Welcome to Episode 57 of the Sustainable Ecommerce Podcast!
Last week I got to chat with Nikki Ciancio, from Blaek Store, who’s been focused on re-inventing retail and build a model that supports consumers as we all move to a more circular economy. I loved having that different perspective on things, and so this week I though it would be cool to get another angle on things, this time with a Corporate Gifting business.
Michelle Smith is the founder of Curated With Conscience, a gift box brand that, as the name implies is doing the hard work of seeking out brands with ethical, sustainable and purpose-driven stories that match the growing needs of business to work with vendors that align with both their own values as well as their ESG directives.
As you’ll see, far from being an opportunist, frankly like many of the hamper and gifting brands that have sprung up in the past few years, Michelle herself is driven by a deep sense of Purpose, and its abundantly apparent that it’s those values that have both driven her business growth to date, as well as what will see her through the current challenging economy that we are all experiencing.
How did Curated with Conscience Get Started?
Michelle first became aware of the Fair Trade movement in relation to the exploitation of farmers in the chocolate industry in her twenties. She was horrified by the exploitation she saw happening. Many years later, Anita Roddick’s book on business for Purpose ignited the desire to run a business for good, but Michelle wasn’t sure initially how to channel that. With a deep background in corporate marketing and an awareness that there were few great ethical solutions for corporate gifting, the seed of Curated with Conscience took shape.
Ultimately it was Michelle’s deep empathy and anxiety around social justice and climate change that compelled her to take action, and she founded the brand as a way of taking control of her own life after a battle with post-natal depression.
What is Curated With Conscience
Curated With Conscience is a corporate gifting and hamper company that curates premium products from social enterprises and Australian for-purpose brands. In doing so she helps connect corporates who want meaningful, values-aligned gifts with the small brands that might otherwise not have that avenue available. In so doing, she enables donations and contributions to causes that Michelle believes in, including humanitarian aid and climate protection.
What is the Secret to the Curated With Conscience Success?
The ‘secret sauce’ behind the growth of Curated with Conscience is the values alignment between the brand and the corporate customers, but more specifically, the passion with which Michelle projects those values. The business is an extension of herself and that resonates through the relationships she builds. That being said, it also builds on the strong service standards she offers in the quality of the products as well as the ease in which she makes complex and large-scale gifting programmes simple for the staff charged with implementing them.
Now that the crazy growth of the Pandemic is past, what are you doing to maintain & grow the business?
During Covid, there was more than enough business for everyone, and organic search was a key driver. Now that we are in an economic downturn, there are a couple of things to focus on.
Brand awareness and brand building is very important, probably taking some focus off direct sales marketing. Brands that focus on brand building now will be best places to accelerate into the next growth cycle.
At the same time, some consolidation of operations is necessary, especially in cutting spend from non-essential items like unnecessary subscriptions. Fundamentally, it can be back to basics – consistency of message, consistency of content. You need to make sure you are connecting with your audience and have relevant offers for them, with value-aligned products & special events. For example, special offerings for things like International Women’s Day.
Lastly, you need to always put the customer first. Understand what their needs are and make sure you are continuing to meet them. Their needs may change in a downturn, so you need to make sure you are adapting your business to meet that change in demand.
How do Brands work with you?
Firstly, your product needs to be a beautiful, giftable product. Then, it also needs to have a compelling story behind it, and be made here in Australia. If you want to offer your brand to be included in the Curated with Conscience line, reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Firstly, I want to take a moment to recognise the economic conditions we’re in. Paid media is super unpredictable, household budgets are under pressure, inflation is pressuring our cost base.
If you’re feeling it, firstly, it’s good to know you’re not alone. Michelle shared a couple of simple but oh-so-important practical suggestions in this episode.
Take a look at your ongoing subscriptions. Are there things in there that are nice in principle, but aren’t generating sufficient income to justify the spend? Ecommerce is rife with apps left right and centre, and I can almost guarantee there’s cost bleed happening right now in your business that you can nip off.
Personally I’ve just panned a whole bunch of subscriptions that have save me about $500 per month. Go an review your PL today for things that you can get rid of.
Just as importantly, Michelle mentioned that in hard times, it’s the brands that focus and invest in brand building that are best placed to accelerate into the good times. Brand building means a combination of awareness and story.
I think you heard loud and clear how important story is to Michelle, not just her own story, but the stories of the brands she works with.
Take some time out to take a fresh look at your story. Is it compelling? Is it clear? Is it consistent throughout your customer journey, and between channels? If it feels woolly, and if the customer isn’t clear on your story after interacting with your brand, then isn’t working for you and the ONE thing you can count on to build your brand through this period is not preforming how it should.
Secondly, I want to take a moment to address something I see quite often with small business owners, which is a hesitancy to acknowledge their own importance as the leader of the brand. And dare I say it, the leader of the movement that your brand Purpose seeks to create. It’s abundantly clear that the growth of Curated With Conscience has been driven by Michelle’s passion & values, and how she communicates and infuses that into the conversations and relationships she has with her clients.
Now, if you’re building a DTC brand instead of mostly a B2B brand like Michelle, don’t make the mistake of thinking this advice doesn’t apply to you. It just takes a slightly different format. It means you need to be on camera, fronting up for your brand, on socials, on your site, in interviews, in media projecting your passion and values and telling your story. This is more important now than ever.Never forget that your personal brand is a powerful asset in building your business brand.