Every early stage founder like myself dreams of the day when we have the ability to activate high performing targeted online ads, a dedicated social media team, and other tried-and-true marketing techniques that would put us on the same playing field as long-standing heritage brands.
But since I bootstrapped SHAYDE BEAUTY, a skincare line that prioritizes the needs of melanin-rich skin, from the get-go, that hasn’t been my reality (yet). As a woman of color, I’m acutely aware that female founders of color only receive 1.2 percent of the overall venture dollars invested in the US. Instead of focusing my energy fighting for funding to fuel a massive marketing budget, I decided to get scrappy. I asked myself: How can I get the word out there organically, authentically, and without having to spend a lot of money?
After trying a few techniques, I landed on the most old-school approach there is: Meeting customers IRL. There is something about an in-person, hands-on experience that the post-Covid consumer is craving. During my first year in business, I would go to art shows and set up a table filled with product samples and business cards in the hopes of getting people to sign up for our email marketing list. I’d cold call boutiques around NYC to see if they’d let me do a pop-up shop for a few hours. I’d even go to Washington Square Park once a week with a bag full of sample jars and business cards to hand out to strangers. I’d approach people in the park (mostly women who looked like me and may struggle with similar skincare challenges), explain who I was, and ask if they were open to chatting about skincare.
What arose out of a necessity turned into my secret weapon. In fact, this “boots on the ground” approach has been instrumental in growing my brand’s reach and gaining me some of the most dedicated customers around. Is it the most efficient way to market? No. But here’s why it’s been so valuable to carve out opportunities to meet potential customers face-to-face.
I can better educate my customers
Many consumers have had the experience of walking into a Sephora and feeling overwhelmed by the countless options available and then feeling too intimidated to ask for help. Unfortunately for those of us with melanin-rich skin, the market has vastly overlooked our needs, leaving us with the opposite (but equally as frustrating) problem.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve met with a potential customer who shares gripes such as, “I have hyperpigmentation, I’ve tried this product that’s supposed to work for this issue, but it actually made it worse.” By being face to face, I can explain how many products on the market aren’t formulated with skin of color in mind and can actually make some skincare problems worse. I also share how SHAYDE BEAUTY focuses on the percentages of active ingredients to ensure issues are targeted while still keeping the skin looking healthy—and that the product was created by someone who has struggled through the same challenges as them. There are so many myths out there around melanin-rich skincare, and talking to customers gives me some meaningful time to quash them.
I also get to educate them on my journey and how the products I’ve created transformed my skin. It’s one thing to write some nice copy that shares this story on my website—it’s another for a customer to see in person how good my skin looks. Once I pull up a picture of where it was five years ago and talk through the changes I’ve made in my routine and why they’ve worked, the customer almost instantly becomes motivated to purchase and support the brand.
I can respond to the needs of my customers
Everyone’s skin has different needs, and by talking with customers regularly, I’ve been better able to learn about and respond to them. Getting to speak to each customer and ask, “What struggles are you dealing with, and how can we help?” guides not only what I recommend for them in the moment but also broader product decisions for the company.
For one, I can take the time to understand what’s going on with their skin and make tailored recommendations of which products would work best. Whether it’s over a Zoom call or in a store, I love having a potential customer tell me about their skincare routine and what’s working or not working about it, and then finding tailored solutions for them. It’s been reported that 91 percent of consumers are more likely to shop with brands who offer personalized recommendations.
These conversations are also an incredible avenue for market research, sparking fresh inspiration and evolving the future of the brand. Anytime I share samples with customers, I also ask what types of products they wish they had, or what’s not working for them about the solutions currently available on the market. This helps guide new products we may develop or tweaks to our existing formulas. I’m constantly shocked by how most skincare companies don’t respond to the needs of customers, but because we’re small, we can move quickly and adapt as needed. I think our willingness to do so sets us apart.
I can create lasting relationships
I’ve seen time and time again how excited potential customers are to be introduced to me, the founder, alongside my products—and how that interaction creates brand loyalty.
People who first met me five years ago when I was set up on a folding table at an art show are still my customers today, and I think it’s partly because they experienced that one-on-one connection in the beginning. Sometimes customers who just met me that day will go home, try the product, and do an Instagram story that night, excitedly sharing how they met the founder of an amazing new product. Just that little moment of putting a face to the brand gained us a new customer and made them excited to be an advocate. Over time, these relationships have helped land our first major retail partnerships—companies want to see social proof and positive feedback before they make a decision to work with us.
I get it: As a consumer myself, I know I feel more loyal to brands when I have some kind of personal connection. As my company grows, I want to ensure I have the same kind of touch points with my customers on a larger scale, even if I can’t be there in person.
For one, I’m tapping heavily into ambassadors for the next wave of marketing. By developing a network of skin coaches and estheticians that focus on skin of color, the ambassadors can build similar one-on-one connections with customers and help educate them about the products.
Additionally, I’ve been conceptualizing ways of how I can translate this approach to our social channels. For instance, if customers I talk to are always asking the same questions, can that inform educational posts? Or, if meeting me is the draw, would Live shopping events allow me to connect with a larger audience?
No matter what, I still plan to prioritize spending at least one day a week on the floor of one of our retail partners, meeting potential customers face-to-face. These conversations remind me why I started this brand in the first place—and push me to keep going so I can help as many people as possible and bring overall market awareness to the unique needs of melanin-rich skin.