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What Makes Indie Brands Successful? An Interview with Andrea Van Dam

02 Aug 2018 Ann D'Adamo

in Media, Beauty, Women in Media

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At Women’s Marketing, we understand the entrepreneurial mindset because we live it. Our CEO, Andrea Van Dam, has spent her career helping indie brands become household names and her excitement for building brands is infectious: this month, Andrea is profiled in HER, a publication focusing on women in leadership roles.

We wanted to go behind the scenes with Andrea, and dig a little deeper into why indie brands resonate with consumers, the impact of social media and technology, and what the brand/agency partnership will look like in the future. Please check out the full interview at HER magazine (registration required).  

Indie beauty, artisanal food and beverages, boutique fitness…small brands are really resonating with consumers—so much so that now, big brands are acquiring indies to stay relevant. What do you think contributed to the shift?

AVD: The consumer desire for speed, transparency, and uniqueness, led by Millennials, has significantly shifted the playing field. Indie brands have always been nimble and fast at innovation, providing consumers with solutions to common problems—and willing to risk it all.  But, they were historically at the mercy of retailers accepting them and having to play by their rules essentially holding back their chances or growth rate. Today, the pendulum has swung the other way. Young brands now have more independence thanks to e-commerce and particularly Amazon, easier access to capital thanks to CircleUp and Indiegogo and, given the rise of the influencer through massive social channels, faster adoption by consumers. Mega-branding, which the large marketers have hung their hat on for decades, is no longer en vogue. Legacy brands are acquiring indies at the fastest rate ever to not only stay relevant, but to scale and round out capabilities within their portfolio. It’s easier and less risky to buy something that’s in high-growth mode than to build or rebrand internally. 

Social media significantly contributed to the growth of many of the most successful indie brands when they first launched. What role did social play in building these brands and do you think they could be just as successful if they took the same approach to marketing today?

AVD: Social is experiential on steroids. Consumers have always purchased brands most often because of word of mouth—friends, family, hairstylists, coaches, etc. who are a trusted source. THAT has not changed in half a century. What’s changed is who and how many more people we trust today. Beauty brands such as Urban Decay, ELF, and NYX (full disclosure: we worked with all three!) brilliantly engaged early with a diverse community of influencers to showcase products, looks, tips, how-to’s—all with a transparent, non-judgmental, accessible approach. Millennials, in the comfort of their homes, liked and shared the content and went on to create their own looks—also liked and shared—and so on. That authentic approach resonated and was the catalyst for the way beauty and other categories go to market today. The cost of creating and publishing content is minimal so the barrier to entry for new brands is low compared to what large brands traditionally had to pay for branding campaigns to introduce new products to consumers. I don’t see the age of the influencer ending, but like everything else, it will evolve. The key to succeeding now is in customization and personalization. Consumers want brands made for them, made with ingredients that appeal to them—so technology will play a bigger role in the future.

What unique challenges do indie brands face and how can they effectively keep up with legacy brands when it comes to marketing and technology?

AVD: Indies have less money and fewer resources which makes it difficult to build and grow as quickly as they’d like to. Every ingredient must be deeply researched and sourced, every founder wears 5 hats, every dime spent must be a necessity. There is little room for error. With passion and creativity as drivers, they tend to be unconventional in their approach to business. Indies thrive on being disruptive and are willing to take risks. A key difference in drawing in consumers for indies vs. legacies is that the former has prioritized the consumer over company profits. Warby Parker, M. Gemi, Dollar Shave Club, were all were born with the promise of passing savings to consumers on premium products by cutting out the middle man. Transparency in materials, sourcing, pricing, and profits are driving consumer interest and significant advocacy. And, with the influx of brands selling direct-to-consumer, the data being collected allows for a more customized and personal experience with the brand the next time. It keeps getting better and better and at a speed the legacy companies can only envy—or acquire. And with consumers actively involved in the brand story-telling, that adds fuel to their marketing success on a shoestring budget. 

How has the agency role changed in the past five years? Where do you think it’s going?

AVD: The role of the agency has changed significantly. Be it changing consumer behaviors, the emergence of new technology or access to more data, the historical model of conducting business is gone. However, agencies are good at finding their way onto the next big thing. For example, over the last 5 years we have evolved from a traditional media planning and buying company to being entrenched in marketing and media consultation, programmatic activation, attribution modeling and content strategy. And, right now we are one of the fastest-growing agencies on Amazon. It's very exciting. The landscape moves quickly so there is no time for complacency. With our focus on 3 core verticals vs. being generalists, we are able to continuously perfect our expertise and give our clients an experience that would mirror that of an internal team. With technology now embedded in everything we do, there will always be a new set of challenges on the horizon. However, I believe that, like indie brands, the time for small agencies is now. The ability to act transparently and with speed, develop creative and actionable ideas and drive meaningful business results will stand the test of time. Money will continue to follow great teams who can deliver these things.  

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