Customers have never been so essential. Before, brands would offer products to customers who decided if they liked them or not. Now, it’s usually the customer that sets the direction - whether they know it or not.
Vanessa, you’re a BSC graduate in material engineering, hold an MSc in neuroscience, and competed in the national gymnastics team of Finland.
In 2017, while working at Farfetch, you founded The Wild Curl: a vegan haircare brand designed for naturally curly hair.
What inspired you to start The Wild Curl?
My dream has always been to help people embrace their natural hair. I grew up in Finland in the 1990s, when we were the only family with tightly coiled afros within a 50-mile radius.
In summer, I’d run for weeks between the sauna and the lake with my hair at its most natural. Our normal hair conditioner (‘Very fine Finnish hair conditioner’) just couldn’t do the job. My Mum emptied a bottle of olive oil onto my hair and started detangling while telling me an old Finnish expression: “You have to suffer to be beautiful”.
In my hair straightening phase as a teenager, I used a flat clothing iron that left a huge burn mark on my shoulder. I also considered chemically relaxing my hair. Luckily, the cost was way out of our family paycheck.
The olive oil part made sense. We’re starting to pay more attention to what we put in and onto our bodies; what you can eat, you can also put into your hair. That’s why I wanted to create a natural hair care line to keep curly hair healthy, strong, and beautiful.
What are the highs and lows of running your own business?
Starting your own company is always easier said than done. Scaling it is even harder.
I was lucky to find the sweet spot in my life where I’d just graduated from university and was looking for career opportunities. Instead of following the traditional path, I took a leap of faith and worked on the concept behind The Wild Curl.
My boyfriend (Alberto Abello and co-founder) and I brainstormed business models until we settled on creating The Wild Curl. This was where we believed we could make a real difference in the world.
We built a shopfront in Shopify, created a website, and launched small-scale marketing. We wanted to make sure we were on the right path before investing – it turned out that we were definitely on it. There were so many orders that we didn’t have time to ship fast enough and work on our day jobs at the same time.
That’s when we knew it was time to move away from the kitchen table and build scalable processes. We outsourced manufacturing and fulfillment to scale the production and logistics. This freed us to find other ways to grow the business.
Starting a business is a constant rollercoaster, with none of the security of working for someone else. For me, the rollercoaster is the exciting part. It’s an adventure that drives me forward. I get nervous if parcels get lost, marketing isn’t sustainable or the creative isn’t top-notch.
However, I also celebrate every milestone – big or small. Customer reviews are my favourite. It makes me extremely happy to see that some customers have recovered their long lost curl pattern or even reversed hair loss from heat damage or reaction to hard chemicals.
We have close to a five-star rating from over three hundred real customer reviews. We’re proud of this and will continue to keep our customers as our first priority.
Another highlight was our crowdfunding campaign with Crowdcube. We overfunded £94k with the help of 300 investors that believed in us. I’m very grateful to our new investors and the amazing team that helped us raise.
How does customer understanding inform your product development and marketing?
At The Wild Curl, we take a customer-first approach. Our goal was and is to make the customer experience seamless and tailored, from user acquisition and marketing to our customer’s hair care routines.
It’s complicated enough to master the whole process for one audience. At the Wild Curl, every customer has a different curl and texture – from loose waves to tight coils.
We constantly work on building a pain-point hypothesis. We engage in two-way conversation with our community and research new trends in the beauty industry. Based on surveys, customer feedback and customer behavior data, we start our R+D process for new products.
Ultimately, the aim of product development is to respond to the needs of our curly consumers from all perspectives.
How do you use data insight to inform the product? What impact does this have on Paid Social?
We rely on first-party data to support our hypotheses (or prove them wrong) and find patterns in customer behaviour. For instance, we can find out which products customers bundle together and build the exact same kit with a discount. We also gather relevant product data from consumer surveys and create a picture of our customer profiles such as their shopping behaviours, challenges, and preferences in haircare.
We use these insights in our Paid Social marketing strategy, from messaging and creatives to targeting. For a small business, Paid Social seems to get harder to crack every day. The space is getting more and more saturated as digital marketing becomes more accessible. You’re competing with the largest brands’ resources, creative, and data points for attention.
Plus, iOS 14 now allows users to choose whether they consent to third-party sites like Facebook to track their data. This gives us even fewer data points for optimization and attribution. This will impact our ability to understand the performance and make informed decisions about budget allocations.
The cost per acquisition increases and it gets harder to target our preferred audience. This is another reason why we encourage gathering as much first-party data as possible. In the end, for us to be able to offer excellent experiences, we need to be able to deep dive into our consumers’ minds — and to do so, we need a lot of data.
Ultimately, we use data to improve customer experience. If you have a type four kinky hair, you don’t need to see an advertisement for Wavy hair on how to tame your frizz. That customer just can’t relate to the same pain point.
We now gather email subscriptions through our newsletter and the Curly Hair Quiz. These signals improve our Paid Social targeting. In the future, we hope to segment customer lists based on product purchases then create personalised ads via retargeting and Lookalike audiences that offer solutions for specific pain points and hair types.
How do you use Google as a growth channel?
We use Google to explore demand around curly hair products. I use a lot of knowledge from my role at Farfetch’s PPC Marketing Team to automate processes, analyse ad copy performance and adjust bidding strategies based on revenue targets.
Google Shopping is our biggest growth driver and we’re now testing Smart Shopping. This allows us to increase reach with the same or even better return thanks to Google’s machine learning.
Our biggest challenge is figuring out Organic Growth in a world where everyone produces content and optimises to the hilt.
Google’s new Featured Snippets gives users the answer in a drop-down link to keep them on the search engine rather than clicking through. Even if our pages rank, this still reduces traffic. We’re in the middle of exploring different content types and topics that are harder to source elsewhere.
Would you recommend starting with brand and influencer marketing before moving into performance marketing?
There are no right or wrong answers here. Both marketing strategies come with their pros and cons.
Influencer marketing is a good way to start for a smaller brand that’s looking to build a community and engage its target audience in social media. There are many micro-influencers with 1 to 5k followers that help small businesses grow with authentic content building, often at the cost of free products or a small fee.
The challenge is that there are no good ways to measure the impact of influencer marketing as you cannot place links with tracking on the posts. Often you end up paying more for the post than you would get from return.
On the other hand, Performance Marketing burns cash fast if not done properly. You have to make sure that the pixels are placed correctly and working well on your site, be on top of the KPIs, and optimise the campaigns constantly to deliver better performance.
Many of these responsibilities require a deep understanding of performance marketing. However, there’s now a lot of information to get started with simple structures that can deliver already good results. Growth is hard to generate without Paid Marketing.
How do you ensure you’re spending the right amount of time on the right channels with the right creative?
Whenever possible, we aim to support our decisions based on data. This sounds obvious but it’s often challenging for small businesses that don’t have a full data team behind them.
For example, we built our own data warehouse. We blend data from multiple sources, such as sale channels (Shopify, Amazon), advertising channels (Google, Facebook), and our fulfilment centre for logistical costs.
We extract the data, convert it into a format that we can analyse, then store it in BigQuery. From there, we can see insights into channel performance and connect to DataStudio, which visualises through graphs and tables.
This information helps us see which channels drive more growth, have the lowest customer acquisition cost or the highest return of ad spend. This allows us to decide which channels support our targets.
This isn’t always straightforward. We recently saw that Paid Social wasn’t performing as well as Google Shopping Ads, but the customer lifetime value was higher for customers acquired through Paid Social. This suggests that there might be better opportunities with this channel if we can turn it around.
We’re now trying to A/B test with various creatives and run landing page tests to see if we can achieve a better return on ad spend (ROAS).
Where do you see the future of e-commerce?
Customers have never been so essential. Before, brands would offer products to customers who decided if they liked them or not. Now, it’s usually the customer that sets the direction – whether they know it or not.
Social media is full of trends that go viral every day and brands that are trying to keep up with the change. Additionally, customers are looking for tailored products that fit their individual needs. This was new in 2020 but now personalisation will become an e-commerce standard.
Also, the lines between where you’re shopping, how you’re shopping, and paying are becoming blurred. I think that omnichannel shopping will soon become the norm, with customers paying through platforms like TikTok and across financing options, traditional debit and cryptocurrencies. Eventually, I see Google Shopping turning into Amazon, where you can check out and have your brands shipped to your doorstep in a few hours.
The question is: how will Brands adapt to the future blurred line of eCommerce? Can we still use the data to deliver a better product and customer experience?
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