a blog about creative side hustles, etsy-entrepreneurship, and disabled freelancing

a blog about creative side hustles, etsy-entrepreneurship, and disabled freelancing

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Saturated Market? How These Brands Differentiate Themselves

Is your small business in a saturated market? Let’s examine what other brands do in saturated markets to see what small and handmade business owners can learn!

Okay, this post took me way too long to finish. To be fair, I have been simultaneously working on another equally long post that should complement each other well. And I caught Covid and work is hard, yadda-yadda. I am working on other cool things to add to the freebies page.

Let’s Talk About Saturated Markets

I’m not going to debate the pros and cons of going into a saturated market versus an unsaturated market. There are plenty of posts about it and often as handmade sellers, are markets chose us don’t they?

Instead, I find it more helpful and interesting to observe what other brands do in their markets- whether saturated or unsaturated. Basically I like to look at:

  • Overall tone and feeling
  • Brand concept and pillars: values, principles, etc.
  • Design choices from branding, packaging, to their web design

Understand before we start that this is a fairly narrow view at a business. A business has a whole lot of other things going on besides aesthetics and conceptual strategy. There’s the bookkeeping, customer service, management, logistics, PR, digital marketing, etc, etc. so whether or not a brand does well or poorly can’t usually be attributed exclusively to the pretty-parts. That’s just a quick disclaimer that I think we all understand but I wanted to remind us of before starting.

Jewelry: Setting Brand Principles

Automic Gold – https://www.automicgold.com

Screenshot of Automic Gold's website that reads "Radically Wear Gold"

I’ve been a long-time fan of Automic Gold. I can point to their lovely website with its clean UI or their collection lines that I fancy. But what sticks out to me with Automic Gold’s memorable branding. They are in a saturated field of jewelry, and one of the ways they differentiate themselves is by having a solid set of brand values that revolve around inclusivity, diversity, straight-forward pricing, and quality products. They back that on there about page where they discuss their:

  • Inclusive sizing
  • No photoshopping, emphasis on representation
  • Use of reclaimed, recycled gold
  • High-quality and simple products
  • No discounts so they don’t overcharge customers

Business and moral values are usually a messy combination. People can see through BS: think greenwashing or the Pepsi ad with Kylie Jenner, and sometimes a business’ values can be more about self-righteousness and performance than actual good for the world (Looking at you, Hobby Lobby, or any of these rainbow washing corporations…). It’s usually a method I don’t personally like to see.

And yet, Automic Gold never feels inauthentic to their values because they are a smaller business and don’t reek of corporate buzzwords, and they actually do back up their claims. They DO offer inclusive sizes, their website DOES feature diverse photography, and as a long-time email subscriber, I can attest that they don’t offer discounts. They are seemingly not hypocrites or performing.

They are believable in their message because they hold themselves up to a standard. I’m more intrigued and likely to purchase from this “real” business than another company.

Opportunity: Proceed with caution and be hyper-critical as you go.

If people detect in-authenticity, it can break customer trust from the start. A creative director I worked under would often ask coworkers from other departments to look at current projects to give her honest feedback. She wasn’t their boss, and they were not graphic designers who would “think” like a designer. She did this to ensure she wasn’t “believing her own BS.”

Take this approach when going this route.

Be honest, transparent, and take every opportunity to back up whatever you stand for. If you can avoid being self-righteous and preach with action. (As Saint Francis said, preach the Gospel every day, if necessary, use words.) Realness resonates with people and create a customer base that believes in what you do.

Skincare: Super ingredients and nothing else. Keep it simple and go back to the roots

One Trick Ponies – https://otpskin.com/

This excellent brand concept is right in the name: One Trick Ponies. Skincare is very competitive with every combination of ingredients and routines you can think of. One Trick Ponies clearly wants to be the answer to how people must feel overwhelmed by the endless options by being a “no-fuss” option.

While I have my personal critiques of some copy-writing and branding on their website, I want to focus on why I wanted to highlight them.

They focus on 6 “super” ingredients while keeping any questionable ingredients out. It’s an excellent strategy to differentiate yourself by taking advantage of that fact: answering the overwhelm with a simple, “don’t make me think” solution.

Deliver what people want in a simple way: as if to say, “don’t worry about it, I got you.”

Opportunity: A saturated market can mean a lot of information, options, schools of thought, etc., available. People are busy, and it can be overwhelming if they aren’t personally into researching all the possibilities.

“I just want a cleanser that won’t break me out. Is that so hard to ask?” is something a person could say after a google search of conflicting articles and reading arguments on r/skincare.

People like brands like Curology and One Trick Pony because they do all the research and thinking for the customer: Curology with custom solutions, One Trick Pony with a straight-forward, accessible product line. They provide good products and the expertise that goes into creating those products.

If you can be trustworthy (with quality ingredients, researched information, transparency, professional testimony, expertise you can back up, etc.) and keep it simple, you could have a no-brainer product.

Soap: “Propriety Blend” – Nothing New Per Se, but Its Your Blend

Iron Lion Soap – https://ironlionsoap.com/ and Viori – https://viori.com

I sympathize with anyone in the candle or soap market- it must be so competitive. So I am making it a point to discuss soap and candle brands.

Viori is memorable for three reasons: the origins of their soaps are inspired by the Red Yao Tribes in China and made with their rice water. This is very unique and instills an image of ancient wisdom that’s been passed down for generations. Secondly, they use an unusual soap ingredient with rice water that they claim has beautiful effects on hair. Thirdly, they give back with every purchase and show how that money went back to the tribes.

Closer to my western home, we have the Iron Lion Soap. I like this brand, and they are seemingly doing well with having something similar to a proprietary blend is having the “Proprietary 8”. It accomplishes a similar thing as a proprietary blend does. These are THEIR signature soaps that I cannot get anywhere else.

They’re clear in what their soap doesn’t have, how it’s made (and why), and what it’s suitable for. Iron Lion Soap is not doing anything new, but they’re doing it well, and, again, they have the Proprietary 8. They do many things right with subscriptions (great idea for something like soap!) and social proofing with reviews and the little popup letting me know someone bought some soap just now.

Tangent: protein powders, they’re kind of like soap?

I think candle and soap makers (and anyone in similar fields) could also benefit from looking at protein powders. Take a look at three protein powder brands: Uniqo, Kos and Ka’chava. How many new ways can you really make a protein powder, after all? Sure, it’s all about performance (blendability, taste, protein amount), but when you have a list of protein powders that check all those boxes, it’s hard to differentiate from another.

Ka’chava does it by emphasizing a crazy 85+ superfood blend. (I have concerns about this, but I digress since that’s not the point of this article…)

Kos takes an ethics-focused approach- ergo, the name. They want to be the most ethical protein powder ever.

Unico is about aesthetics, and you can read all about that here. Seriously, read that article and then read Unico’s about page. It talks about being unique in their industry (transparency, recognizable ingredients, etc.), but it comes back to YOU, the customer being unique, doesn’t it? Everyone wants to be unique, and this special protein powder is made explicitly for unique people.

So to sum up: Ka’Chava has the fancy superfood ingredients galore while Kos and Uniqo focus on identity. Kos is all about being an ethical steward; Uniqo is about being fun, real (transparent and open), and unique.

Opportunity: Have your own unique blends- an actual secret sauce, if you will.

Soap makers do this already with coffee bean soaps. Random thought, look at bbq sauce brands for more inspiration as that is a very competitive field with many brands trying to differentiate themselves.

Or take one quality- like Kos with an ethics focus- and be the best at that. Soap makers could go all-in with being palm oil-free, for example.

If you can do both, all the better, as long as it doesn’t clash and is simple to understand.

Jewelry: It’s All About Presentation

Eliou Eliou – https://www.eliou-eliou.com/

I’m going to be real here- my first thought looking at this brand, Eliou Eliou, was, “HOW?”. Because… well, the jewelry is nice. It’s cute, colorful, and trendy.

But those price tags…

Then I had to think about who these pieces of jewelry were for. It clicks a bit better since I assume this is a brand for younger people who want to be on-trend but make it expensive and posh. To be facetious, it’s for people who say, “No, no, I don’t want my cousin’s handmade beaded necklace. I only want luxury beaded necklaces. Does my cousin even have a button-up shirt with a large “E” on it? I think not!”

Eliou Eliou model wearing a button up shirt with a large "E" sewn on

This is ALL about presentation, and that is probably how most jewelry and fashion brands have to play the game. The photography is light and crisp while using bold primary colors deliberately. They’re consistent, and their models are pretty (I guess… I can’t tell or care with the oversized sunglasses a lot of them wear. Okay, I’m done being an old wanna-be boomer!).

Is the brand successful because of the photography, models, and, I’m sure fantastic jewelry? No, at least, not only because of those factors.

Remember, we are only looking at design and branding. We don’t know how these brands run their social media, PR, customer services, retail strategy, etc. So be careful in comparing brands to one another, especially with your business!

Opportunity: Invest in branding and photography while getting focused on quality.

People on Etsy sell jewelry just like this but are not charging $200 for a beaded bracelet. Bump up the quality, create an outstanding presentation, and raise those prices. If you’re creating something that is arguably easy to find elsewhere, you have to be the quality version that sells the idea of lifestyle. More on this in another post I’m working on, by the way.

Candles: Go All-In on Sustainability, Circularity, and Recycling

Phenalondon – Website gone 🙁 but here’s an article

A screenshot of Phenolondon's Instagram page

So since I went on a tangent about soaps, I need to talk about candles too. Unfortunately, this brand I was excited to talk about the most is closing. What a shame! BUT I’m still going to talk about them, and I’m not the only one who has. So I’ll link to those articles instead of their website since it only has a goodbye message.

So this brand had a genius idea that I think could go places. Right now, people are very concerned about climate change and are looking toward sustainable solutions like zero waste and circular economies. This brand used discarded cooking oil to make their luxury candles, and it’s an exciting innovation.

They went into a saturated market with a genuinely fresh idea that is good for the environment. I freakin’ love it.

Opportunity: Find opportunities where you can innovate.

Is there a way to embrace circularity in your production? Ingredients you can recycle? Parts or processes in production that are wasteful that you can find a solution for? Anyone who sews (seamstresses? Sewers? People of sewing?), for instance, could find uses for scraps of fabrics that will be thrown away.

What about addressing the end of life of your products as this zero waste brand does on product pages or a recycling program like Preserve does?

Are there opportunities in your packaging or shipping methods?

Candle Again: Be Thumb-stoppable

Blk Sunflower Co. – https://www.blksunflower.com/

I had to add this since watching this interview with Blk Sunflower Co. Anyone with a business or who wants to start one should watch this interview. It’s so interesting with great information, and I am totally piggy-backing off it.

Opportunity: Obsess over making trend-worthy content.

So watch the video, then re-read some of my take-aways.

  • Create thumb-stoppable content. This means aesthetically pleasing, engaging, and pretty. Consider getting a publicist once you have an established, clear brand.
  • Don’t focus on the number of posts you make; just create the best posts you can, even if it takes you much longer.
  • Create a better product. Yes, it’s just a candle, but these candles have 3 distinct scents in one as it burns. They also last longer.

Share and Enjoy !

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