SPHERE Magazine

If you've ever wondered what a powerhouse woman does, how she lives her life, and most importantly, what makes her thrive, wonder no more! Aila Morin is that powerhouse. Aila stumbled into marketing completely unintentionally but is nevertheless, leaving her mark.

The girl from Canada with a sociology degree was able to move up the ladder as she's held positions of VP, director, advisor, and is currently in her Chief Marketing Officer era with MERIT Beauty — a wildly successful, clean beauty brand that has surpassed $100 million in net sales! Prior to MERIT, Aila was the Director of Brand Marketing at Mejuri. We had the opportunity to sit down with Aila and get to know her a little better. We got the chance to chat with her and have been in absolute awe ever since!

What does an average workday look like in the life of Aila Morin? Do you believe in a work-life balance?

No such thing. I try and structure my day, but usually it’s very unstructured. I start working around 6 am PST, and I try to get about 3 hours of work done before im officially online for the work day. In those 3 hours, I’ll do long term planning, budget work, and anything that takes more focus (so it can be uninterrupted). By 9 am, I’m in back to back meetings until about 4 pm. I try to end around 4 or 5 and then I sign off and make time for exercise.

I became a director when I was 23 years old and I learned a lot about being able to sustain working. What I’ve learned over the years, after having many roles in startups, is that you can’t sustain it. As I structure my day, I think about how it affects everybody else. If I’m slacking, then I’m setting the example that that’s the expectation. You also learn that if you’re going to do a business for 4-6 years, you have to learn the working balance. Scheduling my time is important which means my exercise classes are scheduled like meetings. I manage my screen time which is hard if you’re in marketing but I only allow 30 minutes per day on social media.

I love to work and that can mean I bleed into my personal time. What I’ve learned over the years, after having many roles in startups, is that you can’t sustain it.
I do this by:
• scheduling my time (such as exercise classes)
• managing screen time (such as scrolling through Instagram after work)
• pre-book any health appointments (non-negotiable)

I always tell the team that you should be working super hard then turn your brain off afterwards, which means being completely present when clocked in and being able to step away when needed.

You were the first marketing hire at Mejuri and now the CMO at Merit, what were you doing then versus now? How different were the roles? You’ve also worked for failed startups prior to Merit. Were there any takeaways from those past failures?

I started at Mejuri when I was 23 and had previous experience as a director of marketing. What was different is I’d applied the failed startup tactics. I started in 2016, a year after Facebook ads launched, and created a huge influencer marketing program. The story was me learning each part of digital marketing and mastering it, then having another team member come in and scale it. Which is not dissimilar to Merit. At Merit, I was still sitting across the border in 2020 due to covid. My marketing roles have never been “normal” because it’s so important to me to tell a story with my work. With us, it’s not a linear cycle. We come up with the marketing then go into the product itself rather than produce a random product and find a trendy way to market it. Solo Shadow for instance, we knew the pieces and concept and then created the product from there.

My biggest takeaway from working for failed startups was to pay closest attention to product market fit. I worked for brands that had a great product but the market didn’t sustain it. I also worked for brands that had great market but terrible product. I think the expectation for what the business can be vs the market itself is really important.

You started managing FB ads while at Mejuri when FB ads had just launched. How did you learn how to execute ads and most importantly, how did you manage those budgets?

In the mid 2010s there were no video tutorials, and at that time, CPM and CPA were so inexpensive that the risk was very low compared to now. When it’s mainly creative content the way it was back in the day, the algorithm does it itself. I didn’t ever want to get into marketing — I thought I would go to law school and be a lawyer, so this other path just sort of happened. I studied sociology, so I don’t have an MBA, but I learned everything through work. I interviewed post bachelors for a marketing role and did an entire quantitative business analysis on their brand. I actually sent them a 40 page document as feedback on improving their social channels. As a kid I was very into storytelling and reading and that reflects in my work.

How did you get in touch with Katherine for the Merit opportunity?

When I originally spoke to her via phone, I couldn’t leave Canada because it was peak covid time. The entire Merit plan was come up with in my parents kitchen. I had packed up my place because I was planning a move prior to the lockdown so they were kind enough to lend me some space while I conceptualized some work things. With Merit, everything from the marketing to the entire storytelling aspect was different than the average, even product testing was done via DHL across the border. Katherine would send me samples and i'd get them a week later, across a country border.

We created a moodboard Instagram in October of 2020 (@mood) and had a community of 10,000 on there. This was actually separate from Merit itself, but when we did launch in December of 2021, we already had that community built up.

There is a specific audience for Merit. Where are you finding the Merit consumer?

Mejuri and Merit are both challenger brands...jewelry and beauty are both saturated markets. In 2016 it wasn’t a common premise to buy yourself investment jewelry. When I worked at the makeup counter, I noticed that everyone would come in and say “I don’t really know how to do makeup”, so similarly…we all assume that everyone knows what they’re doing, but they really don’t. For example, brands that have almost 50 brushes and 50 eyeshadow shade offerings…product market fit comes to mind, from a few questions ago. Brands weren’t taking to consumer, they were just launching what’s trending. That’s why with Merit, we keep it minimal. If you aren’t generating a feeling for the consumer and invoking emotion, your product will not be successful. The other thing I identified was the very clear delta between bridal and everyday makeup. Around 2012 there was this foundation that launched and was gorgeous but with the $82 price point, it wasn’t going to be everyday driven, but kept for special events. By focusing on everyday, it’s allowed us to have a very clear identity and that is who our audience is. People who want minimalism, something that's enough for everyday use but can be buildable for a special event.

Can you provide an example of a successful marketing campaign or initiative that helped drive significant growth or engagement for Merit Beauty?
Since the launch of Merit, what did the initial growth strategy look like? Influencer? Paid ads?

We didn’t do any paid marketing for Merit for 6 months. I have deep roots in influencer marketing and micro-influencers weren’t posting anything obviously because we hadn’t launched yet, but they were able to try the product for 3 months and give us feedback. We essentially did beta testing, but kept it private. Editors gave us the feedback that anyone can really use it and that there's a huge intergenerational usage of the product. With marketing, you have to keep promises so we wouldn’t say "it’s so simple you can’t mess it up," if you could.

What makes Merit different is we don’t necessarily have a hero product. When we were developing the brand in 2020, it was very obvious that brands with heroes were actually high risk. The idea of being able to market deep to your core is important. Brands launch something new every 4-6 months, but then never mention it again. With us, we’ve done way fewer launches…but we want those products to be the ones that people use for a decade down the line. Take our bronzing balm for example — we call it the easiest bronzer ever, and it is. That honesty is what makes the customer's experience and drives them to make repeat purchases. When we were coming up with the building blocks of Merit, we really addressed make up quality, the concept of hard to put on/take off, and psychological insights.

How big is your team at Merit and how do you manage your team? I understand that culture is important to you so how do you ensure your team is meeting goals but also not overwhelmed?

My total team right now is about 60 (across all the varying teams) and in terms of managing, I’m very honest and direct, but also work on creating a healthy environment which normally isn’t noted in the beauty industry or marketing sector. We want to hire people who are great at what they do. Being really honest about failure is important and we’re more of a growth culture, versus performance. We should always talk about it and learn from it.

You need a hybrid cross of people that help foster bonding versus competition between colleagues. Have fun and realize that at the end of the day it’s beauty, it’s not that serious, have some balance. Balance is incredibly important — enjoying your job and doing it well, but also knowing when to sign off and be yourself outside of it. You also need collaboration, kindness, excellence, and a growth and safety mindset.

Ways to connect with Aila and MERIT:

Aila’s Linkedin
MERIT Instagram
MERIT website

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