Skin Deep

Jhoanna Marissa On How To Stand Out In A Sea Of Beauty Online

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Skin Deep

Jhoanna Marissa On How To Stand Out In A Sea Of Beauty Online

LA’s latest it-girl is a designer, a front-end developer, and an absolute boss.

There’s no doubt that the online beauty space is saturated, to say the least. Looking through beauty-focused social media and websites sometimes feels like being inundated with an endless scroll of highly-stylized brands and aesthetic influencers. Everyone is trying to figure out who they are, what makes them unique, and how the hell they’re going to make it memorable. In a space that often poses the threat of being forgotten, what can you do to stand out online? To answer this question, we chatted with one of the most influential figures in the ever-changing and coveted online beauty and wellness space: Jhoanna Marissa.

Not one to stray from a challenge, Jhoanna’s demanding lifestyle consists of not only designing and executing some of the most aesthetically pleasing websites you’ve ever seen, but also owning and operating her own business, Willa Creative. Keep reading for her insights on brand building, adapting to the new normal that COVID-19 has created, and of course, her beauty favorites.

TS

Tell us a little about your background: how did you get into design and web development? How did Willa Creative come about and what was it like to found your own agency?

JM

I was super passionate about the magazine and editorial industry growing up — everything beauty and fashion. My plan was to study communications, get an internship in marketing and design at a magazine, and climb the ranks, and I did. But it got tough — it was around the time magazines were struggling and the talk about digital kept surfacing. I figured out how to make WordPress sites in college, taught myself some front-end, and would do that to make extra money. Then I pitched the magazine I was at to let me design and build emails. No Mailchimp, no Klaviyo, just good old fashion HTML (I swear I’m not that old!). That was how I started diving into design and development. I started taking a few different courses online through Cal State Dominguez Hills and UCLA and from that magazine job, moved to another agency that was more experiential and event-focused. I convinced them to let me start offering digital services to clients, like slash pages for events and social engagement. Then after around 5 years working at these companies, I figured I would start my own agency offering those services. I wanted to focus on designing and developing websites for fashion-focused lifestyle brands. I needed a strong case study, so at the same time, I started my own eCommerce and editorial brand called Lily+Jasper. It was a dress and accessories line and was the first brand I ever built on Shopify (à la 2012). “Made in LA” fashion was booming at the time, and I used the brand as a creative outlet but also to showcase my style and ability. Things just took off from there. It wasn’t always easy, but it was always exciting. Fun fact: My first office was on Wilshire and La Brea, which is where the name Willa came from! Starting an agency was fun, but there were always highs and lows. There are always gut-check moments of “am I doing this right” and “what’s next” but I am proud of what we do and the culture we have built at Willa. I love owning my own company – the good, the bad and the ugly.

TS

Can you walk us through the basics of creating a thoughtful and successful e-commerce site?

JM

If you are hiring an agency, the most important thing is finding a team that you really vibe with and who gets your vision. At Willa, our core process is discovery > design > development > QA/testing. We start by really thinking through the technical aspects of the site and what it should provide for its customers, as well as what the client needs to manage the site. We also at this time think about tech stack, or what platform, language, tools, and plug-ins we should be using. Then we design for it. We design mobile first, and design all the way through to a clickable prototype to get sign off to move into development. Then development on a staging site, testing all aspects of the site, and finally launch.
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TS

How has COVID-19 affected how Willa Creative operates and how you work with clients, and how has it changed the e-commerce landscape for brands?

JM

It has helped us strengthen our internal technical workflow. Our systems need to be more buttoned up to make sure we are servicing our clients in the same way we were prior to COVID. We are also looking at our client’s measure of success in a different way. We are strategizing with them on how the communicate with their customers, how to manage customer expectations, and make sure their operations are set up in a way that can support the new normal. All our clients knew they needed to work towards focusing more on being digital-first, but COVID has given them no option but to do it now.

Each of our brands have had to look into their internal infrastructures and see how they can better automate and digitize their business. COVID has positively affected e-commerce if you look at it merely from a spending perspective. Now, the challenge is to see if brands can keep up with the demand and the new tech that will come out of COVID. I see AR/VR starting to play a larger role in online shopping sooner than most of us thought.

TS

What are the keys to a successful online presence in this new territory?

JM

Really optimizing your customer engagement and interaction funnels. Most clients focus just on sales and conversion, but the ones who were set up for most success are the ones who knew how to engage with and market to their customers. Don’t be tone deaf, manage clients’ shipping turnaround expectations, show what you stand for, and know how to engage your customers beyond just selling to them.

TS

What advice would you give to a brand that is pivoting to a digital presence during the pandemic?

JM

Be strategic and don’t make rash decisions with your company. It’s so easy to “pivot” too quickly. The number of “pivot” conversations” I have had with clients is too many to count at this point. It’s easy to move quick and test some waters, but don’t throw away everything you worked so hard to create too quickly. Make it intentional and make it scalable. On the other hand, if there was any time to pivot into something you have always dreamed doing, this is your ticket. We are all now in a moment where no one would question a pivot or shift. This is a beautiful clean slate opportunity to many of those who were looking for it.

“Find your voice and what you stand for and really own it.”

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TS

What do you think is unique in the beauty space today? What do you not see often that you would like to see?

JM

I have loved seeing the increased focus on transparency, authenticity, and inclusivity in the beauty space. I love how our clients and new brands now more than ever are asking us to hire diverse talent for their brands and thinking of wider audiences. I also love how consumers are now so much more educated and aware. I see them asking the questions that for so long were able to be masked with fancy marketing copy. We have been working with a lot of beauty brands on how we truly showcase the ingredients, the supply chain, the textures, and the benefits of the products.

TS

What is the best thing an influencer or brand can do to differentiate themselves?

JM

I like to tell new brands that you won’t know all the answers upfront, but to start by being authentic to your style and vision. Then get feedback, and be ready to be resilient around change. I see change as evolution. Don’t be a copycat and don’t always compare your brand to others. Find your voice and what you stand for and really own it.

TS

What is the number one website / e-commerce tip that you would give to a budding brand?

JM

Know that what you are building is manageable by you. Know where everything lives and how it works. Ask for a clean handoff from the teams you are working with. I also always suggest launching with your MVP (minimal viable product)  but building a foundation for scale. That’s the technical side, creatively – rich content is amazing but just make sure that you’re adding content to your site that is sized correctly for web (72dpi and exported for web) and also don’t install any and every plugin that sounds like a good idea. The more requests your site has, the slower it is – and the consumers are moving fast, so make sure you keep them on your site.

TS

How do the design principles that you work with everyday translate into your own style and beauty ethos?

JM

The work we do at Willa is clean, minimalistic and honest. Those three traits definitely carry over into my beauty routine. I want clean products that don’t over-complicate things and are made by companies who are honest about everything they sell and what they put into their products.

TS

Tell us about your own daily skincare routine. How do you keep your skin looking so good?

JM

My beauty counter and cabinet are out of control. The consistent and trusted players in my routine are: Honor MD Wild Rose Cleanser, iS Clinical Hydra-Cool Serum, Furtuna Skin Face & Eye Serum, and Barbara Sturm Face Cream + Eye Cream. I mix up which sunblock I use depending on where I’m going and how much sun I’ll be exposed to.

TS

What is the one skincare product or treatment that changed your life?

JM

100%: Microneedling and Clear + Brilliant laser treatments with Dr. Sam at FACILE.

TS

As a busy creative, what does your day-to-day getting ready routine look like? What’s your favorite quick makeup look to do?

JM

I am busy but I always make time for beauty and wellness in my life. It makes me feel my best so I have to prioritize it.  If my skin feels clear and good then I know I can pick up and go as needed and feel good. I love a good moisturizer – tinted or non-tinted depending on the day. When I want tinted, I love ILIA’s Sheer Vivid Tinted Moisturizer. Good brows help – I use Hourglass’ Arch Brow Sculpting Pencil or Bobbi Brown’s Natural Brow Shaper. I’m also into ILIA mascara, and Kosas’ lip and cheek tint

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