In the e-commerce world, the primary mold of digital brands is to spend rapaciously on advertising for products supplied by countries with low production costs, primarily China.
The general strategy was (and remains) to design a product, manufacture it cheaply overseas, potentially outsource shipping and logistics, and wield the rest of your budget for the highly competitive world of digital branding: spraying user web browsers with ads.
Today, however, the story is changing.
The e-commerce world is evolving, and the future appears more attuned to boutique brands with the right content, story, and creative branding campaigns.
“There are so many big brands making their stuff cheaply in China and spending millions of dollars on advertising,” says Giovanna Silvestre, founder of Confused Girl in The City, a blossoming yoga apparel e-commerce brand. “I make our products in the USA and Europe, so my costs are higher, and I don’t have millions to spend on advertising, so I have to get creative.”
Silvestre’s experience is a microcosm for how much of the e-commerce landscape is changing, and it’s worth exploring to consider how the next decade of Internet-native businesses may look.
Engagement and a Resonating Message
Major e-commerce brands can still profit favorably from the old e-commerce model, but many of the smaller brands can’t. Instead, smaller brands like Confused Girl in The City have elected for more personalized and engaging methods to grow their consumer base.
The changing branding market can be perceived through Kevin Kelly’s famous essay about how it only takes 1,000 true followers to launch a successful brand. Brands don’t have to appeal to the broadest audience possible, only a niche subset of consumers with whom their message resonates with.
For Silvestre, that market subset was an international yoga brand that infused female empowerment with a spiritual tint.
“After a radical internal awakening six years ago, I was inspired to start an international yoga wear brand that empowers the modern female warrior to find her true nature,” says Silvestre. “All of the designs are inspired by healing crystals and my experiences traveling around the world as a lifestyle blogger.”
Silvestre comes from a background in international relations and entertainment, working with the likes of Kenneth Branagh, director of Thor, and also working as a post-production coordinator at ABC. But it wasn’t until she overcame her fear of becoming an entrepreneur that she was able to launch her boutique yoga lifestyle brand and finish her book Seven Things Every Confused Girl Should Do.
“I learned to overcome the fear of failure,” Silvestre continues. “I had to realize that failure doesn’t really exist. Failure only exists in our minds and is a perspective based on the expectations we have of ourselves. Building a business and a life can be scary, but it should also be fun and exciting. I’m a believer in the journey, not the destination, and I choose to focus on growing and evolving in my life and business.”
What’s unique about Confused Girl in The City and many other smaller boutique brands is that they make up for what they lack in advertising with a relatable message.
Their branding campaigns resonate with their loyal customers, engaging them in ways that larger brands can’t compete with. And while that sentiment may sound anecdotal, there’s empirical evidence behind the emergence of more personalized, niche brands absorbing consumer attention.
For example, even though digital marketing spend is expected to surpass $1.3 trillion in 2020, the various areas where that capital is being applied are expanding. Google is becoming smarter in parsing SEO content, favoring quality over quantity. Interactive engagement marketing is rapidly becoming a marketing favorite. And consumers are increasingly eschewing major brands in favor of smaller brands with compelling narratives and exclusivity as their branding pillars.
Silvestre even took the boutique branding idea further with a clever brand ambassador program that incorporated its loyal customers.
“I created a brand ambassador program with over 1,000 women from around the world who buy our products and promote them on social media,” details Silvestre. “We also do many challenges and giveaways, support each other, and have a more personal relationship. I believe our customers appreciate this, and the personal touch allows us to stand out of the crowd.”
The crowd is the remnants of impersonal branding methods when the future lays with the personal message.
A Personal Message and Craft Inventory
The personal touch of a branding message is paramount to the next iteration of digital branding. Customers are more likely to engage with a message that resonates with them, a notion not lost on Silvestre.
“People ask me why I chose the name ‘Confused Girl,’” says Silvestre. “My answer is simple: it’s really easy to accept yourself when you are feeling good and your life is the way you want it. But it isn’t so easy to accept yourself when things are tough and you are confused. We shame ourselves in times we need to be embracing ourselves. Confused Girl is about accepting yourself just as you are at this moment.”
Silvestre also infuses her brand with what she preaches.
Her book discusses how she went from a depressed, confused girl to a spirituality-based businesswoman. She has unique designs that she comes up with herself, takes high-resolution photos of crystals that inspire her, and works with her art team to print them on the brand’s fabrics. She also doesn’t sacrifice quality with the brand’s apparel, choosing to forego cheaper manufacturing in China at the cost of a reduced branding budget.
The latter is only possible for small brands catering to niche audiences with a strong message, something that Silvestre and Confused Girl in The City do well. In fact, it may be the tighter ad budgets of smaller brands that elevated branding techniques to a new level.
After all, if it only takes 1,000 true fans to be successful, the creative branding approach taken by Giovanna Silvestre may prove the most effective strategy for a generation of new entrepreneurs operating lean startups from laptops while they travel the world.
Gone are the days of outsized advertising budgets spraying people’s web browsers with banner ads and lookalike audiences. The next decade is going to see a crop of upstart brands appeal to people with engaging content and personalization, and it’s a strategy that’s thriving for Confused Girl in The City.