Advice on how to humanize your brand from Resilient Retail’s Kristen LaFrance
For Kristen LaFrance, commerce is all about the people.
Known as the Mayor of DTC Twitter and head of Shopify’s Resilient Retail podcast, Kristen hosts discussions with entrepreneurs on a plethora of topics surrounding commerce, exploring how brands can find success within DTC and retail spaces.
“I describe the Resilient Retail podcast as this kind of digital property or brand. It’s a space to bring the retail conversations Shopify needs to be having to the merchants we need to be reaching.”–Kristen LaFrance
Human-centered commerce is near and dear to Kristen’s heart, and I spoke to her about why she considers it so important and how to achieve it through community-building, thinking locally, and putting people first.
Stop marketing, start helping
“Stop marketing, start helping,” Kristen said. It’s one of her driving philosophies for how a brand can find success.
A go-to example of this for Kristen is the brand Blume, a skin, period, and body-care brand marketed primarily towards a GenZ audience. Blume thinks out of the box when it comes to their marketing, always keeping their customers’ interests and circumstances top of mind.
Community-oriented and mission-driven
Instead of marketing just for marketing’s sake, which often achieves only short-term success, Blume markets to serve a larger purpose: building community and supporting their overall mission. Since Blume’s demographic mainly consists of young people going through puberty, they do this by identifying a larger focus or problem for that group and then marketing accordingly.
Knowing that kids going through puberty might not have access to comprehensive sex education, Blume has provided that by building a free off-shoot site called thestateofsexed.com.
And while Blume is catered towards young people, this site is for everyone. Blume makes it a point to provide resources for teachers and parents to help them learn how to have these conversations with their kids.
Being bigger than your product
On top of all that, Blume also fosters community. This includes a close friends list on Instagram, a daily digital gratitude journal, and even sending their customers codes for free coffee from Starbucks every once in a while. “While these things have nothing to do with their products, they have everything to do with helping the people Blume serves on the bigger problems centered around what they’re focused on,” Kristen said.
“It’s marketing to help people solve a problem or feel better about themselves–and that trickles down to sales later on. Not only does it work, but it also makes the interaction feel good for both consumer and brand...that’s the humanity.”– Kristen LaFrance
Blume treats their customers as real people, building trust and relationships with them, ultimately leading to long-term business success.
As Kristen said, it comes down to that human connection behind commerce.
Thinking locally: geographically & ideologically
During this pandemic, we’ve seen a worldwide consumer shift towards local commerce. People don’t want to see their favorite places shut down, so there’s been a surge of support towards local restaurants and small businesses. “But local doesn’t always mean geographically local; sometimes it means ideologically local: whatever is local to your heart,” Kristen told me.
DTC brands don’t necessarily have a physical location, so local commerce means a local mission. It’s something that hits the customer close to home (in a metaphorical sense).
It’s human-centric commerce.
Bite Toothpaste Bits, Kristen told me, is a brand whose sustainability mission is echoed in everything they do. They have some of the most loyal customers ever, and that’s because their mission feels like home to those who believe and trust in it.
Direct to people, not direct to consumer
“Commerce can be seen as very transactional and shallow, but it is the deep mover of our societies and our cultures,” Kristen said.
Haus, a-husband-and-wife team creating healthy, low alcohol apéritifs intended to encourage people to enjoy connections and be present in the midst of them, is another brand Kristen referenced as nailing that human-centric experience.
The two founders began building unique relationships with their customers back in 2019 by going on a happy hour tour of several cities in the US. They scouted out popular restaurants and invited people to hang out while they made drinks for them (for free!).
“Starting an ecommerce business is hard and stressful, but at the end of the day, if you can focus on building this connection with human beings over something important and having access to learn from these people about whatever you want to–a lot of the hard stuff becomes a little bit easier because you have a new lens to put it through.”– Kristen LaFrance
Throughout this tour, the founders of Haus got a chance to know their customers. They heard their thoughts and questions and concerns, and the customers got to know the founders and become intimate with their product and story. In this way, Haus consciously and intentionally illustrated their mission beyond the product and into the experience.
How to beat Amazon? Be a human
While smaller brands can’t compete against Amazon’s prices, they can compete against their customer service experience. Personalization is everything to a DTC brand, and bringing humanity into it the way Blume, Bite Toothpaste Bits, and Haus do is the way to win.
“The one thing Amazon cannot do is give you that exceptional experience. That’s the thing DTC can harness that can set your brand apart and help you find success...and it’s not just short-term success, it’s long-term success.”–Kristen LaFrance
Because as much as they might try, Amazon can’t make a customer feel seen, understood, and known like a small brand can.
Humanizing commerce: creating an exceptional experience
When you think about a good retail experience, it will be about the connection made, and the service received.
Often, that’s what is missing from a DTC brand. Rather than just trying to make a sale, DTC brands need to incorporate the human aspects of retail to match them.
Retail & DTC: how they help each other
Retail and DTC have a lot to learn from each other, according to Kristen.
“It’s the tangible and visceral human experience you get in retail that DTC has to focus on bringing in to online experiences.”– Kristen LaFrance
For example, in addition to an online DTC presence, clothing brand Universal Standard has retail showroom spaces where you can book one-on-one appointments with a stylist. By spending time with their customers, Universal Standard has access to insights about their customers they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. These insights have included what their customers are most concerned with when trying on clothes, what questions they ask about the fabric, and what aspect of the fit they’re most interested in.
Once they had this information, Universal Standard used it to inform how they set up the product descriptions on their site, now understanding how their customers liked to interact with their products.
Customers before metrics
The marrying of qualitative and quantitative data is important. Still, since most brands already know they need to be on top of quantitative data, it’s the qualitative data (or, in other words, the human data) we focused on.
Kristen named three forms of qualitative data:
- One-on-one interactions with customers. Right now, in-person interactions are limited, but there are still so many ways to connect with your customers, whether that be via social media, email, or phone.
- Providing value outside of the product itself. This could be in the form of external content, social media, or community partnerships.
- Thinking holistically about the experience of your brand and making sure every single interaction a customer might have with it feels consistent and human-centric.
Kristen said, “customers before metrics,” but she doesn’t mean you should toss the quantitative data aside. “It means you care about what your customers are experiencing and how you’re servicing them first and foremost, and a lot of time when you do that, the metrics you’re chasing will follow you,” she explained.
As someone with deep love, respect, and understanding of entrepreneurship and the people who do it, Kristen holds valuable insight for those interested in trying their hand at running their own business, as well as those who are simply curious to learn more about what’s happening in commerce today.
And suppose you’re interested in DTC but worried about entering an unfamiliar space. In that case, I’ll leave you with a few wise words from Kristen: “It is scary to go into a new industry, especially when a lot of us call ourselves experts even though I don’t necessarily think any of us are experts. I think we’re all consistently learning, so it’s about having that perpetual curiosity and interest in what you’re doing.”
About the show
On the DTC Growth Podcast, we talk with founders and leaders of the most exciting DTC brands. We discuss their visions, how they launched, and how they are growing their brands.