Ethelbert Williams | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Ethelbert Williams

Background:  

InstaNatural is an Orlando-based manufacturer and online retailer of consumer skincare and haircare products made with organic ingredients and without harmful ingredients such as parabens, sulfates, artificial colors or dyes. The brand is distributed throughout the U.S. and Europe, and is one of the largest beauty brands on Amazon.com.

The Mistake:

Trying to stretch a brand to a new price point without having the capability on the team.

As a marketer, one of the key remits that I have throughout my career is driving innovation on the brands that I’m working on – and finding new ways to expand the brand and move them into new channels or categories, new consumer segments or new geographies.

Earlier in my career about 10 years ago, I was working on a consumer brand that we were really looking to stretch in the consumer beauty and personal care space. Essentially, we made a misstep and took the brand into a category that did not resonate with our consumer. The initiative ended up failing, and we ended up discontinuing the product altogether. This was a brand that on its own had been really successful with all its other launches. But it was a complete commercial failure in the category that we launched in.

And I think for me [I learned] there are three core components that are the background for why it didn’t work. I think, one is really understanding and being true to what your brand equity is all about, what it means in your consumers’ hearts and minds – and making sure you stay true to that. Two is really understanding who your consumer is, what he or she is all about, and making sure that you’re servicing that consumer with the most amazing solutions.

Three is making sure that you have the right capability to stretch and go where you need to. And the reality is that we were trying to stretch the brand to a new price point. It was a luxury category, and it was a capability that we didn’t have native on the team. It was obvious pretty early on because a lot of the leading indicators for us to be successful at retail weren't [there]. We weren’t getting distribution. We weren’t getting sales.

For example, this was a premium product that, at retail, was put behind the counter or put behind a glass door as many premium products are. But that was a different way of shopping from how our consumer shopped. Our consumer was 18 to 24, and that consumer wasn’t used to going up to the counter and asking you to pull out that product.  

So the external factors were there, but the internal factor was we didn’t have the capability. We hadn’t built the capability and the right to win and be successful as we were looking to stretch the business.

We hadn’t built the capability ... as we were looking to stretch the business.

The Lesson:

From that mistake, the biggest thing that I learned was to make sure that you have the right capability in place that’s needed to go after the commercial opportunity.

I really have brought [that lesson] forward. For me, when it comes to trying to win in a market, given all the changes [since then] with digital and e-commerce and how consumers are shopping, it’s about making sure you have the right people and the right talent.

It has me behaving differently in a couple different contexts. When it comes to the capability piece, I am just so intimately involved in the organizational design, recruiting and staffing choices. And I’m personally very hands-on when it comes to the development of our talent at all levels of the organization.

What I also learned was to make decisions. I was privileged to work with a team to make some quick decisions so we could minimize the commercial and financial impact. So that was also a lesson, to be quite honest.

Follow InstaNatural on Twitter at @InstaNatural and Ethelbert Williams at @tellnation.

Photo courtesy of InstaNatural

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