My time at Natures Gentle Touch brought me great lessons on the branding and marketing process of natural haircare products. For more context Natures Gentle Touch is a natural hair care brand that provides solution to different hair and scalp problems such as dandruff, hair breakage, slow hair growth, hair loss, receding hairline, weak/damaged hair and dry hair.
The brand was conceived in 1996 by an Industrial Chemist called Chika Ikenga when he discovered that a large section of women in Africa found it very difficult going to the salon to relax their hair due to the scalp irritations and discomfort they experience whenever they apply relaxer products.
One of the things we did differently was to set up a Hair Clinic more like a salon but for strictly for the purpose of addressing hair problems and style natural hair. Overtime the hair clinic built up a strong reputation amongst women who wear their natural hair. As the brand communication executive one of my first initiative then was to kickstart the #RealPeopleRealHair trend. Basically what I do is to visit the clinic one a weeks and take the before and after photos of women with their treated style hair. With their permission these images was posted on social media and over time this grew momentum amongst women who will love to flaunt their natural hair.
Perception is key, so am ample amount of time was invested in creating the right look an feel for the brand. The goal as to adopt a minimalist approach with a lot of negative space, in other to help our brand standout. After a unanimous decision from the management we proceeded to creating a brand identity guideline that portrays what we wish to achieve
Hero the Botanicals
When it comes to organic haircare products, it is not enough to use organic ingredients, you have to show them. We did this by boldly displaying and describing the star botanical ingredients like Aloe Vera, Tea Tree, Coconut Oil, and Shea Butter. This builds desirability around the natural, ethically-sourced formulas. Instead of just using natural images, we went for vector drawings of these botanicals. This brings a unique and original feel to our packaging materials. Actually, I still feel it is an awkward practice to just add real images of organic products on your packaging materials – anybody can do it. But to differentiate your product, crafting unique vector images will give your products a one-of-a-kind look.
Clean Beauty Authority
It’s not just enough to have images of botanical ingredients on your product’s packaging. You still have a lot of work to make sure that your products adhere to their promises by rigorously avoiding suspect chemicals and using identifiable, nourishing plant actives. This earns trust. I can remember a particular product we launched that ended up causing an adverse effect on users. At first we weren’t sure which active was causing this problem, but when we finally discovered it, word had already spread and we had to discontinue that line. Even after manufacturing – before taking your product to market, it always pays to do a small study group where you test your product within the group before launching.
When it comes to building a natural haircare brand, integrating uplifting messaging is key. Empowering slogans like “Awaken Your Natural Beauty” make customers feel confident in their hair journeys. This helps spark loyal brand followings that extend beyond just using the products. We integrated this philosophy into our “Real People Real Hair” campaign. Rather than featuring conventional polished models, we showcased vibrant stories from diverse women thriving beautifully in their own natural hair. The authenticity and self-acceptance ethos resonated widely, ultimately building an inspiring movement around embracing the best of one’s natural identity. It fulfilled our credo to products that uplift more than upsell.
There is nothing more that informs purchase decisions than reviews from customers. When it comes to reviews, video reviews will always do better than text reviews. In those days, I would drive to the clinic just to shoot short video reviews of satisfied customers. Reviews depicting real customer experiences are used to reinforce your authenticity and hard-won happy clients already on board. These reviews can be used on your website and social media. To add an extra layer of awareness, it also pays to promote these reviews on social media to increase more awareness and reach.
Invest in premium yet playful packaging.
Packaging plays a crucial role. In a country like Nigeria, where everyone competes on price to beat your competition, you really need to pay extra attention to packaging and design. Whenever I see amazing products with poor packaging I cringe, like why go through the stress, commitment, investing a lot in product development, then falter in your packaging or design. All you needed to do is hire a good graphics designer. Again I can’t over emphasize the need for a brand identity manual. This manual should guide all your designs and its implementation. Your product’s brand should have a uniform look and feel, this makes it easily recognizable and memorable. Again, don’t always trust your judgement when it comes to approving designs – that is not your job, always leave it to the professionals – most times non artistic founders can have poor judgement when it comes to design.
Distribution can be one of the biggest challenges facing manufacturers, especially for those looking to scale up. My content is focused mainly on supporting large-scale manufacturers. The first key question to ask is: Where do shops and supermarkets source their inventory? In most cases, they buy from major distributors in large markets.
Nearly every consumer product sold in Nigeria flows through a distribution network specific to that product category. For items like haircare and cosmetics, your best distribution channel is the Trade Fair Market – the largest cosmetics hub in West Africa. The goal should be to approach distributors at Trade Fair and negotiate terms. Some will purchase your products upfront, while others will sell on consignment and remit payments later. Either way, your pricing has to be attractive enough for these distributors to carry your products.
Beyond distributors, you also need to cultivate networks of marketers scattered across Nigeria who can get your products into neighborhood stores nationwide. The more retail outlets stocking your brand, the better. An expansive presence on both the wholesale distribution level and the retail marketing level is key for any major consumer products manufacturer looking to succeed in the Nigerian market.
Harness the power of influencer marketing.
When it comes to influencer marketing, getting the right ones with a wide reach matters a lot. Some of them just buy followers with very few engagements, while some have engagement with the wrong target market for you. You need to put all these in consideration before approaching any influencers. You don’t always need to go for the big and established ones. You can identify micro-influencers that fit your brand. Gifting them products and collaborating on sponsored content can help spread brand awareness. This was one of our approaches with Natures Gentle Touch and I can tell you for a fact that it is one of the brand awareness approaches that pivoted the most.
Tell a compelling brand story.
Telling a compelling brand story goes a long way in establishing the right emotional connection with your users or customers. Consumers today care more about the “why” behind brands. Share your origin story, values and purpose in an authentic way. When purpose permeates the customer experience, it cultivates lasting bonds that transcend transactions. People should feel so personally invested in the “why” empowering your brand that they eagerly transform into loyal brand advocates. Savvy storytelling establishes those ties that bind consumers to the brands they cherish.
While this list is not exhaustive, I have shared a few of the key strategic moves that helped launch Natures Gentle Touch and fuel its growth. Other brands can borrow from this playbook as well. Even just one or two of these tactics, when well executed, can make a huge difference. I hope these insights provide value to other aspiring entrepreneurs as they work to bring new and innovative haircare products to Nigerian consumers. The market is vast, the opportunities abound, but capturing mindshare and wallet share ultimately requires getting the basics right.