Five years ago, I started Social Nature to help people make the switch to better products on their next shopping trip. Many people think that with all the talk about sustainable consumption it’s mainstream, but in 2019 only 17% of the average North American’s basket contained products that were sustainably produced.
Every year, people make 200 choices about what they put in their body, their home and the environment; and through Social Nature I hope to inspire consumers to try natural products. Today, Social Nature is the leading online discovery platform in the food and health space, with over half a million shoppers using Social Nature to discover better products on their next shopping trip. Since our launch in 2015, we’ve helped over 500 brands launch their food and health products in-store and online.
As I look back over the last five years, there are many lessons I’ve learned as the founder and CEO of Social Nature. Here are five tips that I hope can support your growth as we all head into 2021:
- Create a Culture of Innovation with the 80/20 Rule
The CPG industry hasn’t changed that much in the last 50 years, but when COVID-19 hit, the entire industry was forced to quickly adapt. And those companies that had a culture of innovation thrived. At Social Nature, we practice the 80/20 rule: 80% of the time you focus on your core strategy, but 20% of the time you’re trying new things. With this approach we’ve developed innovative solutions that have kept us one step ahead of the market like our digital demo programs, and so when COVID-19 unexpectedly cancelled all in-store demos, we were prepared to service the industry with a safe alternative. I encourage CPG brands to create an always-on culture of innovation by leaning into digital platforms to quickly test and validate new product concepts, to set aside some budget to try next-gen marketing tactics or to experiment with non-traditional sales channels. This approach will always have you a bit ahead of the curve and results in a nimble company structure that has innovation and a change mindset built into day-to-day operations.
- Harness the Power of Consumer Influence
When we started Social Nature, we knew that in order to achieve our mission of inspiring people to try more natural products, we needed to make the product testing experience social and effortless. We know that the people you are connecting with in your daily life (your family, friends and colleagues) are the most powerful purchase influencers. And so when our members test products on Social Nature we invite them to share product reviews with their social network. What we have found is that people want to promote products that they believe in and have had good results with, and so supporting social sharing through technology and refer-a-friend strategies, can really help scale a brand in a cost-effective way. For example, our social sharing feature has allowed us to influence over 5 million people to #trynatural products and has been the main source of our community growth.
- Use Digital to Drive Results In-Store
There’s a big debate happening in CPG right now whether to spend marketing budgets online or offline. After helping over 500 food and health brands launch new products, I’ve learned that the path to purchase starts online (even if the purchase is offline). And so here’s 3 ways you can leverage digital strategies to drive results cross-channel:
- Online product reviews. Even if you don’t sell online, you want to show up on the first page of search results and Google will rank your website higher if you have product reviews.
- Digital demos. Advertise a video to tell your brand story and send anyone that watches it a high value coupon to try your product in-store.
- Digital focus groups. Get initial feedback on product concepts from consumers who sign-up to your e-newsletter to de-risk new product launches in-store.
- MVP Your Way to Success
There are some principles that can be carried over to any industry. Like the concept of failing early or validating quickly through minimum viable products (MVP) – a popular practice in the tech industry. So often, we want to get everything perfect before we launch, but we can iterate along the way with customer feedback. One of our clients, Ocean’s Halo, has put this into practice and has benefited from a 90% success rate with their new product launches (compared to an average 70% failure rate in CPG). Their winning strategy is to continue to do product testing with shoppers when the product is on the shelf and to tweak and iterate the product/packaging/pricing/placement mix based on real-time consumer feedback from our in-market product testers.
- Promote Good Stuff, Not Junk
Good never goes out of style. Many people have suggested I leverage our technology platform and community of product testers to drive results for conventional products, saying it’s a bigger market. But I’ve got one life to live and want to play a part in helping fill people’s pantries with good stuff, not junk. Sticking to my mission has also been good for business. It’s allowed me to develop the fastest growing health & wellness community in North America and to become the go-to platform for CPG brands launching better-for-you products. The “smaller” total available market has forced our team to get creative with our B2B marketing and has instilled a real commitment to customer service which has our customers staying with us year over year and often referring us to new customers. My commitment to our core values has also helped me attract passionate team members that have stayed committed throughout our growth pains, and recently we’ve attracted some amazing mission-aligned investors that are now helping us scale to new heights.
It has been an incredible five years building Social Nature with our team, community and customers. I look forward to continuing to learn and grow for the next five!