Here’s the marketing strategy that took LUS Brands to $1 million a month in revenue
Despite Sahar Saidi never completing an undergrad degree, she got her MBA and started a global e-commerce company, LUS Brands, selling hair products to women with curly, kinky-coily, or wavy hair. Prior to launch, she dealt with numerous challenges: faulty product labels, lack of investor funding, and a few nightmare vendor relationships.
Now, the founder set her sights for her company LUS Brands to elusive “unicorn” ($1 billion+ valuation) status. Talking to PulseBlueprint, Saidi and her team shared the stories and strategies they used to go from nothing to millions, and the strategy in the works now to take them to billions.
Who needs a 9-5, anyway?
A woman with naturally curly hair, Saidi was frustrated with how ineffective and complex hair products for curly hair were. So she tried to solve her own problems, by creating innovate formulas from scratch that actually worked and were simple to use, much like MFMG Cosmetics founder Tomi Gbeleyi.
“I knew because of social media there was an opportunity to step in, and I felt that larger brands would take advantage of this consumer demographic that had been underserved for decades,” said Saidi, referring to hair products for women with curly hair. “Every other company complicates it, asking customers to use 5-10 different products and spending hours a day. ”
The timing for her couldn’t have been better, either. Freshly graduated from her MBA at the University of Toronto, Saidi tried to join the traditional corporate 9-5 world, after working as a self-employed consultant for 8+ years. Unable to land the type of role she desired, she decided to leave consulting and found LUS instead.
“Investors wouldn’t back me,” said Saidi. “No one believed a shampoo company for curly hair would ever make it in such a competitive space. So I decided to take a big risk. I withdrew $75K from the student line of credit I had received for my MBA, put a small portion of that in my own account to live on, and the rest in the company’s account. That’s how I started LUS. It was literally all or nothing.”
Launching with direction, testing copy and creative, and encouraging user generated content
“We hired a brand expert before we launched,” explained Saidi when I asked why the brand focused just on women with curly hair and not everyone with curly hair. “You can’t market to everyone. So our messages focus on women.”
Bren Harper, the digital marketing lead at LUS, said that after knowing women with curly hair was the focus audience, she and the early LUS team “tested a LOT” of copy, creative, and ad formats on a wide variety of platforms. Some of the initial tests stuck, namely Facebook at the time, and sales began to creep up.
The first few sales
After the first few hundred sales, customers began to create how-to videos explaining how they used the products and how other women can use them. While Harper said this was “unsolicited, unpaid,” it was not entirely unexpected for Saidi.
“I’ve been a consumer [of hair products for women with curly hair] for 20 years,” Saidi said. “When social media started picking up, people started looking to other people for product recommendations. The curly hair segment is large; over 60% of the world’s population has waves, curls, or kinks in their hair.”
In a world of click-bait, LUS’ tests showed that women with curly hair resonated strongly with narratives featuring women with curly hair. They saw themselves in the ads and in the products, leading to more brand championship and loyalty. A few months into their tests, Harper noticed in particular that buyers resonated with Saidi’s story, so the company moved to feature her more in advertisements and content.
“It was all just testing, learning, optimizing, and intently listening to our community to make sure we had a pulse on what was and wasn’t working for them,” said Harper.
Customer support as marketing
Continually listening to customers and getting a pulse on what worked for them was crucial for LUS, in particular due to the emotions their products evoke.
From day one, Saidi knew that her product would carry emotion. Most women with curly hair have been told their whole lives that curly hair isn’t beautiful or professional. Haircare for women with curly hair is an intense process that can take hours and cost hundreds of dollars per month. So when there’s a cost-effective product that works, people will react. But there will also be a reaction if the product is defective or if there are business admin and customer support issues.
These emotions are heightened in an online-only shopping experience, since prospective buyers can’t easily touch or sample products before purchase. In most cases, buyers are taking a leap of faith because they feel the product will work for them where others hadn’t.
Testing and optimizing
Knowing this, Saidi emphasized the necessity of good customer support. She said 45% of LUS’ 16 employees work in support. The support team is distributed, working remote around the world, meaning that LUS has near-record response times to customer reach outs.
“We normally get to everyone in under an hour or two on email,” said Saidi. “On social media it’s usually within minutes.”
Harper said the effect of good customer support has been amazing for the company. By hiring women with curly hair from all over the world, LUS’ support team was able to deeply understand the challenges that users were going through – because the support team were customers themselves. This meant support was timely and high quality, prompting great responses from customers and positive reviews online.
“Once the social proof started rolling in in the form of Facebook reviews and high follower counts, we grew even faster,” said Harper. For context, LUS Brands’ Facebook page has over 121,000 followers and 3,200 reviews.
The shifting marketing landscape and scaling LUS
Now that the digital ad landscape has changed drastically, Saidi and Harper are testing new marketing platforms and ideas.
To meet the new changes, they are looking back to their foundation of listening to customers and keeping a pulse on what’s working for them. Harper said this manifests itself in LUS’ strategy as branching out into niche advertising platforms more likely to reach women with curly hair and expanding into more written, visual, and video content.
And all of this comes at the perfect time, too, because Saidi has upped the ante for the company. When she started LUS Brands, she wanted to build a $100 million company in five years. Three years in, she’s multiplying that goal by 10.
“I’m trying to get myself in the place where I am building a $1 billion company,” said Saidi. “What we’ve done works, and now we want to do more of that, on a bigger scale.”
Images courtesy LUS Brands
This article was edited. The quote from Saidi about investors not backing her was added. The number of employees at LUS Brands was corrected to 16; it previously mistakenly said 19.