The inspiration for Social Currency came from the startup where Kerrie and Tracey met. We competed against CPG Goliaths like P&G and disrupted the market with a 'third option' in a category that had only ever had 2 product types.
✋ On one hand - The product solved seriously unmet consumer needs and had a small, passionate user base.
🤚 On the other hand - It required such a significant behavior shift that we had to challenge deeply ingrained habits and attitudes.
We achieved 412% growth in a shrinking category in which single-digit growth is considered great. More importantly, millions of women found a product that dramatically improved their lives.
🎓 Lessons learned - Like most startups, we faced strong headwinds. We focused on what we could change, prioritizing the critical few things we needed to acquire customers.
Retail relationships - Most CPG purchases are still made in store (73% in our category). To grow, we had to expand the retail footprint. The company had changed ownership and for years no one ‘owned’ retail relationships. I started the job with a stack of unopened mail from retailers. We had missed annual reviews, racked up non-compliance fees, and faced de-listing in multiple accounts. I created a dashboard to track the data, worked with logistics to fix late and damaged shipments, visited the retailers in person… in short, high-touch relationship building. I had no experience in logistics, sales, or retail. I asked questions, researched, and hit the pavement. A startup mentality often trumps industry experience. Hire for culture. Look for someone who’s driven to understand. Startup marketers embrace uncertainty and are scrappy enough to figure out how to figure it out.
A low-interest category - People like to talk about cars and fashion. They don’t like to talk about feminine hygiene—or so says conventional marketing wisdom. We noticed customers often started off saying “this is TMI, but…”, then proceeded to speak at length and in detail about our product. They liked sharing their product discovery with friends – it made them feel influential (before professional “influencers” were a thing). Armed with that insight, we asked customers to gift their friends a product sample on us. Sampling is an expensive acquisition channel. We hypothesized that we needed to provide social proof to get product trial, and that sampling would create network effects. If they liked the product, friends told friends. We took a measured risk, and when it paid off we doubled down. We scaled the sampling program to the top 50 colleges with an ambassador program.
Our product required a huge behavior shift. Research revealed many women re-think their product choices in college; new influences surrounded them and they now purchased for themselves. We also learned why our loyal users first tried the product, and why they kept using it (two different reasons). Leveraging these consumer insights gave us our marketing channels (college marketing) and an emotionally resonant message that provoked behavioral change. We found our product-market fit.
We needed to guide consumers from “this is weird” to “I’ll try it.” A successful trial, though, required education. We created a body positivity movement—aimed at making people question their own discomfort with the topic, and join the dialogue. The movement resonated with consumers tired of big brands tip-toeing around periods and making them feel embarrassed about this common experience. Dive even deeper on your insights to question the status quo. Create a movement that people want to share.
Listen in as Tracey chats with Raul on the Do Good Work podcast. We talk about removing roadblocks for startups – frameworks for facing uncertainty, selecting the right metrics, and fixing the most vulnerable part of the sales process.