Skin. Stress. Sleep. Digestion. Energy. Mood. Depression. PMS. Hormonal regulation.
These are the things women think about, things they feel. These are the keywords permeating the websites of Apothekary and Winged—brands that are built by and for women. How have these successful brands built a following by consciously leaving out half the population? (Sorry, guys.)
For Winged founder Jessica Mulligan, she started conceptualizing the brand two years ago, and was brainstorming ways to differentiate it in a saturated hemp CBD marketplace. She and her girlfriends all seemed to be feeling anxious and overwhelmed—hallmarks of any successful, driven businessperson. She tried some hemp CBD and found relief, and that’s when targeting the female demographic hit.
“Women experience insomnia, anxiety and depression at two times the rate of men. Women are stressed out. What are we doing to address that?,” she said. “There’s hardly any products on the market to address a female’s body and physiology. We’re built different, we have hormonal surges. Early on I saw this need to address stress, anxiety and sleep specifically for a women’s body. That was my light bulb moment, the great big idea of my life.”
Winged became a CBD-centered brand that formulates with other thoughtfully curated botanicals and specialty ingredients marketed to women’s concerns around stress, sleep, mood, skin and body care.
For Shizu Okusa, founder and CEO of Apothekary, 95% of its tribe are women. A huge focus on personalization and consumer-generated content has enabled the company to successfully pivot from an Ayurvedic-forward company that scared and confused shoppers into a curious audience of early adopters to health and wellness paradigms.
“We prioritize a ton of user-generated content and referrals,” said Okusa. “That’s been the lifeblood of how we need to grow. Retention rates are 90%. We’ve seen 5,000% growth year over year. We didn’t expect that to happen so quickly.”
On the Apothekary website, visitors are immediately invited to take a personalization quiz on various lifestyle and health states. Results are instantly emailed, which starts off with an empowering personal descriptor, then a bit about what balance looks like to this profile—balance is a key foundation of Ayurvedic principles. The language is more millennial new age than Vasant Lad Ayurveda, though included is a quick sentence describing one’s dosha (vata, pitta, kapha). The email goes on to suggest lifestyle, exercise and diet tips that fit that person’s personalized quiz results—and then on to products curated to that sub-niche.
“It’s been interesting to create email conversations and email marketing so we can talk to various audiences,” said Okusa. “We have an email stream that goes to curious customers, an email stream that goes to informed customers in Ayurveda and another for skeptics who don’t believe in herbs.”
Connecting with consumers through influencers
Of the modern ways of connecting with consumers, the latest seems to be influencers. It’s kind of like product placement in movies, only using social media personalities with followers who recommend brands.
One difference both Mulligan and Shizu say works for them is to actually not go after the influencer with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers—counter-intuititve as that may sound.
“The key is not so much big follower base, like 200,000 followers, it’s finding super influential people in their communities,” said Mulligan. “We want person authentically dealing with stress, not woman in a bikini on a beach holding a box. Look for people who align with your mission. Don’t worry about the follower count, look for engagement.”
Shizu concurs—authentic connections form deep connections with their shoppers.
“We don’t have any specifics like you have to have 10,000 followers,” said Shizu. “As much as we’d like to work with everybody, we don’t have the resources in terms of people. Managing influencers is a full-time job. We want people authentically supporting the brand.”
Rotate areas of focus
The rapidly shifting world of social media platforms (will TikTok be here tomorrow?) and practices means practice, making mistakes, learning and moving ahead smarter is key to success. For entrepreneurs running small start-ups, there’s only so many people working in the company, only so many hours in a day to work.
“It takes a lot of work,” said Shizu. “This quarter we focus on email marketing, this quarter on referrals, this on paid acquisition, this on search, this on influencers, and measure where is the highest return and highest impact we can hit with customers, where it resonates with everybody.”
Consumers want to buy from brands that have an impact
Impact campaigns means aligning a brand with a mission—and tying it to influencers or celebrities or the media.
“That’s what your customers really want,” said Mulligan. “To reach millennials and Gen Z, they are looking for a brand that stands for something.”
Winged works with TailWind, a Los Angeles agency specializing in connecting brands with missions. For Winged, it has meant connecting with organizations that work toward positive social change specifically for girls and women.
Three organizations Winged works with are MOSTe, which is a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that girls from underserved areas in Los Angeles County have the support they need to reach and graduate from college. Winged has donated $25,000 for scholarships for the 2019-20 school year. Girls for a Change works with Black girls in central Virginia to help them with leadership and development in their communities. The Downtown Los Angeles Women’s Center works with homeless and formerly homeless women.