Wondering what happens to my Brick House Branding alumni post-graduation? What they do with the momentum + new-found knowledge? Curious about where they take their businesses in the year following all that hard work? Then settle in with a mug of something yummy for the next installment of my “Where Are They Now?” series. And I hope you’re sitting down for this one kittens, because it’s a *doozy*!
As you read this blog and peek at the “before” shots, I encourage you to think about how much you’d pay for that product. Try to get a number in your mind, then scroll down and peep the “after” shot. How much would you pay for that product? It’s a great reminder about how much packaging + presentation influences value perception, and a poignant reinforcement of how powerful a magnet you brand can be when it comes to attracting the right kind of customers.
MEET MICHELLE OF MAMASUDS
I’m excited to introduce you to Michelle Smith of MamaSuds, who creates naturally-focused, non-toxic soaps and household cleaners that are free of synthetics. After graduation from Brick House Branding, Michelle’s company underwent a major reinvention and the results are nothing short of stunning. Welcome, Michelle… we’re excited to share your transformation story!
LBC: Why and when did you originally launch your company?
Michelle: When I had my oldest daughter, I did everything by the book: baby shampoo, lotion, disposable diapers, etc. Then while I was pregnant with my second child, we bought new nursery furniture. One day I noticed a small sample bottle of name brand soap lying on its side on the dresser. I wiped up the small drop that leaked from the bottle and the finish came off with it. This sparked the question in my head, “What am I putting on my baby’s skin?”
Little did I know how much this simple question would change my life.
I found myself researching the ingredients in what I thought I knew to be “soap,” and it was like I opened Pandora’s Box. One thing led to another and I started making real soap for my family. I had been making liquid Castile soap for my friends and family for over two years and had developed an awesome laundry soap that was safe for cloth diapers. My soap worked so well that my husband kept urging me to sell it online. I thought that was a ridiculous idea- who wants to buy soap from a school teacher? He developed a website for me in late 2011 and then I obtained my business license in January 2012.
LBC: At what point did you know it was time for a rebrand?
Michelle: I took LBU and learned so much. In the spring and summer, I was full-on pitching MamaSuds’ products to boutiques and small alternative health stores. I was not having any success wholesaling my products. I had either received no feedback, or a shop would tell me my products were great but the look didn’t fit into their stores. I had no idea what that meant. After a few months of grinding it out, I felt like I was spinning my wheels and I didn’t know what to do next. I finally booked a one-on-one with Lela to get some advice and perspective. Lela was honest and straightforward about what I needed to do next. That one-on-one led me to decide I needed to rebrand to focus on our most popular products – all natural soap and household cleaners – and hone in on our core audience, which was ingredient-savvy moms. The day after our one-on-one, I signed up for BHB Winter Semester 2017.
LBC: Please share a significant realization about the brand development process that you discovered while in Brick House Branding.
Michelle: The comment I kept finding myself saying out loud during BHB was, “Wow, I didn’t know that!” You don’t know what you don’t know. I’ve never owned or run a business before, I’ve been teaching myself along the way, but there are aspects of being an entrepreneur that you just don’t know that you don’t know. Until someone tells you or you go through it first-hand, it’s all a big mystery.
LBC: What professionals did you tag in to help with the process, and what pieces of the branding puzzle did you DIY?
Michelle: As soon as BHB ended (mid-March 2017) I began researching design companies. I used the knowledge I learned and the tools given to me in the course to narrow down a list of 6 designers I wanted to work with. I then reached out to them and interviewed all six designers. It was a long process, but it was a huge investment and I wanted to do this right. After the interviews, I reached out to their clients and asked them a few questions. I then tagged in Lela to help me decide between them.
At the end of April, I hired Bre Radenmacher at RowanMade. While RowanMade started their design work, I began working on product descriptions, finding the perfect packaging, redoing my website… the list was long. By the beginning of August, the product labels were done so I sent my products off to POW Photography, and then took the lifestyle pictures myself.
LBC: What was the biggest obstacle you encountered during the rebranding process?
Michelle: My biggest obstacle was finding a bottle company that would sell me laundry bottles (called drainbacks). I found quite a few white bottles but it was really a challenge to find natural laundry bottles that didn’t have a high minimum. When I finally did find what I wanted, it took months to just get them delivered. Anything and everything went wrong, but in the end, they finally arrived and it was worth all the trouble.
LBC: How has your own perception of your brand evolved since graduating from Brick House Branding?
Michelle: It wasn’t until I had all my packaging lined up in front of my face that I had that “aha!” moment where I finally understood everything Lela taught me about branding. It looked so clean and fresh and cohesive. It was really exciting!
LBC: Are your products are being received differently by others since the rebrand? How has their reaction evolved?
Michelle: My customers’ reaction was incredible. It looks like a brand instead of just a collection of products I made. During BHB you come up with a list of words that you want your brand to stand for, and when I posted the pictures on social media to unveil the new brand, the feedback from my customers gave me were those exact words I chose in BHB: fresh + clean.
LBC: Can you share a recent win that you’ve realized because of the rebrand?
Michelle: During BHB, there is a video of before-and-after pictures that Lela shares to show how branding lifts a company. I remember pausing this video, turning to my husband and saying, “Do you want to know what my goal is? My goal is to be one of Lela’s before-and-after shots.” So, when I got the email asking me to share my journey in this blog series, I was on cloud nine. I am really proud of the end result, but if Lucky Break wants to share my story, it’s a huge validation to me that I’m on the right path!
LBC: How did the Brick House Branding experience help shape your branding process?
Michelle: When BHB was over and I began interviewing designers, they all gave me a worksheet to fill out to learn more about my vision. It was absolutely no work at all on my end, because BHB prepares you for that 100%. It was easy to communicate what I wanted MamaSuds to be because I was SO prepared from BHB.
LBC: What advice would you give to someone who’s getting ready to start the brand development process?
Michelle: If you go into BHB with an open mind, dig really deep, and pay attention to the exercises that you seem to want to avoid (that’s a clue you need to really do some soul-searching in that area!) then I really think the brand development process will be more enjoyable and easier.
Thanks for catching up with us, Michelle. We can’ t wait to see what comes next for you + MamaSuds. We’re cheering you on!
If you’d like to build a stronger, smart brand in 2017, then I also hope that you’ll consider joining me in the spring semester of Brick House Branding. This 8-week brand development incubator dissects awesome brands and then helps you build your own, brick by brick, with me working right alongside you to cheer you on and ensure that you’re on the right track. Enrollment for the first semester of 2018 opens on October 3rd and closes after 10 days, or as soon as we sell out of seats… so if you know you want a spot, be sure to mark your calendar today to ensure you don’t miss out. I’d welcome an opportunity to work with you!
I hope you’ll stop by next Wednesday for another “Where Are They Now?” blog and an amazing transformation that I’m excited to reveal…