Picture this. You’re at a Gourmerican burger joint chomping a cheeseburger, when an outspoken vegan friend starts preaching that you’re killing the planet. Last week, that same vegan downed a pricey glass of pinot before their flight to a far-flung destination, armed with their strongest mossie repellant and first aid kit. Anything amiss?
Hollywood actress turned entrepreneur, Jessica Alba, spoke at the recent Salesforce Dreamforce Conference in San Francisco on how she has created her billion-dollar natural product empire, the Honest Company.
Here are five lessons in brand expansion strategy worth sharing from Alba’s presentation.
1. Fill a gap in the market
When Jessica Alba gave birth to her first child in 2008, she realised there was a significant gap in the baby retail industry for products that contained no petrochemicals or synthetic fragrances.
“I tried to shop around the problem,” she said. “I was shopping online, I was buying stuff from other countries and I thought this is so hard and so time consuming, isn’t there just one brand I can trust that’s transparent about what’s inside and that makes safe and effective products for every part of your home? I couldn’t find one brand that did it all, so I created it.”
2. Embrace digital from the outset
Starting out in 2011, the company began with a solid digital sales model, with the majority of sales generated online via a monthly subscription service, before rolling out to major retail distributors including Target, Nordstrom, Whole Foods and Costco. But despite Alba’s successes, making Hollywood understand her decision to shift to a digitally savvy entrepreneurship model was by no means easy. she said.
“Hollywood doesn’t understand technology,” she said. “I’m part of the digital generation, and we all get information online, we share content online and I learn about products online. That’s the community. We used to say it takes a village to raise a child, it’s now all online. That’s how we do it - it’s the Internet that’s become our village. And I’m a part of the generation that cares about that. So it was important for me to launch this company online.”
3. Position your idea precisely
To effectively leverage technology to build her brand, it took Alba three years to find her business partners, CEO Brian Lee, President Sean Kane and chief product officer, Christopher Gavigan.
“Lee was one of the first to launch a monthly subscription model,” she said. “The only way I could create my subscription service was to work with the guy who created the business model. So I went to him and he was friends with my husband, but at first, he turned me down. And at that point I was getting rejected by so many people, I just thought great, another one. But instead of it devastating me, it made me more determined to make it work.”
According to Alba, if you have more than 20 questions about a new business or brand that you can’t answer, it requires more work and you’re not prepared.
“So I made my pitch more concise, whittled it down from 50 pages to 10 and pitched it to him 18 months later,” she said. “By then, he had had a kid. Then he saw the gap and said I want my new baby to grow up in a safer and healthier world. Everything matters now, in a totally different way.”
4. Listen to and leverage social media
Alba said she knew she was onto something when people other than her family and friends were engaging with the brand online and on social media and providing positive feedback on the results they were having from using the Honest product range.
“People were emailing us and posting under my Facebook page, just how after trying our products for a couple of days it was impacting their life,” she said.
5. Embrace gender diversity
Alba noted that when it comes to hiring and retaining talent as a company, there’s a focus on backing digitally savvy women.
“We’re always on the lookout for amazing talent and we have a focus on women,” she said. “At the end of the day, our company is for women, whether they are buying our products mostly. We completely support women who code…I do not know how to code, but I can put in a JIRA ticket!”