Indie brands have been applauded for their approach to rejuvenating the cosmetics and personal care industry. In fact, they have been credited for influencing the multi-nationals, by taking risks and demonstrating best practice through their intelligent use of online channels and social media to tell a brand story and build a dedicated following of loyal consumers. Glossier, Ouai and Milk Makeup are among those that have successfully established a genuine emotional connection with their customers, driven by a connected brand strategy.
Next in our series of articles for indie brands, we investigate the importance of a connected brand strategy and how indie brands can create a cohesive identity that challenges, engages and builds loyal relationships with consumers.
American brand strategist and author Jack Trout once claimed that “no one will follow you if you don’t know where you are going.” In today’s digital economy, creating a cohesive, connected brand strategy is key to successfully competing with legacy players and fellow start-ups, in order to gain the trust and loyalty of the discerning consumer.
By definition, a brand strategy is a formal plan that can be used by a business to characterize an image of itself in the minds of current and potential customers. It is defined by specific business goals and affects all aspects of a business. It is directly influenced by and connected to consumer needs, emotions and the environment in which it operates.
It is not a product, logo, website or name – but much more than that. It’s the intangible emotional connection that separates the exceptional from the mediocre. Creating and maintaining this – from the feeling a customer gets when using your product, liking your social media post, or doing business with you online – requires consistency and authenticity. Without it, you could potentially erode trust and reputation, which will inevitably put your business at risk.
“People don’t buy WHAT you do; they buy WHY you do it”
Advocated by Simon Sinek in the popular book Start with Why, brands must first establish their reason for being, and why any consumer should care or value your brand over the competition. This is a crucial first step for any brand looking to make their mark in the industry for the first time. And one which many celebrated indie brands have successfully taken.
To start building your brand strategy, you must first connect the why (why you are launching your brand) with the how (your values and principles) and the what (your products or services). These three elements, as outlined in Sinek’s book, are the core elements that will help you achieve authenticity – a value which is recognized and favoured by consumers.
The why is also a pivotal element of a brand’s identity – it’s the story behind your business. What is the vision, the motivation behind your brand? The authenticity that comes with a genuine back-story is key to building a connection with your audience. Take Glossier, for example. Its founder, Emily Weiss, started the brand through her ‘Into the Gloss’ blog, where she promoted freedom and confidence – qualities that are now tied to the brand’s identity almost a decade after it launched.
Apply the why, how and what to Glossier and the reasons behind the brand’s success become clear. Weiss identified there was a huge gap between what the beauty industry offered and the needs of real-life women.
How did the brand succeed? By creating an authentic voice for freedom, confidence and emotional intelligence for real-life women, and putting these women in the driving seat. And, what did it all start with? Just four products were launched in 2010, kicking off a whirlwind journey that has seen the brand hit cult-status, and become a multi-million dollar business.
What can indie brands learn from Glossier’s rise to mainstream fame? That branding and social media can, and should, play a key role in your brand strategy. In fact, recognized by Forbes Magazine in 2018, the brand’s success was credited to ‘consumers, content, conversations, co-creation and community’ – all powered by a fierce and loyal dedication to its customers, their needs and wants .
A strategy for success
Forming a comprehensive branding strategy requires indie brands to take the why, how and what and apply these to a series of key factors. For example, consistency. Once you’ve established the why – your brand’s purpose – you need to ensure that any brand messaging across any platform – from your social media, e-commerce site, to the employees engaging with your customers – are cohesive. This will help to avoid confusion, drive brand recognition and loyalty.
As a business owner, you must also assess the emotional needs and desires of your audience to create a brand and a product that connects authentically and helps build a community of loyal consumers.
Take Ouai’s #OUAIsquad for example. The haircare brand established by hairstylist to the stars, Jen Atkin, introduced a mobile-native digital experience that creates an environment much more than just an e-commerce site. Yes, consumers can purchase products via the platform, but the focus is on the products, allowing users to gain insights and advice on how to use them from Atkins herself, and rewards super fans, or members of the#OUAIsquad, with exclusive content and promotions.
Be flexible and embrace organic change
It’s important to remember that just by defining your brand and knowing what you stand for, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be flexible. Flexibility enables you to make those important adjustments that grow with you – the founder of your business – and your audience. By setting a cohesive, grounded strategy at the outset, you can ensure that this is achieved in a genuine and organic way.
Finally, never forget your competition. Be sure in your approach and what you stand for, but embrace the opportunity to learn from your competitors.
By creating a well-executed, connected brand strategy you will make it easier for your customers to make purchasing decisions about your products. And, they will have a clear understanding of your brand ethos, as well as the benefits and quality of your products.
Next in our series of articles for indie brands, we address authenticity in the digital age and how you can create a voice that is true to you and your brand.