Alex Lawson launched ARLO BLAK in November 2016. With a background in PR, she knew the importance of design for branding, and the power of social media for promotion. She's put that knowledge to work with the launch of a successful new beauty brand.
Design and social media are two things that go along way in helping to establish a brand. Design is crucial for image consistency, personality, and professionalism; social media is important for awareness, recognition, and promotion. Alex Lawson, the Sydney-based entrepreneur behind activated charcoal cosmetic range ARLO BLAK, speaks to us about how she is using the power of design and social media to promote her product and brand.
Finding your business
The philosophy of ARLO BLAK is to offer a natural and environmentally friendly product that's healthier for customers and their skin; one that doesn’t contain chemicals or synthetic fragrances. As such, ARLO BLAK Activated Charcoal Powder is a 100-percent pure and natural product made from coconut shell, and with no chemicals or hidden nasties. The flavorless and odorless ultra-fine black powder can be used as a teeth whitener, face mask, detox drink, and much more, in a safe and gentle way.
“ARLO BLAK wants it to be easy for consumers to understand exactly what is in the product and what they are using on their skin,” Alex says. Having become increasingly concerned about the amount of exposure we have to chemicals, she wanted to create a product that was not only good for our bodies, but also environmentally and vegan-friendly.
“Activated charcoal is an all-natural alternative for a number of products, and when I realized there was a gap in the Australian market for such a versatile product I decided to launch my own—ARLO BLAK,” Alex says. After learning the ropes of importing, packaging, and website development, she now sells her product online, through wholesalers, and at weekend markets.
Alex works two days a week on ARLO BLAK, and three days a week for PR and communications agency Huddle Group, but she also dedicates additional hours most evenings and weekends to developing, marketing, and selling her product and brand. “There were no other products in Australia when I discovered activated charcoal. But other brands had emerged on the market by the time I launched, given I was still working full-time hours, so now I really give it everything I’ve got,” she says.
The results of Alex’s hard work are evident, with brand awareness and customer product orders now stretching beyond Australia, and interest and product pick-up by retailers in America, Japan, Korea, and UAE. “It makes me excited to see the results and how the hard work pays off,” says Alex.
But that’s not to say it hasn’t been without its challenges. “As probably every small business says, everything that can go wrong will go wrong at some point. You just have to keep pushing through the tough times and continue learn everything you can along the way.”
Finding your brand
As the sole person managing and running her company, Alex’s business is very personal; and it’s reflected in the ARLO BLAK brand. So how did Alex determine the ARLO BLAK identity? “Lots of internal discussions really,” she laughs. “I wanted to create a brand that people wanted to be associated with: that’s cool and beneficial for health and wellness.”
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“I explain ARLO BLAK as being like your best friend for your health and beauty needs,” Alex elaborates. “If you have a problem you can look to ARLO BLAK to see if it can help, seeing as it has all these different uses. Basically ARLO BLAK is your best friend to check in on first and then you look elsewhere if you can’t find the answer.”
Alex established the branding at the outset of launching her business. “It’s extremely important to have a consistent brand image, because it’s the face and voice of your company and product. It’s what customers see first, and obviously first impressions are very important.”
For all new small businesses starting out, Alex recommends not skimping on branding: “You have to demonstrate that you truly believe in your business and product right from the beginning.”
Creating your brand
Investing in branding doesn’t mean dollars; it means time and effort to get the branding right. “Work out the branding at the very start; create a set of guidelines; and stick to them,” she says.
There’s a vast array of elements that play into a brand these days, but the brand essentials—name, logo, color palette, font, imagery, and voice—are important for establishing the foundation and personality of the brand.
In what may sound like a paradox, the ARLO BLAK brand is personal and universal at the same time. “Everything for ARLO BLAK—my website, social media posts, marketing collateral, EDMs—is written in first person, as if the product is speaking. And that harks back to ARLO BLAK being your best friend,” Alex explains. “But I also wanted to create a brand that anyone and everyone wanted to use. It’s not overly feminine or masculine, and it’s not young or old.”
Alex sells her product at weekend markets, meaning she has a very strong grip on who her audience is. She says it’s varied, which is both a result of the product and the brand she has created. “When people ask who my target market is I say I don’t have one. At the markets I have young girls coming up to me who want help with their skin; I have adults—women and men—buying it to use as a detox drink or teeth whitener; and I have moms buying it for their kids. The brand is very relatable across a range of markets and the product is very versatile,” Alex explains.
And this is despite the use of pink in her color palette, which has traditionally been a feminine color used to target or reach out to the female market. In this day and age, pink has moved beyond being a gendered color. What’s become known as “millennial pink,” a range of light and pale pink shades, is about an attitude rather than a color, and it’s been described as more post-pink or ironic-pink.
“Mine is a mellow pink and I use it sparingly with black and white, which contrast and balance it out. I don’t want to exclude anyone from wanting to feel associated with my brand.”
Creating your collateral
Once the essence of a brand is nailed, there’s the marketing material and platforms that they’re used across. For ARLO BLAK, that includes product packaging, website, social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook), market-stall signs and posters, EDMs, mailer bags, and marketing collateral.
“When you think about branding, you need to think about every element, so that the brand is consistent across all that you do. I want people to see an image and have it straight away resonate with ARLO BLAK,” says Alex.
Paying attention to every element and the finest of details, Alex has also designed her mailer bags to ensure every single component that represents ARLO BLAK is line with the brand. “When people receive the parcel they see a really cool and well-designed bag. They’re excited and invested from the very start, and they know that I am committed to it too.”
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Alex has created a series of templates that allow her to formulate a consistent brand for recognition and resonance. “I have templates in Canva for my posters, signs, social media posts, etc., and all I need to do is tweak the wording depending on my message or what I’m using it for. My images, colors, fonts, and layouts are always ready to go and I update and adapt the templates as I need. It saves me time and money, since I can do them myself.”
Alex also uses Canva to design other brand and marketing components, such as the mailer bags, which she then sends to a graphic designer to finalize. “Everything needs to be exactly how I want it to look. So I design them first and then send it to my graphic designer for finishing touches or to prepare the file for printing,” Alex explains.
“I’ve found this to be a super helpful way of communicating exactly what I want. I know what I’m going to get; it saves going back and forth between us; and it helps me look after the budget.” In this way, Alex is the designer for ARLO BLAK, and she enlists the technical skills when needed.
Being prepared and professional
While Alex wears every hat in her business, she does enlist other professionals when needed to ensure she is presenting her brand in the best light at all times.
One example of this is the image on the ARLO BLAK website, which is also used for social media banners, market posters, EDMs, mailer postcards, and other marketing collateral. Alex worked with a professional photographer and professional hair stylist and make-up artist to create a series of images to visually represent the brand. Fortunately for Alex, both the photographer and hair and make-up artist are her friends, but if you’re not in that position, she highly recommends seeking out professionals.
Alex served as the creative director of the image of the five young women using and playing with the product, and she had a clear idea of the images she wanted to create before even going into the photography studio. Alex researched the aesthetic, and hand selected the models, garments, and props.
“I found beauty brands that I loved what they were doing and I created mood boards in Canva with those images, as well as a mood board each for hair, make-up, and underwear. I talked about the concept and direction with the photographer and then I bought the underwear and props.”
In terms of the models, Alex wanted five young women who looked different to each other, so as to be relatable to a wider audience. She used TheRight.Fit, a marketplace that connects talent with brands, and developed a brief for the job.
“You write a job description and set the budget, and models apply knowing what’s involved, how much they’ll be paid, and what the photos will be used for. You can also directly approach models to see if they want to be involved,” Alex explains.
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Being prepared for a photography shoot is key to achieving successful images and staying on budget. “You only have limited time with the models, photographer, hair and make-up artist, and in the photography studio, so be as prepared as possible,” Alex advises. “Know the shots you want to get. Brief everyone involved and give them images of what you want to achieve.”
Keeping it personal
Alex uses her images not only online, but alongside her market stalls. “Markets are really good for brand awareness, and also for explaining to people how the product works and its benefits: how this black powder can remove left over makeup, impurities from your face, or whiten your teeth. It seems contradictory, so it needs to be very visual,” Alex says.
She has a large photo board that illustrates the different uses, and catches the eye of passersby. “It grabs their attention, attracts them to the stall, and then I can communicate with them.”
She also has a large sign, designed in Canva, that explains ARLO BLAK and features images of the models. “It’s interesting doing the markets and meeting my customers face to face, and they appreciate they are meeting the owner of the business. It instills another layer of trust, and reflects the personal nature of the branding.”
Being Savvy with social media
Social media plays a very large part in how Alex promotes ARLO BLAK and gains awareness and recognition from customers and retailers. And proving the power of social media, Alex gets most of her retail enquiries through Instagram messaging or via the email address on the ARLO BLAK Instagram profile.
A lot of attention is given to the aesthetic of the ARLO BLAK Instagram feed, making sure the color and images are on brand, complementary, and look good individually and collectively.
She posts everyday and in the afternoon (Sydney time) as she’s discovered that’s when she gets the most engagement. Images are cross-posted to Twitter and Facebook, but the visual layout of Instagram—and the success of Instagram as a promotional tool—makes the photo platform Alex’s number one priority. “The aesthetic of ARLO BLAK on Instagram needs to be perfect, whereas that doesn’t matter as much on Facebook and Twitter.”
Prior to posting, Alex creates a weekly schedule of images, laying them out to make sure the aesthetic works and that different image subjects are not posted one after another, but rather, are spaced out. “It’s all about the balancing the content,” she says.
Alex also creates a consistent aesthetic by putting each image through the same filter on Instagram and VSCO. “My Instagram is very black and white, so I use VSCO to take out any yellow or brown tinges in images. I also use the Ludwig filter on Instagram as it whitens the background and takes out the yellow.” You also won’t find bright colors, such as green and red, on the ARLO BLAK feed because they’re not on brand. “It’s black, white, and soft, pale colors.”
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Many of the images on Instagram feature people using the product. Some are of Alex, and some are her friends, customers, and influencers. She’ll search the #ARLOANDME hashtag for customers who have posted an image using the product, or she’ll ask customers to send her photos to post on the ARLO BLAK profile, if they don’t want to post it on their own.
“I ask people to post or send images to me, as seeing other people with a face mask on, or brushing their teeth, encourages other customers to post their photos as well.”
Alex has sent the product to influencers, but says the engagement or return is just as good with everyday customers.
Alex also does demonstration videos, which she posts to Instagram, to show customers how the product is or can be used. Her number one piece of advice for photos and videos is to “face the light,” she says. Ring lights are the best option, otherwise find a light source and look into it for the best quality photo or video.
Believing in yourself
Alex openly admits that starting and running a small business is hard, but taking the hits is part of the game, and reveling in the wins—whether big or small—makes it 100 percent worth it.
“I’m happy to be part of helping to make people feel more confident, and I’m extremely proud not only of my brand and business but that my product helps make positive change for people.”