woman of color, raised in a military family that fostered in her a strong sense of self & individuality, she understands that the privilege of her upbringing requires her to support and uplift other women’s voices and experiences, particularly in the beauty and wellness industry.

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Episode 258