I’ve started Barba Brada together with my partner a year and a half ago. What was just an idea (and personal need) back then, quickly turned into the leading beard care brand in Portugal. Very often people ask us what was the source of our success. This is very hard to explain in a single sentence, without further engaging in an hour long conversation about marketing.
Recently, I was talking to Sean Madden at #CreativeTribes, and he asked me exactly that — how we built our tribe. Again, I had no single simple answer, tip, or trick. What followed was an hour long of reflection — which resulted in this post — so that other people can also benefit from my distilled experienced.
1. Build a great product
This should be self-evident, but as a marketing consultant, I’ve seen my share of startups with crappy ideas that don’t really solve anyone’s problems (not even their own), and then find themselves struggling with growth. Barba Brada, on the other hand, spawned from a problem that I personally had.
I can count on both hands the number of times my face felt the blade of a razor since I turned 18 (no, it’s not the legal bearded age here, it’s just the point in my life where I started having something that could be called a beard). At the age of 26, I was actually trying to let my beard grow, but I couldn’t find any quality products in the market that helped me in that tak. As a DIYer, I wondered if there was a way to make my own product. So my partner and I started doing some research, and after a few months we came up with a very basic formula for what would become our #1 selling product. After successfuly trying it out on myself for a month, we gave it to our bearded friends — and they all loved it.
I’m always striving for perfection, and I knew that in order to get people to buy this product and talk about it, it had to be near perfect. This is what the first version looked like:
It wasn’t necessarily perfect — after all this was our first entrepreneurial venture, and the first iteration of the product. We had just taught ourselves, among a myriad of things:
- how to use Illustrator in order to design the labels in a vectorial format, so we could print them at a local printshop;
- how to make flash and product photography;
- how to research suppliers;
- how to setup an e-commerce website and all that it entails;
- how to actually manufacture the product*.
It was, however, enough to drive initial conversations. And since we were bootstrapped, we could make our products on a small scale and continuously improve them. A handful of major improvements later, and this is how it looks now:
This is a product that has to be smelled and tried out, and thus, individual preferences play a big role — but that’s hard to do online. So we knew that a way to captivate prospects would require beautiful product photography, great descriptions that elicit sensations in the reader, and, of course, distribute a few samples.
*I’ve mostly talked about the visual aspect of the product, but what goes inside is, obviously, the most important. We always made it a priority to have the best ingredients possible, and ultimately, that’s what makes a great product.
2. Spread the word in your networks
The first purchases actually came in before anyone had ever tried the product, and we got them by spreading the word about the brand in our existing social networks. Those first customers loved it so much that they told their friends right away, resulting in a spurt of growth with little effort on our behalf.
Some of these friends of friends, however, were more skeptical than our friends. Since they were not as close to the brand (or us), they would take a look and ask questions, but not convert right away. Making it easy for people to try out the product then became a priority. We launched a flash sale of our Sample Pack, at nearly zero profit, but which enabled people to try the different product variations that we had. It was a massive success, and it drove dozens and dozens of new customers to love our products.
These early adopters were, of course, essential to our sustainability. And they were spreading the word organically, but still somewhat limited to their closed networks. Making this positive feedback readily available to first-time visitors was, therefore, a priority from the start.
3. Capture feedback
Customer feedback is essential when you’re starting a new venture. You want people to buy your product or try your service and not feel like they’re risking too much — after all, there is always an alternative, even if the alternative is to not buy anything. So we made use of the great YOTPO integration with Shopify, and started capturing feedback automatically as soon as a certain time had elapsed since a customer received a product.
This gave social proof to our products, resulting in even more feedback, particularly helpful for people who had never heard of us. This feedback was then shared and highlighted via Facebook, helping us to reach even more people. Above and beyond building a great product, sourcing customer feedback was our key to success.
But this means of growing sales only goes so far, so fast, particularly in a niche product category like ours, in a country that had yet to jump on the beard train. This is why, sometimes, you need a little:
4. Boost (but just a little)
Facebook Ads were a godsend. Initially we explored Google Ads, but since not a lot of people were googling products like ours, we didn’t pursue that channel. Our product is very visual, so we needed to leverage that. But instead of pushing out ads and hoping for people to buy, we gave something — and only further down the line asked for (a little) something in return.
We started by building a blog with tips on how to take care of your beard, and with educational videos. Afterwards, we boosted those posts with a little FB Ads magic. At the beginning, our segmentation options weren’t that vast (small customer database, and lifestyle/like segmentation wasn’t working optimally), so we were struggling to get to the right people, getting a lot of “hate” along the way. However, as people started visiting our blog and watching our videos, they started spreading the word, signing up for our newsletter and liking our page, without any further effort on our part. That’s the power of giving.
It was only after these initial contacts matured that we reached out and said “Hey, if you liked what we had to say, would you like to try what we have for sale?”. And guess what? People did.
Nowadays, this process is pretty much automated, but always with a personal and human touch — I love to connect with our customers, give them personal advice and listen to how their lives were changed by using our products. The important thing is that you never forget your champions — those who promote and talk about your product without being asked to and without asking for anything in return — and that you also treat new customers as potential champions. After all, they’re the reason we’re doing this.
Do you want help building your idea and creating your tribe? Let’s grab a coffee! Also, if you liked this post, click the little ❤ below to let your friends know!
Don’t forget to visit #CreativeTribes and check the great work Sean and Mufidah are doing!