What I’ve learned about Consistency from an upbringing in the Natural Skin Cafe industry

I grew up in a business that manufactures natural and organic skin care products – lotions, soaps, that sort of thing.  My parents started the business when I was a baby, and so I grew up alongside what would become a skin-care manufacturing company to some of the market’s biggest and best natural brands that we know and love.  And throughout the years, I bore witness to some pretty cool break-throughs, one of them being the formulation of a natural preservative system.  Just like with foods, if you want a product to last on the shelf for longer than a few days before turning colors, smelling funny, etc., you need to preserve it somehow.  And with natural products, this challenge becomes even greater because the product’s contents are technically still alive. Imagine that!  And in the beauty care industry where look, feel and fragrance dominate shopper decision-making, it is imperative that your product appeal to shopper expectations – regardless of what it’s made of, or how hard it is to make it that way.

Lesson #1: Consistency is King!

One  reason why this preservative breakthrough was so big for my parents is that it allowed for their botanically rich and nutritive products to compete with the not-so-natural products dominating the shelves.  It allowed for their products to maintain their consistency – their look, feel, smell, performance.  I’ve heard many a dissertation on the importance of a product’s consistency!  There’s an art to making sure that all the different ingredients stay together as intended: Making sure that a lotion remains smooth, creamy, not too watery, not too oily, that the ingredients don’t separate over time.  These are all challenges of naturally formulated products.  And poor consistency can make an otherwise decent product (hydrates skin, smells good, not full of chemicals ) a non-mover. If it doesn’t look and feel the way a product made with non-organic ingredients looks and feels, then it often doesn’t matter how good it is on the inside – the market will perceive it as inferior.

Which brings me to lesson #2.

Lesson #2: Perception is Reality.

This has got to be my father’s favorite saying. And it’s true for every business (and everybody).  I have seen so many well-intended companies with beautiful missions, stand-out products, air-tight business plans fall flat on their faces because what the market perceived of them was different than what they promised to be – or who they really were.  What the market perceived – judging by an outdated website, disjointed marketing materials, inconsistent use of logos, stock imagery, etc. – was that the company didn’t have it’s ducks in a row. It felt Scattered. Inexperienced. Irrelevant.  In the gut, it didn’t make sense.

And what I’ve seen so many times from these kinds of cases is that the  “marketing budget” is believed to be an expense, not aninvestment.  Improving the brand is not understood as a way to attract more business.  It is something you do when you already have secured enough business to justify a spend. A website, a logo, a facebook page is believed to be something that you have to have, for no other reason than to have it.  And what unfortunately happens is that these assets are put into place before a strategy for how to utilize them to reach business goals is ever considered.  So what happens? A new logo is designed without a Usage Guideline being created and implemented. And someone decides that they could add a green box around the logo to make it stand out better in the new XYZ publication.  And no one stops them. Gasp! No one stops them!  And then when the website isn’t getting traction or the facebook page following is dwindling, the belief that marketing spend was a waste is reinforced.  And then the marketing budget goes away. And so and so’s nephew takes over the website, and so-and-so’s sister takes over the email newsletter.  And the brand’s foundation is chipped away there is not much more than a bunch of random words and images that don’t convincingly support the claims of the business and all it’s amazingness. And the business suffers.

But it’s not all bad news!

Here are 4 things a business can do to improve consistency and overall perception without draining the marketing budget. 

  1. Invest in a Brand Standards document that outlines how your logo can be used, and most importantly, how it cannot be used.  Fonts, colors, photography, these can and should all also be standardized based on certain criteria that support the essence of the brand.  If you have an in-house creative or marketing team that manages your marketing, but you don’t have a standard, then your brand is either already inconsistent, or it is bound to get there soon.  Hiring a professional to develop some standards for you would be money well spent.  And while they’re working on this, they can also take inventory of your brand ecosystem and make recommendations for refreshing/fixing that which is out of alignment.
  2. Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to your website.  If your website is not easy to navigate on a phone, you need to make it so.  And if you don’t have it in your budget to create that BMW of a website with all the cool functionality you know you want, then don’t hold on to your current really bad jalopy of a site until you think you can afford the top-of-the-line. Go ahead and create that 5-page website with a plan for phasing-in the site’s additions over the next 18 monts.  Working with a website designer who can help you plan for these phases is critical.  Spend some time and money to establish a strong foundation and then phase-in the bells and whistles as your budget allows.
  3. Centralize your efforts. It’s not uncommon for companies to have one agency handling their website, another handling their print ads, another handling their email, and yet another handling their social media.  I’ve heard some people say that they don’t want to put all their eggs into one basket.  I’ve heard others say that they want to use specialists in each marketing area. But really, I think it’s less about whether it’s riskier to use just one agency vs. whether the agency is a good fit for your particular business.  If you find the right agency that takes time to understand your business and goals, has a strong record of healthy client relationships, an impressive portfolio, and is responsive and proactive about communication, you’re more than halfway there.  Aim for the long-term relationship with the right person/agency, over dealing with the revolving door of freelancers that is standard in this industry.
  4. Shop boutique.  Large agencies have tons of resources and can build anything you need. They will also bill you for everything you need, and often utilize junior-level talent to get it done.  Instead, consider hiring a smaller shop that has senior-level talent working with you throughout the entire project. Chances are you’ll pay less and get more attention and more quality workmanship.

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