Choosing to launch a brand online should be a no brainer. There are no shelf costs and a plethora of tried and tested tools that guarantee products reach large audiences at any single time - and in a highly cost-effective way.
But getting digital audiences on side is no easy feat. New-to-market brands are under significant pressure to drive growth fast in the face of more established competitors - many of which have already finessed their strategies across multiple social platforms and marketplaces - on the back of the shift to digital during the pandemic.
However, it’s still far easier for challengers to break into the market now than at any time previously. Marketplaces and social commerce platforms level the digital playing field to compete against incumbents, for instance Amazon recommends a monthly SEO/PPC budget of no more than £2,000 for brands that are new to the platform. In the most basic terms, all a launch brand needs is a modest marketing budget, a warehouse and a logistics chain.
There’s also a clear and proven process that early stage businesses can follow to maximise their chances of success: go where your target audiences are, amplify their core values, and simplify purchase journeys.
A logical first step is to invest time into social listening to identify what types of content their target consumers are already engaging with, and then apply this learning to their own digital strategies.
Language app Duolingo’s dynamite TikTok strategy shows how this works in practice.
The brand relies on its mascot, Duo, being reactive to viral trends in order to drive engagement and downloads of the app. Its success is anything but luck and it certainly didn’t happen overnight. The brand built a carefully considered strategy on the understanding that TikTok users want to be entertained. Duolingo cultivated an irreverent tone of voice for its mascot on the channel while gently nudging people towards taking up a language.
Research also shows that user-generated content (UGC) is 42% more effective than branded content. So, it pays to spend time understanding your audience’s motivations and engaging with them across their preferred platforms. This can also be supported with opportunities for audiences to make a direct purchase through add-ons such as TikTok Shop.
Considered interaction can be far more valuable than paying a lofty sum for a forgettable - or ad blocked - website banner.
But creating a steady stream of authentic, reactive content that aligns to brand values is a big ask for emerging brands with small teams and limited budgets. Consequently, partnering with the right influencers who already have relevant and loyal followings can be easier - and typically more cost-effective.
Challenger resale platform SeatGeek, for example, uses a roster of influencers to compete with giants such as StubHub. Brands that mirror this strategy will be able to tap into an established audience they want to target.
The most innovative brands can then improve their propensity to purchase by integrating influencer-led experiences, such as live shopping, ensuring audiences can add items to their baskets while watching their favourite creators. Thus removing further friction from the purchase process.
Know when to outsource to the specialists
While it might seem difficult to justify outsourcing during a recession, specialists can offer the know-how to grow until a business has reached a sufficient size to bring those skills in-house. However, it is well-worth doing the homework first to look for partners that offer fee by results payment models.
For example, experts will be able to advise on SEO and PPC strategies to ensure new-to-market brands are listed on the same search listings as better-established competitors. They also take advantage of tools unique to different marketplaces to improve shopping journeys, such as Amazon’s ASIN Targeting, giving brands the opportunity to advertise on relevant competitor pages, in turn helping consumers with product searches.
The ever-changing marketplace and social commerce space mean that new-to-market brands need an ‘always-on’ approach to digital commerce if they’re to build awareness and keep audiences engaged – especially as competition amongst disruptor brands remains fierce.
People root for the underdog - 62% of consumers trust small/local businesses more than big retailers - if they know about them of course! The value of authenticity cannot be under-estimated so disruptors that tailor their content to audiences that buy-in to their (closely defined) brand values is an important step towards lasting success. After all it’s fine to be big, so long as you retain those values - just look at former challenger Ben & Jerry’s.
Awareness is one thing, generating sufficient sales to weather a recession is another. Cutting through the noise on saturated marketplaces and in social commerce is hard though. Work smart, not big and it’s here that it pays to turn to specialists who can use the dark arts of those platforms to ensure the brand is best-placed to develop beyond the challenger stage.
Peter Martin is MD at digital commerce agency SMP.
Why Early-Stage Brands Need To Think Smarter Online