Last week I visited Enterprise Nation’s Wellness Exchange, a daylong programme of talks for food, drink, health and beauty entrepreneurs. I’m fascinated by start-up stories – the ups, the downs, and most of all the lessons learned from launching a new brand. At this event I heard from the founders of Neat protein drinks, Disrupt personalised sports gear, Vivid matcha drinks, and Frame pay-as-you-go fitness studios among others.
– Focus on experience
There’s a huge demand for wellness goods and services right now. As people put more and more value on ‘experience’ over ‘stuff’, wellness has become more of a life goal. Today’s consumers are concerned with physical and mental health and are demanding natural products, free-from foods and active ingredients too.
By definition, wellness products promise an effect, something over and above the regular. Good ones are underpinned by scientific evidence relating to nutrition, sports science, or psychology. And more often than not they will be premium products, for those who measure value in ways other than price.
And this is the interesting part when it comes to branding. Increasingly we are seeing science-based propositions repackaged as premium lifestyle brands; holistic solutions. These brands aren’t trying to target ‘everyone’. They aim to truly understand and cater for a niche. And they’re more likely to be rich in personality and opinion as they reach out to connect with that tribe.
– Brands with attitude
Launched in 2015, Neat Nutrition sought to stand out in the protein drink category. The branding for this all-natural premium product is friendlier than its clinical competitors and digital content delivers extra value with recipes and lifestyle tips. This is a brand with an attitude and a mind-set and its choice of partners has been central in its success so far was. Having launched in Selfridges, the founders networked with all the right influencers, and partnered with Lululemon to open a café on Regent Street. This was the perfect way to connect with its niche market and set the tone.
Disrupt Sports does just that, disrupt. Selling surfboards, snowboards, skateboard and yoga mats online it challenges the norm by enabling customers to design their own. The proposition demonstrates an understanding of a particular group of users’ emotional relationship with their sport and their need for self-expression. The business came to realise that quality and customer engagement, not price, was the critical thing in this market. It follows that a business that gets personalisation also gets that a brand can’t be all things to all people. Founder Chris Bailey’s advice to businesses was to: “Figure out who your customer is for your product. Don’t try to figure out a product that will fit every customer.”
Vivid Drinks set out to establish a completely new category on shelf, a drink made with a high-grade green tea leaf powder known as matcha. Driven by the knowledge that this was growing in popularity in the Far East, it needed to build a market in the West. The approach was to educate retailers and consumers by sticking to a focused message: matcha sharpens the mind. The branding by design agency Brand Opus emphasises this promise while employing just enough artisan cues to stand out from mass market caffeine-based competitors.
– Branding wellness
The biggest take-out from the day was that in this category it’s smarter to be a big fish in a small pond. To build relationships with customers seeking wellness, brands need an authenticity that can only be derived from understanding their target market through and through.
There were four other key lessons.
Most of the entrepreneurs had an unwavering vision – a belief in their product and a goal they were working towards. A strong vision from the outset appears to be critical in driving owners to get through the inevitable knock-backs. For many this belief came from personal knowledge of the market and a frustration in not being able to find a product they themselves wanted.
Several speakers talked about the values of the business and how these could be used to aid decision-making and keep them on track. The founders of Neat talked about having three pillars: good-looking, all natural, and provenance. Fitness brand Frame defines itself as: fun, energetic, and good value. Values come into their own when there’s a need to choose strategic partners, develop new products, or inspire the broader team to deliver the vision.
Successful start-ups know that it’s not just about selling products, but building relationships with customers. This might involve delivering engaging content on Instagram or investing in delightful extras. We heard one example of a wine retailer who unexpectedly delivers 13 bottles for every 12 ordered. Disrupt Sports founder Chris Bailey summed it up best: “If you’re selling cakes, give them the candles.”
Vivid founder James Shillcock says that the trick to sustained success is staying fresh. Since its launch in 2014, the team have developed new flavours and formats of the product, all inspired by the core promise.
The next Exchange event focuses on beauty and takes place in London on 16th June. Find out more here.
All images courtesy of the businesses mentioned.