Lessons learned from launching my own brand
Fast Company | June 14 2023
Our success taught me that founders of brands today must be more prepared and work harder than the last generation of DTC brands in order to scale and become profitable.
After 25 years of building brands for clients as the founder and president of a marketing services company, I finally decided it was time to become the client. And it took us launching our own brand to do it, but I learned right away that being the brand has a ton of great opportunities… and is a lot of fun.
This is not to imply that launching our brand—a category disruptor in the compression socks marketplace—was all fun and games. Launching a successful DTC brand in November 2021 at a time when many were struggling required a “whole brand” approach where every aspect of the brand, from sourcing material to customer service, was in place before going to market.
A WHOLE-BRAND APPROACH
Our brand was born out of a love story. Its fast-track success generated many takeaways that other founders can hopefully learn from and adopt.
I got the idea for the brand while traveling back and forth from New York to San Diego almost every weekend to visit my then-girlfriend and now wife while she was completing a surgical fellowship. I realized we could both benefit from compression socks on the long flights, but the options were limited. They were too tight, too hard to get on, and expensive. To me, there was clearly a need for the category to change—a brand built to bring compression socks to a much wider audience with fun colors, great fit, and just the right amount of compression. The idea was born.
But, gone are the days of having an idea, finding cheap manufacturing, and hoping to take advantage of Facebook ad arbitrage. With the e-commerce world rapidly maturing, and especially with Apple iOS14, brands must take a new approach to getting to market.
The experience taught us that launching a DTC product today requires a “whole brand” approach. That means the founder should have all the “knowable” aspects of manufacturing, distribution, and marketing in place before the product goes live.
MARKETERS WITH A FEW MUSTS
As a marketer, I started by wanting to build a brand that consumers would love, rather than just a product that would meet their needs. So we approached the first part of the challenge as marketers with a few musts:
- We felt that we must meet a growing consumer need. Launching a product that doesn’t solve a real problem—say pens leaking into dress-shirt pockets—is pointless.
- We felt it must have the breadth to grow, in terms of expansion possibilities into other product categories, distribution channels, audiences, or geographies. This was critical to us to prove the sustainability of our new brand.
- We knew we must drive repeat purchases. A brand is only as strong as consumers say it is. So we focused on building amazing socks with incredible customer experience. We believe that if we can build brand loyalists, they will be the key to sustaining the health of our brand in the long term.
UNDERSTANDING EVERY ASPECT
With those boxes checked, we moved to the much more foreign parts of building a brand (at least to us). I immersed myself in every aspect of pricing a compression sock, including sourcing the raw bamboo, dyes, and other source materials, securing a manufacturing partner, understanding the intricacies of importing the finished product from overseas, and handling distribution. From understanding trade and tariff regulations to building customer service handbooks, it was clear to us that this is more than an advertising agency incubator project. Every aspect of a product or service impacts the “whole brand” and is critical to its success.
READY TO LAUNCH
With the product fundamentals complete and the brand ready to launch, we opted to work with a “snap in” team of C-suite marketing executives at one of my owned and operated companies. In our case, this snap-in team of fractional leaders owned all aspects of brand building, consumer targeting, pricing strategy, and go-to-market advertising. The brand was positioned around “Small Acts that Make a Big Difference,” and as the launch date grew closer, they produced all the ads and built the website to bring the brand to life. Using consumer behavior expertise at the center of our strategy (sophisticated upselling, innovative pricing strategy, etc.), we launched with a conversion rate of 280% better than the apparel industry benchmarks and doubled our original forecasted AOV.
We also launched leveraging a suite of Shopify plug-ins that enabled us to scale quickly and get to profitability quickly. And now we’re proud to have a flywheel going with repeatable models around showing value through short-form content, ensuring a frictionless customer experience and accelerating revenue through product innovation.
Our success taught me that founders of brands today must be more prepared and work harder than the last generation of DTC brands if they want to scale and become profitable. And for me, the experience proves what many of us in the agency world have always felt—it’s good to be the brand.