“What we’re looking at right now from an investment perspective is, yes, how can the communities be developed by the brands and their leaders, and how are we cultivating and enriching our superfan experience,” Jordan Gaspar, president and managing partner of AF Ventures, said late last month during a roundtable with female founders of omni-channel brands organized by the communication group J Connelly.
She explained that during the pandemic a marker of success will be the extent that brands can build a community by clearly articulating their message and marketing to consumers shopping online from their couches rather than stores where discovery traditionally occurred pre-COVID.
With this in mind, she said, “the omni-channel brand has the biggest opportunity to succeed. We have much more content that’s available at our fingertips. D2C native brands or digitally native brands, I should say, are more inclined to reach the consumer directly and to have that interpersonal relationship versus having a buyer-level decision on the retail shelf.”
Tea Drops creates community, recreates experiences
For Sashee Chandran, founder and CEO of Tea Drops, creating a sense of community through her brand of bagless, pressed tea has always played a fundamental role in her business – but she says its importance has increased during the pandemic.
“Community has always been the heart and soul of the brand … and creating that space for people to not only share the love of tea, but also share their self-care related topics” is fundamental to the business, said Chandran.
But, she added during the roundtable, “especially during COVID,” Tea Drops has needed to offer more than “just a product,” and to highlight the brand’s ability to provide comfort during an uncertain time.
“That’s something that I think has attributed a lot to our growth in the past several months,” she said.
In addition to offering a sense of community, offering shoppers who are stuck at home an experience also has helped drive sales and customer engagement at Tea Drops, Chandran added.
“Right now, people can’t go to their favorite coffee shop or tea shop or [Boba tea] shop, and so how are you delivering products that not only taste good, but also provide an experiential aspect?” she said.
Tea Drops has answered this by creating boxes that allow consumers to recreate the Boba experience at home or the experience of convening with friends to talk about important topics over a cup of tea.
“We saw a huge rise in searches for Boba tea, milk tea, on Amazon and on Google. … Given what we had in our assortment, [we] quickly put together a Boba experience box, and that just has flown. About 30% or 40% of our total online revenue is all now Boba milk tea related,” she said.
“We also started offering, at the beginning of the year, which was very timely for COVID, a tea and chat box, which infuses self-care topics and experts. We’ve had the author of ‘The Five Love Languages’ and many other self-care experts … we pair an interview or something … interactive with a tea subscription that, especially during COVID, has done phenomenally well. We’ve increased our subscription probably three or four times since its inception,” she said.
As important as providing community and experiences is for customer retention during the pandemic, so too is affordability – especially as more businesses shutter and jobs are lost due to safety measures put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“Coming out of COVID in a recessionary climate that’s certain to deepen as things get more complex, a lot of companies … are all thinking about value-driven pricing,” which will be vital to platform development, new product launches and customer retention, said Gaspar.
She encourages entrepreneurs to ask: “Are we matching the right price for our consumers? Are we priced appropriately for mainstream consumers to adopt our products and for this not to be perceived as just a premium offering?”
Brands that nail pricing and creating a sense of trusted community will have more doors open to them as the pandemic continues – including potentially across channels or verticals if they choose to expand innovation and distribution, said Gaspar.
“The consumer is now demanding that the brands that they are enjoying and working with … become a staple across verticals for them, because they are trusted and they feel that the community that they’re a part of … these are the friends that are going to be able to offer them a variety of different experiences in different formats,” she explained.