For brands, the digital and social media landscape comes with its fair share of pros and cons. On the pros, digital has created a significant amount of untapped opportunities while giving businesses of all sizes the opportunity to spread information in new ways. This has helped to level the playing field, giving brands direct access to their consumers regardless of size or budget. Of course, social and digital media has been increasingly dominated by paid opportunities that curtail the ability to get organic reach - but that's a story for another day.
One entrepreneur who preaches for brands to create crowdsourced products using the wisdom of the crowd is Richelieu Dennis, the CEO of Sundial Brands. In fact, Sundial was built on crowdsourcing long before the term was in vogue. The results for the brand have been impressive: annual revenues eclipsing $200 million and over 45,000 points of distribution.
I had the pleasure of talking to Dennis for Firebrand Group's 2017 Big Ideas project (you can get the whole ebook with Dennis and many other business leaders here). Sundial learned early on that listening - and acting upon what was said- was one of the clearest ways to show that the brand cared, which ultimately became one of Sundial's biggest competitive advantages.
How Sundial Leverages Customer Feedback
Case in point: women came to Sundial on social media and said they'd use Jamaican Black Castor oil, but couldn't find it or a product that could serve as a viable substitute anywhere. "So we researched it, sourced it, and created products" around that need, says Dennis. The resulting collection of products has become one of Sundial's largest.
Another example: Sundial created a new product with rosemary as a secondary ingredient. The products were due to ship when a customer notified the brand that rosemary might be problematic for pregnant customers. The brand listened, and was able to make the switch to peppermint. These are just two examples of the brand's continuous listening and learning, which Dennis considers to be critical advantages Sundial has in manufacturing its own products.
Sundial's experience has been that people overwhelmingly welcome, expect, and reward the opportunity to have direct engagement with the brands they support and appreciate when their feedback is acknowledged. That acknowledgment can come in the form of actual implementation of the feedback or simply demonstrating that the brand genuinely cares about their needs and are continually working to meet them. "We believe everyone deserves that," says Dennis. In fact, he calls engaging with the consumer to be "the most critical part of our marketing mix."
Social media provides brands like Sundial with countless new opportunities and platforms to engage 24/7 with people about subjects, products and ingredients that are interesting or culturally significant to them. This has helped to level the playing field by democratizing access to people so that now any brand, regardless of marketing or research budget, can effectively and efficiently have real dialogue with its communities on a broad scale about their needs and concerns. Accordingly, when Sundial's dedicated social media team engages with customers, they immediately get our R&D teams involved in the conversation regarding any questions or suggestions about formulations, ingredients, or specific hair or skin needs that aren't currently being effectively addressed.
The Necessity of the Crowdsourcing Mentality
But, isn't it a little dangerous to be led by the consumer? Dennis actually believes that it is more costly to not listen and to ignore consumer feedback. "Our mission is to make high-quality products with efficacious natural, organic and fair trade ingredients that people want to use and that meet their needs," he says. Given that, there's probably no one who can better provide that feedback to Sundial than the people the brand serves.
That's why Dennis and his team welcome hearing from their community of consumers about ingredient, product and new innovation recommendations - or even anything that doesn't fall under those umbrellas. "We then use our R&D experience, manufacturing expertise and other insights to determine if and how we can successfully incorporate that feedback into our formulations or our business," says Dennis. "This is what true customer service means to us."
Interestingly, Sundial doesn't use its commitment to incorporating customers' feedback as a positioning statement amongst competitors "because our competitors aren't our focus," explains Dennis. Rather, Sundial continues to focus on the people it serves - consistently challenging ourselves to be better, to make an even more positive impact in the world and to provide the highest quality products possible.
And, now that I think about it, authenticity means being the same person when people aren't looking as when people are. Perhaps the best kind of brand positioning statement isn't a statement at all; it's something that is authentically lived, with a focus on meeting the needs of the customer at the center.