So you can in fact think of this awkward minimum-design stage as the first round of Design Thinking providing super valuable insight to really nail down the perfection when (and if) the time is right. There is no worse feeling than pouring your soul and hours into a project that ultimately gets cancelled. This is a safety pillow making sure your time and creative energy is spent wisely. So take a deep breath and push that publish button.
Nothing is guaranteed
Just wanted to highlight the obvious – in business as in life, nothing is guaranteed. At eCartic, we routinely kill ideas and products if they do not provide value for the target audience or make drastic pivot decisions based on what we’ve learned. You have to be able to face the music and not get too attached to an idea if the world does not seem to care. Sure – skilled marketers can in fact wield a lot of influence with the appropriate budget, but then the question is if the marketing spend will really pay off at the end of the day. Don’t take it personally – an experiment can fail, but that does not mean that there’s no learning behind it. And that is why setting up MVPs and failing fast is the way to go.
Smileo – birth of the idea and growth pre-2021
We practice what we preach. In fact, all of our products go through the MVP stage at least 2 times before we decide to pull the trigger and focus all our attention and resources on them, and Smileo is no exception.
First MVP round – checking market pulse
1st round is usually the realm of Tuomas – our Advisory Board Member and Business Developer and dedicated expert on “what’s hot in online products” or anyone with a bright idea, really. In the case of Smileo, we noticed a market trend of a new type of at-home teeth whitening using a gel and a dedicated device to activate it with blue light. It offered a new, different alternative to traditional dentist whitening and other whitening like charcoal or strips. So the first MVP round was ultra simple – track down a manufacturer offering a similar device and set up a bare bones Shopify store filled with some photos taken on a smartphone and some basic copy text explaining what the device does. Ads were run on select European markets, where alternatives hadn’t caught on. And voila! The initial testing proved that we can in fact gather sales with largely unbranded products, meaning we have potential to solve real problems that real customers care about in the markets we’re targeting.
Second MVP round – scaling & testing hypothesis
This was the to connect the team into making of the previous version of the Smileo web store – essentially we took the little learning we had previously and went through another iteration and started testing some assumptions of what the brand could be, delve deeper on defining some potential audiences and ways to approach them, started setting up collaborations with influencers and setting up a sizeable presence on social media. This was the time when the Smileo brand took shape as we have known it till 2021. We made a simple WordPress template site and started testing some of our assumptions at the time:
- Smileo is a global dental brand. We want to look up to big dental companies like Collgate, Sensodyne and the like in our branding to encourage trust. Similarly, we see this as a mass-market product and we want to position ourselves as teeth whitening experts and offer a range of whitening products along with our main teeth whitening device.
- Along with the same logic, we want to use online marketing & some traditional marketing channels like billboards to raise brand awareness, along with marketing activities like handing out leaflets and samples, local celebrity endorsements etc. similar to what established in-store brands do and redirect them to our webstore as the most convenient way of buying the product.
- All content localised to generate maximum value and relevance to country-specific markets.
These were the core assumptions that were guiding our branding and marketing efforts. Out of that, more specific and granular ideas were born (e.g. social media strategies, what type of gender mix to include in our influencer outreach, what should be the main topics in our content etc.) – this also reflected in the brand image we aimed to put out with our website and products. So in that sense, the brand treatment was pretty traditional for a dental brand – a simple logo lockup with a brand slogan and a swoosh implying a smile. A simple brand fit to end up next to your favorite toothpaste in the convenience store aisle, having some sense of dental seriousness & trust, made to appeal to a wide audience and focus on the benefits of the product range in communication – we provide a bright smile from the convenience of your home.
Be open to constant learning – where Smileo is going in 2021 and how that impacts our branding and communication
So by now we’ve put a brand out in the world and scaled it with some success. We’ve seen steady growth in our sales numbers as we edge closer and closer to understanding where to best reach our customers and what kind of advertising/organic content mix they react to best. However, we’ve also had a chance to sit down and look at our previous assumptions, how much we’ve spent across channels and how to improve. And yes – we’ve made some mistakes along the way. Everything is an experiment and nothing is guaranteed, remember? Here’s how we changed our mind on our core assumptions and pivoted Smileo in the beginning of 2021:
Smileo is a European beauty & lifestyle brand.
With many whitening products on our portfolio, we found it increasingly difficult to explain to customers why they should choose one solution over another. And we think this ultimately took the attention away from our main Teeth Whitening Kit offer and hurt its sales.
Similarly, we noticed that in fact our main target audience are women and we seem to get the best results with marketing that is less focused on teeth & oral hygiene and more geared towards looking good in general. It makes some sense – people looking to whiten teeth most likely want to look their best. As we have gotten to know our customers more, and we plan to fully lean into it – Smileo will become a part of your self-care and makeup routine. People spend a lot of time taking care of their face and we plan to offer beauty solutions for arguably the most visible part of it – your smile! We will focus on where we can provide value in the new story and will be releasing products for lip care as well.
Smileo is focused on online marketing
In contrast to what we expected, people are actually very willing to buy an oral beauty product without seeing it at a store. Of course, it’s pretty hard to measure the impact of traditional channels we’ve used in terms of brand building, but the physical billboards and posters have had little impact on our sales campaigns (we’ve used discount codes to gain more insight into this). Similarly, we’ve decided to pretty much cancel physical leaflets etc. because of the lack of foot traffic in the COVID era as well as to gain extra time to produce quality online content, which has proved to be more efficient.
People are more thirsty for authenticity than ever, which has thrown the celebrity/big influencer endorsement approach out the window. Moving forward, we’ll be more focused on micro influencers with strong audience engagement and will focus more on social proof in new content avenues like youtube reviews, instagram reels & stories as well as the infamous TikTok which is seeing a sharp spike in engaged users. That will come with it’s own challenges, as brands are still figuring out how to enter this space in a way that adds value.
Threading carefully with localised content moving forward
Localising content has taught us some hard lessons as well. Of course, in the perfect world everything would be localised. That being said, even the limited amount of markets we’ve been targeting with our MVP has provided us with with tough lessons. We’ve done A/B tests with localised and English advertisements as well as had to face the everyday reality of managing the whole localization process and costs in time and money. There is no universal, clear-cut approach to this matter. Think of this as a game of snakes and ladders – is the time and cost worth it, compared to the potential increase in sales?
In fact, we see markets reacting differently and we will have to really see big upsides to warrant doing all website content, advertising and social media in the local language. The future will show which countries specifically, and we might even arrive at some half-localised scenarios like localized advertisement —> english website and similar, but as everything is an ongoing experiment, we will have to set up A/B tests to see how much this kind of approach will impact customer experience and conversion.
A product is never done
As much as we would like to hang our hats and call it a day at this stage, the reality is that this is a never ending cycle of product development – these are the things we consider to be true at this stage of the product life cycle. The good news is that if you apply the experiment mentality,, this knowledge feeds into other ventures – in our case, we constantly work on ways of how to use what we’ve learned across other companies within eCartic as well as client work.
Coming next – how we took these learnings and applied them to change our brand identity & communication 🤔