My professional specialty might be marketing, but my personal obsession lately has been perfect hair. And folks, as a 46-year old with fine, frizzy hair I need all the help I can get.
I’ve spent a lot of time researching and experimenting with a bajillion haircare products, tips, and tricks. I’ve settled into a routine that seems to be working for my barely-curly hair, and as I glanced in my linen cabinet the other evening I realized that after buying, returning, and giving away what felt like the entire stock of Sally’s Beauty Supply, nearly every bottle in my cabinet is the same brand.
So obviously, their marketing and sales engine worked for me.
I got to thinking about how I ended up spending enough to buy a new iPad on shampoo, curl creme, and gel and how the strategies used by my brand of choice contributed to that. A lot of what I came up with applies to marketing any business, as these ideas all focus on social selling, branding, and high-quality development.
Let’s dig in.
A Quick Primer on Marketing Versus Sales — and why that matters to business owners.
Marketing is the activity done to identify and create new leads who are ideal customers. Sales activities are those things that help move the potential customers from ‘interested’ to ‘sold’.
Or to put it another way, marketing strategy drives interest, while sales strategy drives decision-making.
Why is this important? Well, even though I now know enough about hair care chemistry to consider a second career in it, my primary interest here is in online marketing. As business owners, it’s important to understand the difference between sales and marketing activities.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen that contribute to failed launches is when focus is placed on the marketing strategy to the detriment of sales strategy. In general, marketing activities like technical implementation, designing funnels, running ad campaigns, and creating branding, copy, and graphics based on well-defined products are tasks that can be easily hired out to team. Activities that have to do with sales and product development are generally more successful when they are the primary focus of and driven by the business owner. (At least until the owner has a solid product offering in place that she knows people will buy.)
But let’s get back to the hair story.
A Case Study: Effective Marketing and Sales Strategies
If you’re a fellow wavy-haired soul who is curious about which brand won my loyalty… it’s a company called Curlsmith which sells in Ulta stores as well as via their online shop.
Based on the above distinction, everything that brings me into Ulta and got me to check out the different brands is marketing. And the elements that led me to a closet full of Curlsmith product are driven by the sales, and to some extent, product development areas.
Here’s what drew me to the brand along with thoughts on how these ideas might work to help you with your next product launch.
- Social Credibility: What worked for me: YouTube influencers.
Social credibility is one of the most effective ways to market! In this scenario, Curlsmith had to do the legwork to find the influencers, and then all it cost the company was a bit of product to reach hundreds of thousands of frizz-frustrated people! My fave YouTube curly girl has something like 400K followers. For $100 in product, that’s great reach to the EXACT audience who would be interested in Curlsmith. Of course, the bigger influencers know this and build their business on their reach, charging for reviews. While giving away product in hope of a good review isn’t always the best idea for informational products, it’s an avenue to consider. For those with product-based businesses, this should be high on your list of marketing strategies. And social influence isn’t just YouTuber reviews. Any online review or testimonial will go a long way in helping your audience decide to go with your product.
- Clarity: What worked for me: Clear, precise descriptions of the ingredients and what they would do for my hair.
Clarity in describing your product and what it does is critical to making sales! As a business owner, you will usually understand 100% your offering and process, but here’s where the time-tested time vs. money formula comes in. If you want to utilize marketing support to capitalize on your well-chosen ‘ingredients’ you will have to make a decision. For instance, you could hire a high-end copywriter familiar with your field who will be able to write super-effective, technical copy without much input from you. Or, if your budget doesn’t have the thousands typically charged by that level of marketing expertise, you could opt for a more affordable generalist or even marketing-focused VA who can help you write your copy, but will likely need a lot of input and teaching from you to get it right. You can, of course, write your own copy and for informational pieces like blog posts that’s fine, though if you need sales copy for ads or sales pages, this is typically a place where it’s good to invest in the expertise of someone who knows how to drive activity using language.
- Interactive Tools: What worked for me: A detailed quiz to help me figure out which of the Curlsmith product lines were best.
This is a great sales tool and can help bring your potential client or customer closer to a decision while weeding out those who aren’t a great fit. As with the previous point, a well-developed tool like an assessment or quiz generally is going to require a lot of your time unless your marketing support is higher-end and well versed in your modalities. If Curlsmith hired me to develop this quiz, for example, it would be very difficult for me to map out the answers and results because I do not have the background in chemistry or detailed understanding of their formulations to match specific hair requirements with specific products. It’s likely your marketing support will have similar limitations when developing this type of tool.
- Design: What worked for me: Pretty packaging (I’m a sucker for cool design!)
This is one area where not only is your expertise not really required, it might be a detriment to get too involved! Visual design is its own approach to communication and its job is to do one thing: create action. As the creator of your offering, you are probably too invested to make design decisions. A solid example of this comes from the author-world. Specific genres of books are expected to have a specific style of cover. I’ve seen many authors get bogged down in what they like or dislike. Poor decisions, like choosing an off-genre cover, will have material results on whether potential readers click the teeny thumbnail while scrolling through Amazon or browsing at Barnes and Noble. Rely on your design professional to create a visual style that will get your potential clients to move along the path from considering to making a purchase decision.
- Product Development: What worked for me: Awesome scents (I like my hair to smell good!)
I included this because it’s an interesting way to look at product development and how your marketing team can help you design your offerings. While you are the ultimate authority on what you develop to generate revenue, it’s completely OK to work with your team to decide on some of the elements of your offer. In Curlsmith’s instance, I imagine their chemists created the scents based on input from marketing teams — i.e. the light watermelon scent is appealing to women aged 20 to 65+ (information from marketing) so the chemists developed that scent in the product. Likewise, talk to your marketing support person or hire a coach/consultant level to advise you on what, specifically, is working well in the market right now so you don’t have to do all the research. Facebook Groups (see below) come in and out of vogue, but are easier to fill up than stand-alone forums. If you’re considering adding a community element to your course, your marketing support person can help you decide if it’s better to rely on Facebook or create your own group. And might remind you that if you’re focusing on 20 or 30-somethings Facebook groups will not go over well, but if you’re looking at 50-65+ women, they live for Facebook and will likely love to have a group there!
- Customer Service and Access: What worked for me: A helpful Facebook Group where company staff answer detailed questions on how to troubleshoot and use the Curlsmith products.
While the decision as to where (or if) to host a community might be specific to your offering, the real ‘meat’ of this particular strategy is specific, one-on-one customer service. Last weekend, after having already spent $100 on shampoo, mousse, and gel, I went back to Ulta and spent another $40 on a different gel and curl cream from Curlsmith specifically because that was the advice I got in the Facebook group. (Don’t judge, ok?) Creating easy avenues to answer questions can mean lucrative add-on and upsells. Another old, but true, marketing bit of wisdom is that it’s much more profitable to sell more stuff to your current customer than it is to find new customers. Create space to answer questions with a focus on quick turnaround and you’ll see more sales! Plus, this is easy to outsource to a generalist VA who can funnel the more specific, detailed question to you while taking care of the low-hanging fruit.
- Free things and discounts: What worked for me: Free samples supplied to the retail location (Ulta) so that I could try products and see if I liked before buying.
While this can be a successful strategy, it’s also worth thinking about what happens to free stuff. I have a whole basket full of free samples from Ulta and Aveda in my closet that I will never use. But you know what did work to get me to purchase more Curlsmith? When I spent my initial $100 on Curlsmith I got a larger-sized sample that typically sells in the store for $12. I love the product and plan on buying it soon. But when I went back to stock up on the Facebook Group-inspired $40 add-on I got a teeny-sized sample from a brand I am not familiar with. That got tossed in the trash. If you are going to use free giveaways and samples, keep them value-packed and very tightly aligned with your higher-priced offerings. The general rule of thumb when putting together a bonus package as a sales boost for a course is that the bonus offerings should have a value of at least 3X the course price!
- Guarantees: What worked for me: Stocking in a large, national chain that is known for its generous refund policies — nice insurance when buying a higher-end haircare line in case a product really doesn’t work for me.
Let people know that you stand behind what you say and that if it doesn’t work for them they can get their money back. There may be some bad apples who consume and return. Not long ago I was checking out at Sally’s for Blueberry Bliss leave-in conditioner and the girl at the counter told me that at least once a week someone will come and return an empty bottle of product — and every single time Sally’s will refund! Provide the same level of trust and service and people will keep coming back.
- High-quality work. What worked for me: Clean, vegan ingredients that follow established haircare protocols for curly-haired people and avoidance of common ingredients that folks with hair like mine like to avoid.
In the hair world, there’s a magic ingredient that’s known as a no-fail shortcut to shiny hair. It’s silicone. Silicones are what make hair shiny. But they also build up in hair and require pretty strong ingredients in shampoo to keep the hair clean. And those strong ingredients (Sulfates, my friend) are the bane of a curly girl’s frizz nightmares. So Curlsmith takes the high road and doesn’t use sulfates. In fact, they avoid all ingredients that even act like silicones. They avoid the easy way out. Consider the same approach when working on your product development and avoid the temptation to use filler, fluffy content to round out your offerings. Stuck on what to do instead? Here’s exactly the place where working with a marketing coach can complement your product development. Talk to her about messaging alternatives. She can’t do the work for you, but she can work as your sounding board to help you refine and create high-quality, fluff (and frizz) free offerings.
- Pricing: What worked for me: A pricing strategy that, while might lead to some lost sales, helps reassure me that I’m investing in a high-end line that is more likely to lead to healthy hair compared to lower-priced drug store products.
Pricing is a critical marketing strategy that deserves some attention. Do you provide high-end, premium services or do you have some entry-level offerings? One thing I love about Curlsmith is that even though they are a high-end brand, they offer many of their products in smaller, ‘trial’ sizes that are pricey in terms of cost per ounce, but not that much of an investment, so I can see if the product works before deciding if I’m going to buy the full-size version. But guess what’s happened? After sampling a few of the smaller products and liking results, I’m much more willing to just purchase the full-size versions without testing first, based on the guidelines from the company via the marketing copy and Facebook Group recommendations. How can you work the same strategy into your business?
As you look through this list, I’d love to hear any ideas that really work for you! Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re on the hunt for help marketing your business I’d love to hear from you too! And if you’ve had a webinar that didn’t get the results you were looking for, check out my guide Marketing Math for Webinars.