If a Brand Launches in the Forest, Will It Make a Sound?
How not to get stuck listening to the sound of one customer clapping.
A newsletter about branding, startups, and mission-driven companies aiming to make the world a better place.
👋 Hello friends! It has been a minute — I’m excited to be back and exploring the world of brand strategy with you.
Today we’ll be discussing:
Part one of a series on how to (successfully) launch a DTC brand
A roundup of new launches from the past few weeks, including one in the metaverse
What is this, a puppy for ants?
If you were forwarded this by a friend, join DTC brand and marketing leaders by subscribing here!
⚡ For The Love of Startups
I had planned to send this newsletter in September.
Before my due date in mid-November, I wanted to release a series mapping out a tactical guide to launching a DTC brand. I reached out to founders, conducted interviews, made notes, and then Labor Day rolled around and I, well…
went into labor.
Yes, my baby took Labor Day quite literally and decided to make her appearance 2.5 months early.
Since then I’ve spent 80 days in the NICU, moved 5 times, completed a renovation, and am now, finally, settled (well, settling) into life with a healthy newborn in our apartment.
The baby in question — Mirren Petra Singer — makes up for her impatience in cuteness.
Needless to say, it was difficult to fit writing about DTC into all that chaos. It seems like during that time a lot has changed (When did DTC people all become web3 people??).
I’m excited to (finally) share the insights I gathered from the incredible founders of Crown Affair, Otherland, August, Graza, and more, who all managed to achieve that elusive ‘everywhere’ effect on launch day–and there will be more to come over the next few newsletters.
With a little help from my friends
It goes without saying that when you launch a brand the product needs to be excellent, the branding polished, and the website on point, but all that work won’t get you very far if no one shows up on launch day.
While social media, PR, and, advertising, all play important roles in a brand launch, the founders I spoke to had a secret weapon when launch day came around:
“When it came to actually launching Crown Affair, the biggest thing for me, and I say this all the time, is that people want to support what they're a part of creating.”
Dianna Cohen, founder of Crown Affair, a haircare brand rooted in daily rituals, recruited a core group of around 50 people to give feedback while she was still in the brand and product development phase, affording her invaluable pre-launch feedback and fostering brand loyalty before the brand was even fully formed.
“Letting people in on the journey and the process before you're live, whatever that means for you, it could be a group of 15 people that you're on an email thread… People like knowing how you got to where you're going so that when you actually launch there's excitement and buzz.”
This goes against the traditional advice of keeping everything under lock and key to prevent competitors from gaining insights into what you’re working on. The risk of that is far outweighed by the benefits of bringing people along for the journey.
“The world just doesn't work that way anymore. Social media has changed so much – you actually want to see things as they're happening in real-time.”
So, where do these early supporters come from?
For Dianna it was people she’d worked with, having spent her career in the consumer space, but you don’t need connections to build your early community — use your existing network.
“You have 100 people that you can email. You have 30 people you can go get coffee with — these are people in your orbit. Obviously, it really depends on your product-market fit.”
I.e. find people for whom your product is relevant.
For Nadya Okamoto, co-founder of August, a sustainable, inclusive, period care brand, that was anyone that wanted to talk about periods.
We “invested so much time in launching the community and brand before product… We had started gathering people together and engaging what we now know as our Inner Cycle community. I think that first and foremost, a huge part of it is creating the brand, and identifying and being public about what our brand was, and our values, and creating the community before product.”
It was even more crucial to August’s success that people wanted to share their launch because of the ad subject matter (I know, it’s completely ridiculous, but that’s a topic for another newsletter).
“As we launched into the world it was very community-centric. Our community is what made it possible. We launched with a launch video, our first-ever ad, which we couldn't even use as an ad because it showed menstrual blood, which was important to us as a menstruation company. But we couldn't boost it. So everything ended up being very organic and community-focused… Our goal was to get it to 50,000 views, and it got 170,000 completely organically. And so a lot of that has come then from our community members hyping it up and talking about it.”
It was no accident that so many of their community members shared on launch day. The August team was intentional about sharing specifically how members could be helpful.
As Nadya explained to me, they wanted to “give them tools where they could be a part of the launch too… give everybody a toolkit, that's tailored to the role they play in our August ecosystem. And we gave them the exact caption and creative that they might want to share.”
They also provided many opportunities for people to interact directly with the team before the launch including town halls, and zoom events both to find out what content would resonate with their community members and to share how they could be involved in the launch, telling them:
“‘We created these Instagram stickers for your stories. So if you'd like to be a part of it, please try these out.’ right, Really giving them tools and ways to do that.”
Another great way to get people excited, involved, and eager to share news of your launch?
Give them free things!
Nadya explained, “We've actually been seeding product samples for the last couple of months with different community members. And so when we were able to talk to the community and say ‘Hey, we're having a product launch,’ we're also able to say, ‘we know that quite a few of you have tried the product, and we've gotten really great reviews from you.’ And so we already had that slow movement.”
Admittedly this is time-consuming work, which can be daunting when you have supply chain delays and website bugs to attend to.
As Dianna Cohen told me, it’s worth it:
“You build community by taking time and sitting with people and educating them on the product and listening to, in our case, what their hair journey is. What they're using, what they're looking to do.”
“So that way, when you launch, whether they buy something or not, they're super stoked, they're engaged, they're sitting at lunch telling their friends. Word of mouth is still the biggest way that we've grown our business for the last two years. And it's just really important to build up before you’re live, whatever form it might take for you.”
In the next few issues, we’ll be discussing:
how one brand sold out on launch day (despite the longest Shopify outage in 4 years)
how a cookie brand used a recipe of Instagram and mystery to cook up a successful launch
tips for building up your email list, social media strategy, how and when to use PR, and so much more
🔥 For The Love of Newness
DTC coming for Dyson, with Airsign.
Model Winnie Harlow launched Cay Skin, a line of daily suncare.
“Flower power meets skincare” in the new CBD infused brand, Morning People.
The OffLimits cereal mascots are now NFTs.
Plus, a line of body wash with dissolvable packaging, just released a handy in-shower dispenser.
🧠 For the Love of Learning
This Wednesday, two experienced startup PR & Comms leaders will be building an in-depth playbook for early-stage startups – everything from when to move off an agency to how to manage as a founder on day zero without one. You can RSVP here.
🔍 For The Love of the Details
Let’s just skip past the fact that this dog is being suspended on a set of chopsticks –which is a dark path that I don’t really want to go down now that the days are finally getting sunnier.
Is this a very tiny dumpling-sized dog or a bathroom for giants? The blurry tub in the background looks like it’s on the other side of the room. I’m worried that as we walk closer, we’re going to realize that we might lose him down the drain – or worse, that it’s a tub full of noodles.
If you have any insights into what this “stylish find” is for please let me know as soon as possible because it won’t be in stock forever!
Thank you for being part of For The Love!
A few more things...
Is there a topic you think I should cover? Or a funny ad I can dissect? I’d love to hear from you! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, respond to this email, or drop it in the comments ⬇
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Written by Aja Singer, a brand and creative strategy consultant interested in all things startup, mission-driven, and community. Born in Canada. Based in Brooklyn. You can also find me on Instagram and Twitter.