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From the source: Justin Gaggino, HiSmile

Oral care might not be known as an exciting sector, but millennial-friendly brand HiSmile has turned that stereotype around with its ability to connect with customers and its innovation in the teeth whitening space. 2IC Justin Gaggino discusses what it’s like running a digitally native business in this climate and how the brand uses data to its advantage.

IRW: How would you describe the past month for HiSmile?

JG: It’s definitely been an interesting month. For us, we’re flexible and we have the agility and the ability to move and shape as we see consumer behaviour shift. Because we’re only digital, we don’t have the same headaches as bricks-and-mortar businesses. We’re able to focus on our digital strategies, which is where customers are now spending all their time.  

It’s been more of the same of what we’ve always done, but we’ve been able to double down on certain niche audiences and different pockets of different data that allow us to maintain success during this period. It’s very volatile. Some of our best regions will go well, then sometimes based on world events, they will fluctuate. Because we’re a digitally native brand and we have that agility, we know where to press and push from a marketing spend perspective and where to pull back as we see trends move.

IRW: What are some of the consumer behavioural changes that you’re seeing right now?

JG: Everyone’s at home, so people are more online and on their devices with more screen time. It doesn’t mean everyone is more willing to purchase, it’s just the environment they’re in.  

We’ve noticed more people clicking on our site and visiting our products. It’s not so much that there’s been an increase of revenue in certain areas, but more of an interest to explore our digital assets. As the month or so has progressed, we’ve seen more people move towards buying, because we’ve been warming them in our funnel to convert them in this period of time.

At the very start of the pandemic, people were only buying essentials, but now as we’re moving towards this being the status quo, consumers are starting to look for personal luxury. You start to look for things that make the home environment more comfortable and things you can enjoy.  

For us, we fall into the personal luxury space, we’re an intimate part of your beauty and skin or personal care routine. People are looking to take care of themselves right now. There’s that idea that we’re going into lockdown looking a certain way, but you’ll come out looking much better. That’s a big trend.

IRW: How would you say your business has adapted to the pandemic?

JG: Funnily enough for us, there isn’t much of an adaption. Because we’re only digital, this is our bread and butter – we live and breathe this, and if anything, it’s made us further double down on that notion, and the data part is very important. We’ve always utilised data as a big ally to our retention and acquisition and we’re digging further into the granular details – how they’ve behaved after their first purchase and after their second purchase. What products lead them to buy other products? What combination leads to them becoming a lifetime customer? What cities are we likely to see an average order value? What demographics within those cities?

IRW: What have you learned about yourself and the business during coronavirus?

JG: For us, holistically, I’d say that we’re building on our people even more so than ever. A large majority of our workforce is working from home. The co-operation and level of communication have increased, but I’ve been impressed and realised the importance of positivity of those people. There is such a willingness for our team to pull together during this time and work together as a unit, even though a lot of us are working in siloes or remotely. That’s the biggest thing – the importance of people working in this and then out of this as well.

E-commerce is definitely the next frontier of business and retail and I think people are catching onto it, but for consumers, more people are being pushed into online shopping. Say you’re a 35-year-old who still enjoyed the bricks-and-mortar experience, you’re now being forced to go fully digitally native, so the customer pool is much larger as well. The opportunity for businesses is much larger because the numbers are increasing.

IRW: What’s the past year been like for HiSmile?

JG: The past year has been very good. For us, one of the big highlights has been increasing the size of our team, bringing on key senior leaders or succeeding them to the next stage of HiSmile, especially bringing on our new head of data and tech. He was previously the CTO of Sportsbet and head of data for Ladbrokes, and he brings a wealth of experience. It was a big win for us.

Our new head of creative was the creative director for big brands like Airbnb. In terms of creative, brand and data, we’ve moved forward on both sides of the coin. That’s led to us making more mature and smarter decisions with how we display our brand from both a marketing and brand perspective and how we react to our data from our customers and potential customers.

Even though we’ve always been an e-commerce brand, we’ve highly improved our e-commerce ability. We’ve really increased conversion rates by 1 or 2 per cent of our stores, to really understand user journeys and understand the customers we should be attracting. That’s a credit to us hiring our e-commerce manager, who was previously the e-commerce manager at Youfoodz, so she is bringing in more experience to us.

 Those are the big wins from the last year. We’re really building and enhancing our digital experience, especially from a data and website front, and then improving and maturing our branding experience from marketing collateral all the way to our overarching brand strategy.

IRW: We’ve talked so much as an industry about the importance of data, but I feel like few businesses actually hire someone to oversee that part of things.

JG: We lead on the gut and we have enough data from a marketing and analytics standpoint, but we gave it a good six months to develop. The first few months were about building infrastructure and four months after that, we got the granular details of how we can build our data dashboard to get minute-by-minute, week-by-week business and market updates and we can go as micro and macro as we want.

 We’ve paired that with our performance media and marketing analytics to supercharge all our acquisition and retention efforts. It’s been key for us but a slow burn. A lot of companies aren’t comfortable with the sunk cost of investing so heavily in data. We hired our head of data, then we hired a mid-level data analyst as well and it’s made a big difference now. We’re only starting to see that after six months, when they’ve had enough time to build the infrastructure.

A lot of people expect data to be a Hail Mary; that’s not the way we view data. Instead, we view it as an analogy. The higher up you climb the ladder, the more of the landscape you see, and it’s up to you when to jump off and dive into the landscape. The thing is, it’s not the be all and end all. It acts as a consultant, it’s up to you what you want to do with that information and how much data you need to take action.

 We need just enough data to move to the next execution point.

IRW: What other plans have you got for the rest of the year?

JG: We have a new product in development at the moment – it’s our next big step. I can’t say what it is, but it’s a big thing for the company in terms of our next step into the teeth whitening space. How can we further dominate the market and lead in innovation? That’s a big thing for us for the rest of the year.

We’re doubling down on our strengths. This time has allowed us to tighten screws and be smart with our decision-making, always being sure of the moves we make now and how they will look in the next six months and the butterfly net effect of that.

IRW: How would you say HiSmile has made teeth whitening products sexy?

JG: We’ve enlisted people like boxer Conor McGregor, model Emily Ratjowski, the Kardashians and other big influencers to help people bridge the gap between the function of our products and what it should be in terms of self-care.

We don’t take the classic dental medical approach to teeth whitening, which has always scared people. People think of being in a chair at the dentist’s office. Not everyone wants to do that or have the sensitivity or pain that comes with that approach. We’ve tried to create something that’s very consumer-friendly, with low to no sensitivity and something you can do from the comfort of your own home as part of your personal care routine you otherwise wouldn’t have had. It’s about fitting it into your routine and how you do

things now.

IRW: How have things been going for HiSmile in the product innovation space?

JG: In the last six months, we brought on a senior scientist, one of the lead scientists at Griffith University, to really headline the chemistry aspect of the business. We’ve also brought on a number of innovation specialists to assist in the science/logistics/procurement side to improve our supply chain, the way we manufacture our products and the quality and efficiency of our processes.  

It’s come a long way which will come to fruition in that department with the new product launch. We’re trying to become way more science- and tech-focused from a product standpoint, so we can continue giving people the best product we possibly can.

IRW: What would you say the oral care sector is like?

JG: The industry is very much a monopoly. You have the Oral Bs, the Colgates – brands that have been there for years and years and instead of releasing new marketing techniques, they have released new products to get the marketing buzz. What’s been missing from the industry has been the ability to develop a personal consumer-friendly relationship like what Airbnb did for hotels and Uber for taxis.  

I hate the word disruption, but the new guys coming in are more in line with what their customers want and listening to the industry trends. For us, oral care felt old and stagnated. If you look at toothpaste, people buy it as a commodity or to get a result, not because of the brand. You probably buy Colgate but you don’t think twice about it. That behaviour is successful because there’s a monopoly, but it can be dangerous because there’s no emotional attachment to it. That’s what we’re trying to do – build an emotional relationship with customers that no other company has.

IRW: Are there any tech trends you’re interested in?JG: Zoom and the way people are approaching face-to-face contact digitally is an interesting trend. People want to still look good in front of the camera, because they’re trying to elicit these digital conversations online. For e-commerce as a whole, because competition is getting saturated, you can’t just put up a store and expect to sell well like the old days. You have to be smarter, more agile and more clever with how you approach your marketing effects and your overall e-commerce push.

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