lead/marke NET: Drew Neisser > “The SIMPLE Route to Niche Marketing”

Note: I love acronyms. This one you will keep in mind, too. Enjoy!
(lead/marke NET proudly features Drew’s inspiring posts on a regular basis.)

Things have not been exactly rosy for the perfume industry in the last two years. Many big brands suffered huge declines in sales as consumers turned up their noses. Meanwhile Clean Perfume, an indie fragrance from NYC-based Fusion Brands, enjoyed double-digit growth, building up a remarkable fan-base on a minuscule budget. How the Clean team, including CMO Roslyn Griner, pulled this off is a potent reminder of the beauty of SIMPLE, especially when it comes to the marketing of consumer goods.

S is for Story

A number of successful niche brands like Tom’s of Maine and Nantucket Nectars have a compelling story about their creation. Clean is no different. Founder Randi Shinder, not a fan of perfumes, took notice when people commented on how good she smelled, a smell that was simply her soap. Unable to find a fragrance to match “that universal fresh out of the shower scent,” she developed her own in 2003.

That simple start launched a line of products with wonderfully evocative names, such as Fresh Laundry, Warm Cotton and Summer Linen. “Everyone can identify with the idea that you just used a bar of soap and smell really good or the smell of towels coming fresh out of the dryer,” explains Griner, “we were one of the first perfume brands to be successful on HSN because we had a wonderful story where people could imagine what it smelled like.”

I is for Involve

A lot of brands pay lip service to their fans, offering token opportunities for involvement. Clean, on the other hand, works hard at nurturing all of its fans from the lone customer to the highly influential blogger. “Be good to the people who really make your brand and reward them every once in awhile,” counseled Griner, who supports a vibrant Facebook community with contests, special offers and quick responses to inquiries.

Clean also created a product testing “advisory board” from among its Facebook fans. “We recruited people who were Warm Cotton fans to test a new type of Cotton fragrance as a disaster check, because if your real avid fans don’t like the fragrance, you’re in trouble,” advised Griner. Amazingly, over 1,000 people applied to be on the advisory board, demonstrating both the strength of their fan base and their fans unbridled enthusiasm.

M is for Minimize

With retail strategy, for smaller brands sometimes less is indeed more. Rather than striving for broad scale distribution, Clean minimized its approach, concentrating its efforts on a single outlet, Sephora, a decision that has paid off many times over. One of over 200 perfume brands on Sephora shelves, Clean is now in the Top 10, making them a priority product for this retailer. “Sephora gives us prime real estate, allows us in all of their promotions and provides huge merchandising opportunities,” explained Griner.

With such a strong retailer relationship, Clean is also able to test new products and push through large seasonal promotions. Griner noted that Clean is currently testing Bath and Body products in 25 Sephora stores, though perfumes remain their top priority. “We had amazing point-of-sale opportunities including end-caps for our summer perfume and the launch of our Outdoor Shower Fresh which gives you an indication how strong the brand is performing.”

P is for Promote

At the risk of being obvious, niche brands simply can not gain traction without some well-planned and well-executed promotions. Clean gained over 13,000 fans in two-weeks by offering a free sample to anyone who became a fan on Facebook. Clean spread the word initially via email and then encouraged referrals with a sweepstakes. With an acquisition cost of under $2.00 per fan, this program provided a cost-effective foundation for their on-going social media program.

In-store promotions at Sephora also played a crucial role in Clean’s success.  Noted Griner, “our primary drive to acquisition is through sampling so we created 30,000 gift sets, half of which sold through in two weeks!” Part of Sephora’s “Steals and Deals,” the gift set bundle was an incredible value offering three scents of Clean perfume for $10.00, enticing existing Clean fans as well as targeting new customers to try the product or share it with their friends.

L is for Leverage

Like David before them, niche brands need to make the most of their opportunities, finding leverage wherever they can. One place Clean gains leverage is through a partnership with HSN (Home Shopping Network). “We’re on HSN at least 9 times a year selling gift sets that are very different than what we sell at retail,” explained Griner. “We were a ‘Today’s Special’ two weeks ago and sold out of 17,000 gift sets, providing us a million dollar day,” she added.

In addition to the immediate sales generated, HSN also provides an extraordinary halo for Clean. A delighted Griner offered, “being on TV as much as we are with HSN, it’s basically our form of advertising.” That said, working with HSN can be challenging, explained Griner, “there is a lot of complexity but we plan this months in advance.” Griner’s team also created a scented towel to make the HSN gift set truly unique, helping to leverage the relationship.

E is for Emotion

Niche brands seem to have an inherent understanding of the emotional relationship consumers want to have with their products and respond accordingly. Offered Griner, “you have to be genuine as a brand, because people can spot fakery.” Griner believes that marketers should be careful not to delegate social media communications to outsiders who might misrepresent the brand. “The marketer has to be the one responding to the consumer,” added an emphatic Griner, “because the consumer can smell phoniness.”

In addition to honesty, Griner is a big fan of using humor. To this end, Griner created the Clean etiquette guide which offered tongue-in-cheek advice on texting, tipping and hand washing among other topics. Consumers responded with content of their own which in turn inspired bloggers and Real Simple magazine to join in on the fun. Concluded a delighted Griner, “I just think it’s about creating emotion.”

Final note: As anyone who has ever designed a marketing program will tell you, keeping it SIMPLE is anything but. Fortunately for Clean, the idea of simplicity speaks to the very essence of the brand itself. (This article first appeared on FastCompany.com).

Drew is the CEO of Renegade, the digital & guerrilla marketing agency from New York City that helps clients make more out of less by transforming communications into “Marketing as Service.” @DrewNeisser