Stephanie Sica is a native New Yorker and Managing Director at No.29, a public relations company that selectively represents social impact and sustainable brands.
So, you’re launching a brand. Congratulations! That means you’re the perfect combination of determined, optimistic, visionary, and (hopefully) realistic.
I’m emphasizing that last part because it’s really important for you to know that the PR for launching a new brand, especially an ethical brand, is not easy. But small brands do it all the time (some better than others).
So let’s consider a few things that’ll set you up for a successful brand launch, as far as the PR and marketing goes (assuming you’ve nailed all the other logistics such as sourcing, manufacturing, shipping, etc.)
Phase 1: Branding
The first step is brand development. You need to understand both the brand itself, the market which it’s entering and, in turn, your target consumer.
This seems like a no-brainer, but something that takes many entrepreneurs by surprise in terms of difficulty. Defining your brand identity requires that you pinpoint the messaging that the consumer receives about your product or brand. While it also includes image and aesthetic under its umbrella, brand identity is the verbal persona of the brand. What is your why? And how are you achieving it differently?
This is, essentially, creating your mission statement and your overarching, high-level message. It’s important to create a concise brand overview that’s particular in terms of word use and relays all of the most important points in brief. That language can be crafted into your ‘about page’ on your site, the bio on your social media profiles, and the synopsis that you’ll send to the media.
I can’t tell you how many times young brands bypass the importance of this step. Your visual identity, especially for direct-to-consumer brands, is everything. The capitalist market, generally speaking, is incredibly saturated–in all categories. Yes, including ethical and sustainable brands. Take it from me, you will be completely ignored by both media and consumers if you do not invest in beautiful visual assets. It is a necessary expense, not a nice-to-have! So, please, do not try to cut costs when it comes to your brand assets. Invest in great product and lifestyle imagery, and a beautiful, well-functioning website.
Prepare by not only obtaining these awesome assets, but organizing a tight edit of them in a shareable Dropbox folder to provide to press/media, along with logo files and headshots, if relevant. A press kit is really not so important these days, but line sheets or one-pagers can sometimes be useful. Above all, though, great images and brand background (see above) are what you need to get going!
Know your consumer. It comes as no surprise that this is of pivotal importance.
Who is going to care about you: your why and how? This is a two-step process, and one that–again–is often well-served to do with a third party for outside perspective. Create a profile of your target consumer: age range, gender(s), income, work/position, marital status, home environment, interests, etc. (DON’T say “everyone.” There is not a brand on the planet that appeals to “everyone.”) Once you’ve profiled your audience, consider how they consume media. Is their predominant social network Instagram or Facebook? Snapchat or Twitter? Do they read print or digital media? On desktop or mobile? What sort of publications might s/he be reading?
Phase 2: Communications Strategy
That brings us to discussing a communications strategy. Unfortunately, for new brands, the reality is that you’re not likely to afford both PR and digital marketing. So, first determine which works best for you (here’s an article that’ll help). Social media is a given–at least one channel, pick it and own it (likely Instagram if you’re going for the 40-and-under crowd).
As a publicist myself, I recommend starting PR efforts about two or three months prior to launch, depending on where you’re at with brand development and, of course, production. If you’re looking for a publicist to solely focus on launch, consider a 4-to-6-month contract. There will always be the option to discuss renewal and/or extension of your plan for continued efforts and press coverage.
Your publicist and his/her team will put together a plan of action (POA) that may involve an exclusive and/or just widespread coverage across various beats, or editorial topics.
If you opt to spend your communications budget on marketing, I’d consult a marketing specialist. (Here’s one EcoCult recommends.) But also, know that there will be a lead time for creating the graphics that’ll be used for ad campaigns, for example. There will be negotiation and coordination with any paid advertorials or influencer deals, as well.
Either avenue you explore, make sure your website is equipped to catch email addresses. You’ll want to build up a mailing list, so that you don’t “launch to crickets.” Have customers right out the gate who are eagerly waiting to purchase. If pre-sales are an option, consider that, as well. Email marketing is a low-cost and effective way to reach your consumers directly. Plan a newsletter calendar and create a template to make this manageable in the beginning, if you’re not outsourcing.
Every brand needs to have a social media presence. Start building a following as soon as you have images/assets to share! Start by creating some branded guidelines for running the account. Define the nature of the content you want to post, the frequency, timing, color scheme, etc. Come up with a brand-specific hashtag, so that (hopefully!) in time your consumers generate content for you (all hail ‘user generated content’). Most importantly, plan your content calendars. Planning your posts whether on a simple word doc, or with a scheduling app (like Later), will make the beast of social media much more manageable.
Social media strategy is something I can discuss at-length (here’s an entire article on it) but for the purpose of this story… get on it, and do it well. That means, have a plan! Start up your account in advance of launch and be consistent!
All in all, you can expect to start developing the brand and messaging around it about three months in advance of launch. Make sure to pick a launch day and stick to it, so that you can plan around it.
This will certainly help to set you up for success, in terms of both brand awareness and, subsequently, sales!