3 Ways to Give your Brand More Meaning: Lessons from Elaine Welteroth

How Teen Vogue’s former editor-in-chief transformed its brand by finding its purpose

Editor’s Note: Every month, we sit down with industry experts who have broken the mold with new ideas and deliver their inspiration in a video series called SmartSocial Innovators. For our second installment, we sat down with the legendary Elaine Welteroth.

Elaine Welteroth became the youngest-ever editor-in-chief at Teen Vogue at just twenty-nine, and before that, she was Condé Nast’s first-ever black beauty director. She’s known for championing the reinvention of Teen Vogue’s mission—to educate, empower and enlighten the next generation of thought leaders. Here are three key ways Elaine helped build the Teen Vogue brand that all marketers can apply to their work:

Listen to your audience

Elaine recognized Teen Vogue had an opportunity to reinvent how they engaged with their audience. No other media publication was starting authentic conversations with their readers, so her team leveraged the power of social listening to study topics their audience cared about. Using those insights, the team deepened their coverage to feature substantial matters, like cultural, political, and societal issues—ultimately bolstering the magazine’s readership. By tuning into this untapped community and listening to the needs of their audience, Elaine transformed the Teen Vogue publication into a dynamic movement, advancing important conversations and societal progress among readers.

Partner with a purpose

In this age, consumers are not buying into brands they don’t believe in. Gone are the days of working with safe celebrities who don’t have much to say. Now is the time for brands to partner with people that share their values, stand for something on the record, and have a respected point-of-view. Elaine’s advice to brands: “It’s crucial to partner with celebrities, influencers, personalities, and young people who have the freedom of speech to communicate their point-of-view in a way that you find respectable and smart.”

In this age, consumers are not buying into brands they don’t believe in.


Lean into what makes you unique

Rather than feeling intimidated by the legacy of the Teen Vogue brand, Elaine leaned into the opportunity to bring something completely new to the table and innovate. She trusted her point-of-view and set her team on their journey to discover their purpose, activate the voices of the next generation, and make a profound impact on the lives of their readers.

No matter what role you play in your organization, take Elaine’s tips and apply them to your role. Listen to the conversations your audience is having, work with those who will say the things you can’t, and empower your team to innovate and do something that’s never been done before.

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Caitlin Cavanaugh is the Brand Marketing Manager for Spredfast, where she spends her time building the world’s most #SmartSocial brand through the power of customer voice. When she’s not chasing a revolutionary success story, you can find her embarking on her next hunting or fishing expedition or baking up a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies.