Building a community: why marketing needs to get personal
There has been a fundamental shift in consumer behaviours in the last few years. With access to such a wealth of information at our fingertips, we’re able to be much better-informed about brands and to share our own experiences instantly through social media. We are more sceptical, more critical and more demanding in our expectations of how brands behave. So how can marketers bridge the gap between social consciousness and selling?
We spoke to the founder of FemTech start-up, Unfabled, about how – and why – they are aiming to disrupt the outdated ‘feminine hygiene’ market and build a consumer community.
The University of London, in partnership with member institution, Royal Holloway, and online learning platform, Coursera, offers a ground-breaking BSc Marketing. As well as supporting students to develop fundamental skills in areas like branding, advertising and market research, the programme also aims to address core contemporary societal issues, including environmental sustainability amid mass consumption; questions of gender in marketing and advertising, and inequity of growth.
Experts believe the recent shift in consumer-brand dynamics is here to stay, particularly as the more socially active Gen Z enters the workforce, bringing with them higher expectations on issues like sustainability, inclusivity and ethics.
In 2021, Hannah Samano visited a local supermarket to buy tampons and noticed that the ‘feminine hygiene’ products were located next to the dog food. Having visited a number of other shops, the former-Unilever Global E-commerce Tech Innovation Manager realised this was a trend in how period products were marketed. Hannah launched FemTech start-up, Unfabled, in February 2021 with a mission to change women’s experience of buying menstrual health products. Eighteen months later they have a full-time team of four – all women – and a community of nearly 20,000.
“A direct-to-consumer business for women’s health makes a lot of sense,” Hannah explained. “It’s a space that has been stigmatised, whether that’s around period care, menopause, heavy bleeding or even incontinence – so many of these areas are kept hush-hush. I mean, even labelling these products ‘feminine hygiene’ and locating them near the cleaning products and pet food is stigmatising – it implies periods are unclean. And it also doesn’t reflect the fact that not all women menstruate and not all people who menstruate are women – non-binary and trans people are immediately excluded.
“This consumer framing of menstruation meant women weren’t being incentivised to care about their menstrual health, or to learn and understand it. With Unfabled I wanted to give women a different type of experience that is shame-free, personalised, digital and sleek. Menstrual health is a part of hormonal health which affects everything to do with our wellbeing – from our sleep and libido to our stress and anxiety levels. We want to build a brand and a platform that encourages women to think more holistically about their cycles.”
The rise of the so-called ‘digital native’ generation is another key factor impacting marketing teams. Sixty per cent of Gen Z in the US use Instagram to discover new brands, products and services, while 48% of Americans aged 18-34 have purchased from social media.
Social media has been instrumental for us in building our own community and converting them into customers,” Hannah said. “Instagram is where we started and TikTok is where we’re heading, but it’ll be a blend. So far our content has reached over four million people. And through content there’s education around menstrual health and hormonal health. As a brand we try to be entertaining and relatable – we want you to feel like we’re your WhatsApp group with friends.
So are all Unfabled customers from the tech-savvy, socially conscious Gen Z? Far from it, as Hannah explained.
“We have a very broad range of people using our platform at the moment, aged between about 18 and 60 plus. Their needs vary hugely; from Gen Z shoppers who are interested in sustainability and our values around inclusivity, to women later in their cycle in years who have probably spent a very long time shopping in a very specific way but perhaps their needs have changed – for example after having children – and the solutions in the mainstream market just aren’t adequate or sustainable. We’re looking now at how we can build out our acquisition and retention strategies for these very different customer profiles.”
Every product on Unfabled is non-toxic and either biodegradable or fully recyclable. Quite an accolade considering disposal of single use menstrual products – tampons, pads and applicators – generates 200,000 tonnes of waste per year. But Hannah views their mission as being about more than just sustainability, but also promoting reasonable and responsible consumption through personalised marketing.
She said: “We recently launched a personalisation tool called ‘Curate My Cycle Care.’ You answer say 20 questions about your lifestyle, budget, product preferences and pain points, and from that we recommend about six or seven products based on data we’ve been aggregating about products that work for our community. Now we’re starting to gain some real community science, which means we’re able to build exciting and accurate predictions around the suitability of different products for different profiles of women.
Since we launched it, we’ve found that customers are ten times more likely to buy from us if they receive our recommendations. So personalisation is having a huge impact on our commercial viability but it’s also really adding value to our customers because we also provide personalised content and menstrual health education on the topics they tell us are important to them. It’s a connected experience, so they’re not just feeling sold to. And by building trust with our community and audience it’s more likely they’ll shop with us.
Find out how you can help lead the values-driven marketing revolution with the University of London’s BSc Marketing.
Special thanks to Hannah and Unfabled for their contribution to this article.