Many new brands hitting the market these days make a splash with trendy ad campaigns and dreamy packaging and design. That may initially catch a consumer’s attention, but SmartyPants Vitamins co-founder and co-CEO Courtney Nichols Gould believes building a successful, growing business takes more than cool branding and a direct-to-consumer (DTC) strategy to come out on top.
Nichols Gould spoke at Brandweek: Challenger Brands in New York’s Grand Hyatt last week, discussing how challenger brands can creatively stand out.
SmartyPants Vitamins launched eight years ago as a vitamin brand for kids. To make sales early on, the brand had to win over a tough consumer: moms. Nichols Gould said winning moms over enabled the brand to more seamlessly expand into other categories.
Today, the company is taking over the vitamin category, selling specific products for men, women, consumers over the age of 50, expectant mothers, kids and even dogs. But according to Nichols Gould, that success has nothing to do with any sort of cool factor you find in a lot of today’s challenger brands and DTC companies.
“In the beginning, we didn’t want to be about cool packaging or cool branding,” she explained. “We certainly care about the brand aesthetic, and we have a very clear voice, but for us, it’s about what is special about us and our product design.”
SmartyPants Vitamins prides itself on using premium ingredients (including omega-3, vitamin B-12 and vitamin D-3) while also creating a product that actually tastes good—and one that kids truly want to take every day. The brand tries to consistently communicate the formula of its vitamins in all of its marketing instead of relying on funky, modern packaging.
The brand also doesn’t want to be a lifestyle brand. Nichols Gould said she sees many brands today trying to fit into this category of lifestyle, “which I think is insane,” she said. Nichols Gould went on to explain that brands need to stand for something, but “if you stand for everything, then you can’t stand for anything, and you don’t really know who you are and what is different about you.”
Another thing that sets the vitamin company apart from other challenger brands is that it’s not focused on a DTC strategy. In fact, Nichols Gould said, even though the brand has a website where shoppers can order directly from it and research the different products and ingredients, DTC is really not a major focus for the brand.
“If you have a product that people are buying repeatedly—in our case, every month—I think it becomes very challenging to get to real scale,” she explained. “You can get to 20 million, to 30 million, but it’s very challenging to get to 100 million or 200 million because you are ultimately competing with Amazon for that customer, and what you are finding is it is getting more and more expensive every day to do that advertising.”
For that reason, SmartyPants Vitamins has focused much more on retail in recent years.
“We didn’t want to have to raise $30 million to grow a DTC brand to get to the scale that we are at now,” added Nichols Gould.