Retail tech for small-business owners.
We first launched Famous Soda Co in 2017, completely unsure of how the product would be received or the amount of work involved to bring it life. We knew we had an amazing opportunity in our hands. As a team we had created some amazing brands together before, so there was no doubting this would work. We had a strong brand, great quality product, good networks and a vision to grow this together to the very end. As the journey unraveled, immediate gaps in the skill sets and business needs became glaringly evident; plus, overlaying the complexity of the tech world and where it fits is always a mystery, but the answer is it’s a part of everything we do.
Like all small businesses, 2020 dealt us a hand no one saw coming. Famous had been coasting along fine with steady growth in small- and medium-sized retailers, cafes and restaurants, with some major distribution deals in the pipeline both locally and abroad. When it became evident that a majority of our sales channels would be shut down indefinitely, and with the probability of any other plans on the horizon almost evaporating before our very eyes, we knew we had to respond quickly to ensure our survival in one of the toughest economic climates and public health issues in decades.
An online store hadn’t been a big focus for us. Up until this year our focus had been on building strong distribution networks across the country and aligning with premium retailers to strengthen our brand awareness. E-commerce was such a big unknown and a massive beast to try to tame, and we constantly asked ourselves the question: would customers want our product in a time of economic uncertainty? When our loyal customer base was suddenly in lockdown it became clear we needed to pivot to an online model to service the newly created stay-at-home economy.
“A good website should be treated like a traditional bricks and mortar store.”
With strong skills in marketing, branding, design and sales, building an e-commerce store wasn’t going to be an easy feat. The process was long, arduous and uncompromising at times but it was well worth a try. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that you’ve got nothing to lose but time.
Competitors – what are they doing right? And what are they doing wrong?
The first, and most pivotal, step for us was looking at our competitors at home and abroad, and picking out those we thought were doing something right and those who were just over-complicating things. We wanted a site that was beautiful and reflected the Insta-worthy appeal of our packaging, but that was also easy to use. We didn’t want a site littered with too much information that distracted the customer from doing what they came to do. The online world is already littered with too much content; sometimes it’s nice to create a space that is just easy and appealing to use.
It was so important to work on the user journey of the site before we even began engaging web developers to simplify the experience; at the end of the day customers just want things to be easy and trustworthy, so we opted for a no-nonsense approach to our site where customers can make transactions in a minimum of two steps.
At Famous we pride ourselves on creating the best customer experience we can deliver across all consumer touch points. This ranges from an incredible tasting healthy product, beautiful eye catching packaging and consistently strong and engaging social media content to name a few. Never second-guess the power of design, strong branding and brand tone of voice to enhance and drive interest and intrigue in your e-commerce platform. We have watched a lot of competitors fail to deliver on this front.
After many rounds of design (being a creative at heart this process took more time than was really needed), I sought out a web developer who came with strong recommendations but also a folio that reflected our brand’s desires. It’s so important to engage someone who is not only astute in website development but also has the time and patience to hand-hold you through the process. Learning and understanding the web world and the commonly used language was a feat in itself, so it helps if you know what you’re asking for, even in its simplest form. Choosing a web developer who has the right temperament and patience to suit your needs is also crucial – there are some incredibly talented developers in the world, but finding one who matches your expectations and style of communication is a gift in itself. This relationship can be intense for a period of time, and building and constantly refining a site that functions well but is also responsive in a variety of digital formats can be tedious. Things can quickly go pear-shaped. After a few missteps I found the right person for the job and our site was live.
Within hours of launching, issues became evident. This was such an eye-opening moment when the flaws in the design became glaringly obvious. It also dawned on me that websites are never really completed. It’s a constant moving target that needs refinement, attention and creativity. A good website should be treated like a traditional bricks and mortar store: update your shop window, keep the stock levels high and keep it fun and refreshing so customers keep coming back for more and discover something new.
Once our site was live and working and the orders were coming in, it was increasingly evident that we needed to investigate how to send our message out further than just our current customer base. After much investigation and numerous enquiries, we decided to align with a digital marketing agency that could help us navigate the exhaustingly expansive world of online advertising. The first month passed by with very little movement; we were warned about this as it takes time to set up the correct advertising templates in a variety of ways to speak to wider varieties of customers. It was still a nail-biting time, and we just didn’t have the time or money to waste on false hopes. Then within a few days, things began to change. Orders came through, and ads were being engaged with on exceptionally high levels and converting to sales.
Again, the creative is important here. Customers quickly turn off from the repetition, and testing and learning what content cuts through was a real eye opener. The simplest messaging posted at the right time to the right audience sounds easier said than done and, trust me, it is. It’s a matter of just waiting, watching and learning to respond quickly to what works.
Digital advertising is a world within itself, there are no shortcuts to success and patience pays off. I am a digital native thankfully, so it wasn’t a stretch to get my head around the inner workings but it helps immensely to work with a team that understands the product, its value and ultimately how to engage with your potential customers.
Robbie Ellis, creative director, Famous Soda Co
This story first appeared in issue 31 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine