Smileo product development – on the importance of process

Smileo product development – on the importance of process

Oh hey, I’m Ēriks – Brand Design Manager here at Ecartic. Don’t get too caught up on the title – “I like making things” or “I tell stories through multimedia” are still the best descriptions I’ve been able to come up with over the years. What gets me out of bed in the morning is thinking how to best communicate what my talented colleagues have to offer with our brands. Super excited to meet you!

This is the first part of story of the project internally dubbed Smileo 2.0 – a look behind the scenes of what actually happened when we set off on the journey to enter the world of selling physical direct-to-consumer eCommerce products, found some success and recently made the investment in design & brand building to take it to the next level. All done in a startup environment with a Design Department of one, support of our amazing team and network of outsourced talent. Even though this will cover selling a physical product, most of the processes and ideas are universally applicable.

 

Project scope

In 2 months we updated the Smileo brand based on learnings from our initial MVPs and market testing, did a complete redesign of our webstore and refocused our attention on brand communication through copy and imaging on social media & advertising.

In line with the business development plans after initial MVPs, we saw that an updated design language could be an essential tool unlock real-world results beyond just a cosmetic change.

 

Our goals for the Smileo brand update

Part one – the intersection of design and business

The first part of the journey might not be the most flashy one, but it sure as hell is the most crucial one if you ever want to stand a chance in creating & testing a product from scratch, especially if you don’t plan to rely purely on chance when making your investments and are looking for some practical method in how to think about the process as a whole.

Even seemingly simple eCommerce products and services involve an endless stream of daily decisions, and that is why we will be focused on process and decision making logic today. There’s ways we’ve managed to make sense of a wholly messy process of bringing something new into the world and making sure that it’s a sustainable business at the end of the day. This is the backbone of building any product. The flashy visuals will come later in the blog series, I promise!

Who is Ecartic?

Before we get into the nitty gritty, here’s some context. I believe our CEO Miko explains it best:

Ecartic is primarily a venture hub — we come up with concepts, turn them into awesome products and use our skills to sell them. We also invest into great ideas, ranging from global software products to wave-riding direct-to-consumer goods. We’re committed to launching new ventures and expanding into new territories at full throttle, as long as they sit at the intersection of strong market trends

Miko has written a bit more about our business model and the potential of a new type of venture hub – marketing agency. For me as a Designer on the production end it boils down to this – we work with many different brands and we’ve had our fair share of bruises and we continue to learn every day. Our expertise is marketing – we think of it in terms of connecting the right audience to the right product to improve their lives. Since we cover a lot of bases daily, we’re on a constant lookout for the most time-efficient ways to deliver good content and design to the right audiences across our brands. And in my humble opinion, Smileo currently represents one of the most lean and efficient ways to do just that. OK, grab some coffee and let’s get busy!

 

Who is Smileo?

Smileo is our venture into direct-to-consumer eCommerce. It’s an oral beauty brand offering a new way to whiten teeth from the comfort of your home with a rechargeable device. Since its inception we’ve also had a look at how to expand what we offer and have ventured into different whitening solutions as well as health and beauty – we’re on a mission to make the world a happier place one smile at a time! Currently our aim is to expand our product line and become the place on top of customers’ minds for taking care of first impressions – having a bright smile and taking care of your face and lips.

Other than that, it is the brainchild of Ecartic. It is the platform we use to understand the ins and outs of managing manufacture and distribution, marketing, sales and delivery of a physical product & test our ideas out there in the real world. We believe that we must have previous experience with all of this to be able to serve our partners best and really understand the challenges one faces when setting up an eCommerce business – to provide the best marketing experience, we must be a part of the eCommerce tribe.

How Ecartic treats product research

If you’re planning to sell anything online, it helps to have the right mindset. While you might be sure you have the greatest ideas (and I believe you do!), there needs to be a way to test them out there in the real world.

I wish I had an universal recipe for all products under the sun in this Medium post & preferably put it in some bite-sized list named “X ways to sell like crazy” but you and I know that it’s just not possible. This is where The Lean Startup by Eric Ries comes in – it’s pretty much the closest thing to it, as it sets out the general approach of thinking of these things in contrast to traditional corporate business. It turns some traditional ways of business on it’s head – instead of doing abstract market research, we’re essentially going to market ASAP and learning from observing what the market thinks of the thing we’ve made. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, you’re probably already following the logic without being aware of it – Eric provides some more structure on how to think about it in a more organised, repeatable way.

“We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.”
― Eric Ries, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

If I had to boil it down to a super condensed paragraph on mindset, it’s this – think of your business or product as an experiment. What you have control over is your assumptions & having some form to test them once you put something out. In practical design terms, it means you’re definitely better off working with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – figure out the most cost effective way to produce the most stripped-down version of your product, sell it through the most basic website possible and keep the identity work to the bare minimum.

“As you consider building your own minimum viable product, let this simple rule suffice: remove any feature, process, or effort that does not contribute directly to the learning you seek.”
― Eric Ries, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

What you really should focus at this stage is gathering as much learning through data as possible – set up all possible tracking on your website ranging from data on UX (Hotjar) to marketing insights (Facebook, Google pixel) and social media insights (Facebook Ads Manager, testing and monitoring organic social posts), email tests (testing funnels, storytelling that your customers care about). In advertising, set up as many A/B tests as possible – in this stage your focus is not so much profit as finding out what your potential customers react to and pinpointing as many potential audiences and markets as possible. Congratulations – you’re now a marketing scientist putting content out there, and looking for blips of customer reaction on your radar.

I already feel an army of Designers cringing at the idea of not polishing everything to perfection and having well-developed identity designed based on a super concrete target audience, but in our experience the reality is this – a certain percentage of people are first movers and they care purely about the product/service you offer without paying much attention to the bells and whistles

If you fail to deliver the right value to the right people, the market will instantly punish you, and it’s better to fail on a small scale and use this as a springboard to learn and improve before fully committing. In fact, if you look at the Design Thinking process it’s a chance to test your assumptions through a very quick round of the core stages:

Emphatize

Guestimate your potential client, think about their needs and interests – work on personas

Define

What problem are you solving for your client? Does the audience even realise that this problem exists?

Ideate

Is your solution unique and beneficial enough for your customers to care?

Prototype

Invest time in working with your MVP – aim to make it as “real” as possible with minimum investment

Test

Set your MVP out in the world and gather data on it’s performance. Tweak and learn

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 🤔

1536 864 Ecartic
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