As much as I like reading business cases, I would rather hear firsthand stories from strong players in business on lessons they have learned. On a last minute mid week trip, I went to Las Vegas (my first as an adult!) in the scorching heat to learn from the ladies behind a few of my favourite lifestyle brands and get a Glimpse (a co-sponsored event by HydraFacial and FastCompany) of how trust has helped them grow and maintain their consumer base.
Lesson #1: Trust the consumer and start scrappy
As a VIB Rouge Member of Sephora (aka I am one of Sephora’s best customers) I was excited to hear from Bridget Dolan, the Senior Vice President of Omni Experience and Innovation. Dolan suggested when testing a new product in a market – start scrappy. Regardless of budget, business owners can often obsess and want their product to be perfect before testing it out. Don’t wait. Send out a scrappy version of the product with the key essence and test out your hypothesis. See if your product really resonates and solves a true consumer problem.
Have you ever walked into a Sephora and been asked for informal feedback? On several occasions, I have been asked a variety of questions on subjects ranging from skin care to my thoughts about in-store grooming experiences like facials or eyebrow shaping. Dolan states, Sephora welcomes the transparency with their customers. Sephora wants to really understand what utility they provide their customer – to really understand their needs. The invaluable impromptu feedback from a scrappy new product test has helped strengthen Sephora’s brand DNA and ensure they maintain their status as a respected worldwide brand.
Lesson #2: Trust your product to build genuine relationships
Many of my friends have kids, so finding educational (and not boring) gifts can be a challenge. I came across the company Little Passports Inc. years ago and I was delighted to meet Co-founder, Co-CEO Amy Norman in Las Vegas. Little Passports is a character driven children’s mail subscription that introduces children to different cultures around the world of through the travels of Sofia and Sam. Every month, a suitcase arrives filled with books, toys and games revolving Sofia and Sam’s adventures in a new country. Brilliant, because who does not like receiving fun packages in the mail?
After starting her company during a tumultuous period in her life (in the midst of a divorce, pregnant and then subsequently developing Bell’s Palsy) Norman found that the secret to her products’ success was to build genuine relationships. In a subscription market prone to cancellation, these relationships were not only with the children, but also their parents. One parent had emailed that although they had to cut the subscription short, their child thought that Sofia and Sam no longer liked them because they were not receiving any mail. Having a connection that elicits such a visceral response from a consumer is a great indication that Little Passports has filled a meaningful niche.
Lesson #3: Trust your employees, as happiness is contagious
Audrea Hooper, the Director of Brand Experiences & Head of Fungineering at Zappos was happy to share the magic behind the 20-year old brand. In fact, it’s exactly that – happiness. In a flat organization where is takes approximately 84 days to be hired, Zappos does not take their work culture too seriously. In fact to celebrate their 20thyear in business, the company let off a huge glitter bomb at their headquarters.
It’s in Hooper’s job description to create and execute fun events like a llama parade or a pillow fight arena for not only Zappos employees, but also their consumers and community. With an “only Zappos would do that” attitude, the company has a strong happiness-driven culture. This contagious happy work culture allows employees to go above and beyond for their consumers. From sending a piece of birthday cake abroad, to allowing customers to use the service line as a concierge service, Zappos is beyond just selling products (shoes and clothes), they sell an experience based around exceptional service.
No one said that going into business is easy. Yet, if you are able to ride the rollercoaster with trust from your customers to give you transparent feedback, trust that your product can build genuine relationships and finally, create a fun and trusting work environment for your employees to thrive you may be able grow and maintain your consumer base like these company’s for years to come.