CREATING A BRAND
Nazlin Hilal realised quite early that she needed a “brand” to propel her growth in the cosmetic business. When we imagine a brand, we usually imagine a giant household name such as Nike. However, small businesses can also create a brand, even if the brand is their personal reputation that helps them stand out in the market.
What exactly is a brand? Brands are a distinct identity for people to remember. Robert Brunner from Apple explained: “You don’t own your brand. A brand isn’t a logo or packaging. It’s a gut feeling. And when two people have the same gut feeling, you have a brand.”
Most importantly, Daniel Pink described a brand as “a promise of what awaits the customer if they buy that particular product, service, or experience.” Keeping your promises about the product’s quality and experience helps you last longer than another business that simply aims to make a quick buck today, but not tomorrow.
Strong brands are
If you don’t create a brand, you might get forgotten, or people will create the brand for you. For example, people in Singapore might refer to the friendly uncle who sells shiok (awesome) nasi lemak (coconut rice). His reputation (and the consistent promise of mouth-watering food) coheres into an enduring brand identity. As a result, the story spreads… the queue grows… and business booms.
EXPERIENCE = PRODUCT & SERVICE
For her brand identity, Nazlin was clear about the promises she wanted to deliver. First, she wanted absolute conviction in the quality of her products, and this meant designing her own line of cosmetics to control it better.
I did not want to sell something which was already in the market. I wanted to sell something which was totally my own brand name.
Second, providing thoughtful service to her customers was paramount to her value proposition.
A lot of people just sell their products at shops. They approach shops, and they carry your line. But, the whole reason why I started this was because I wanted to help people who don’t get the assistance they need when they go outside to buy or get the wrong information.
I said: When I sell this, I want to be close to the costumers. I want to be the one who can actually test out the shades on them, and give them the tips and techniques. If I were to sell [at other shops], I will not be in touch with them anymore.
So that was why initially, I started with an online shop which is called dollmeupcosmetics.com. We started with a small studio.
It was not easy to craft a differentiated position with her own brand of products.
The whole process took about 3 years from the time when I started having the idea. We actively started launching about 6 months from the time that we started applying for licenses and all that.
CREATING A PRODUCT: LICENSING
Cosmetics are considered a “health product” under the law and require approval by the Singapore government. The process is tedious and far from thrilling, but it is a necessary cost of designing your own make-up range.
We have to get the proper licensing. For cosmetics, we have to notify the HSA – the Health Sciences Authority. And it is based on each and every shade that you have. So meaning, if you have 50 eye shadows, you have to pay 50 fees every year. You have 60 lipsticks, it’s 60 fees every year.
And it’s not just about the payment, but it’s about the notification. You have to actually key in each and every percentage of the ingredient that you use. Sometimes in one eye shadow, you have 30 ingredients— they break down into different percentages. So we have to do it for each shade, each product. And you have to type it into their system. So it took us months just to do that. Time is one thing, cost is another.
These institutional checks-and-balances are created to ensure that every product has been carefully vetted under the law. To top that off, Nazlin uses the products on herself, providing an intensely personal check-and-balance.
You require a bit of knowledge on science and all that, because of the ingredients. I’m the kind who is always very worried about the ingredient to make sure it’s not prohibited. Those things took years and you’re just worried. So I had to do a lot of research, like finding out from HSA [Health Sciences Authority]– they actually have a list of ingredients that you cannot use in your cosmetics and your skin care products. Basically, I really went through it line-by-line.
Kudos to Nazlin for handling this tedious work as a small business! The notification from HSA took a lot of time, but the approval was golden. After refining her cosmetic range to reach a spectacular quality, the next big question emerged: how do you get the word out and sell?!
GOING TO THE MARKET
When you find a way to deliver value to people, you have stumbled upon the most essential spirit of any business— finding what is called a “product-market fit.”
But, the “value” you sell isn’t a “business” until you build an infrastructure around it. This means creating channels from production to marketing to distribution and, ultimately, sales. Every business needs to build these channels.
In the next article, Nazlin will share some of her marketing and branding strategies. If you missed the earlier posts, catch up with the charming introduction to Nazlin’s story and read about how she migrated from a stable corporate job into the risky business arena. Thank you, Nazlin, for sharing your story with us!
Shopkeeper Stories is a photographic documentary of small business owners with their trades around the world, sharing their views on business and life. You can catch all the posts on Facebook and Instagram @ShopkeeperStories. Enjoy!
Chapter 1: Starting a business
Chapter 2: Creating a product and brand