I’ve had my hair natural since I was 22 years old and I’ve had locs since 2003. Back then, I had to drive several hours to Detroit and purchase some of Miss Jessie’s curl pudding from my newly chopped tresses from a guy who sold it in his trunk after going to New York to stock up and sale to his dry-haired mid-western black women customers.
I remember when "Carol’s Daughter" was an obscure natural hair care brand made in the kitchen of the Brooklyn brownstone and only mentioned in Erykah Badu songs.
So needless to say, seeing the amazing expansion of natural hair care products over the past decade has been MORE than a relief to my psyche and my hair. Scouring natural hair blogs is now a thing of the past and most women with natural hair have an array of ways to experiment with their hair and figure out what works for them.
One of the most popular brands, Shea Moisture ("Shea"), started as a black-owned family company that grew in popularity with its base being women like me; Curly, Kinky-haired or loc’ed black women looking for the best and most natural products for their hair.
Founded in 1991, Shea Moisture has built up a reputation among its consumers as the “go-to” brand over other popular staples like "Carol’s Daughter" or "Dark and Lovely."
That being said, many women in their fan base were concerned over their recent decision to acquire investment dollars for their expansion by corporate investors, fearing that the quality of the products would go down (like they tend to do when larger companies acquire or invest in smaller businesses). However, what they didn’t expect was something even more alarming.
In an effort to expand their customer base, Shea’s recent campaign ad featured 4 women. One racially-ambiguous, softly-coiled haired woman and 3 white women. The customer base that made Shea Moisture a house-hold name amongst the natural hair community (i.e. women who look like me or have hair like mine) were absent completely.
As a result, they have been in a public relations nightmare for several days with bloggers doing bad reviews of the campaign, thousands of messages on their Facebook page, a twitter fire-storm and now national media like CNN and AdWeek are getting involved (just Google it).
Honestly, from the perspective of black woman who has faithfully supported their products over the years, I definitely wasn’t happy to see my fellow constituents absent from their ads and I felt the collective “ouch” from that community.
As an objective businesswoman who has worked with companies and individuals on their brand expansion, I understand WHAT they were trying to do, albeit executed poorly. Essentially it appears they wanted more market share, increased profits and to expand their audience.
There are many reasons for this. Perhaps they now have huge loans to pay off given the recent investments in their company, a desire to assure their corporate investors so they won’t pull dollars. Maybe they desire to expand their product line to expose even more people to Shea butter and other natural ingredients and increase knowledge that there are healthy alternatives for hair and skincare that don’t involve harsh chemicals that damage our bodies. Who knows?
I don’t think that any of their objectives are wrong from a business standpoint. BUUUTTTT...the execution is where they screwed up.
Here are 3 Mistakes that Shea Moisture made that you can learn from and use as you expand your own brand:
Mistake #1: Abandoning your core market – Listen, we all want to grow and expand, make more profits, reach wider audiences and expand our visions. However, they didn’t INCLUDE their core market into the expansion. This could have easily been fixed if they would have simply added their core demographic to the commercial along with the market they wanted to expand to. They may have had a few grumbles from some people but they wouldn’t have pissed off the entire consumer base that made them famous while simultaneously increasing the sales of their competition. (Hello United Airlines!) Now they appear disloyal to their customers. Bad move.
Mistake #2: Bad Surprise - Generally, many people don’t like change or surprises. Don’t believe the hype. Expansion also causes major contraction and that backlash they didn’t prepare for. Now, when you expand your brand, it’s incredibly important to warn your core audience BEFORE you move in a different direction. This was a surprise to their market and a BAD one. You’re not Beyoncé. The element of surprise doesn’t work if you’re doing a complete 180 shift or you're outside of your market in a way that your core isn’t prepared for. Give people the time to adjust to the new changes you’re making by letting them know before you make them. That way they know you’re taking them with you verses leaving them behind.
Mistake #3: Core audience missing from the decision room - You can’t make such a huge shift without having your core audience as a part of the decisions. This could have prevented the marketing disaster if they simply had a kinky or curly - haired, black woman in the room. She could've easily scanned the ad for herself and gave them a few tips about the campaign. Naturally, as humans we look for reliability and familiarity. I can guarantee their core consumers didn’t sign off on that ad. Trust.
Now, I don’t want you to think that pivots aren’t a part of business or that you won’t be able to expand out of fear of losing your profits. You just have to be strategic and bring your people with you. Don’t drop them like a hot potato because you want a bigger audience.
Remember: Loyalty, Alert, and Input. These 3 things will keep you on the right side of your audience as you grow and expand beyond your core.
Also, if you know anyone who’s thinking of moving in a different direction in their business, send this to them. We learn and grow through sharing with each other.
Love You Fiercely,
P.S. If you are interested in knowing more my Business & Life Mastermind when we reopen in June, be sure to hop on the VIP list and I’ll send you all the deets. Much love boo.