RELENTLESSLY AUTHENTIC: THE BIG POWER OF SMALL BRANDS
We recently had the absolute pleasure to hear directly from the brains behind two great independent British beauty brands. The first, the Konjac Sponge Co, for cleansing products going great guns in beauty tools/accessories and White Hot Hair for silver/grey hair blazing a trail in prestige hair care.
Michele Riley, founder of Konjac, was talking at a CEW UK Mentoring Event (a great précis of her tips for growing a beauty start-up can be found here on Cosmetics Business) and Jayne Mayled, founder of White Hot Hair, came to do a 'lunch and learn' at the DG+P studio (powered by rice balls galore from our neighbours Arancini Brothers).
The two companies are, of course, very different. The Konjac Sponge Co has wider ambitions reflected in the extension of its product range and type. Riley’s business partner, Anil Aggarwal, has a distinguished background in business sales that explains its direct distribution strategy into 62 countries in just four years.
White Hot Hair, by contrast, remains absolutely focused on its core range and proposition (even though the product is applicable to blondes or dyed pastel hair, for example). And, as a result of Mayled’s long career in the beauty industry focusing on creative communications, White Hot Hair isn’t just about delivering fantastic hair care products, it also carries along with it a wider social agenda against ageism and sexism (which is how we ended up featuring them in our last Open Eye – Older!)
But in some ways, the companies are incredibly similar. The most obvious being: they are both independent, self-financing brands, with a mature entrepreneurial founder who spotted a gap in the beauty market and went after it with gusto. They both did the trade shows and consumer shows necessary to meet their customers and get feedback in person while establishing their brands. Both have found bloggers and social media to be their main method of spreading the word rather than ATL or traditional media.
Most importantly, it’s their continuing close control over the way their product is created, marketed and serviced that enables them to be relentlessly authentic in a way that is just impossible for the big beauty brands to be. It’s Michele or Jayne who personally respond to people on Twitter and Facebook. It’s Michele or Jayne who personally nurture their stakeholder relationships – from suppliers, distributors through to customers and opinion formers like bloggers and journalists.
And even though their companies have grown, their employees are like family (Michele hired Faye her first employee because she had admired her grit working in her local Costa Coffee!). They both have the ability and flexibility to respond quickly to market and customer needs because they don’t have to go through long chains of command to get sign off to do anything. If the packaging needs to flex for a particular buyer, they’ll make it happen, and quickly. They can go into collaborations with people at short notice, and quickly. White Hot Hair were approached by a customer in a part of America where the product isn’t stocked, but advised them to go via feelunique instead of direct, as it would be cheaper for them – despite the impact on margin.
As Jayne put it: “our authenticity was born out of necessity but it’s incredibly liberating”.
In a beauty market which is increasingly saturated (more of that to come later), the vim and honest vigour of independent brands, with a belief in their product’s efficacy and role to play in the world, makes them stand out. As David, they can be confident and unapologetic in a way that is impossible for the Goliaths of the FMCG world. But the ultimate lesson for brands of any size is: be yourself regardless and don't pretend to be something you're not. Because the consumer can always tell and, luckily, there is place for all.