Whatever industry you’re in, branding is so much more than just your logo. It’s also a step beyond just having a great product. The same principles apply to the clean beauty industry as everywhere else. But it’s even more crucial to take these principles seriously in such a high-growth niche. In this episode Alexa Lombardo, founder of the boutique branding and marketing agency Atomic N°8 based in New York City, shares the mindset, strategies and future thinking new clean beauty entrepreneurs must embody if they want their brand to have real impact in the marketplace. A brand builder turned venture builder, Alexa specializes in collaborating with sustainability-minded founders to help them with their branding strategy. Tune in as she shares her ideas on how that can be achieved in the fastest-growing space within the beauty industry.
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How To Create Your Clean Beauty Product Brand With Alexa Lombardo
It’s Not Just About The Logo
In this episode, we have Alexa Lombardo. I’ve known Alexa for years. She and I have worked collaboratively, helping young, new clean beauty brands launch in this space. We’re going to talk about launching a clean beauty product, branding, messaging, and all that goes with that. Alexa is the Founder of a branding and strategy company called Atomic N°8. She is a brand builder turned venture builder, collaborating with founders to concept launch and grow brands with sustainability and community at the core.
She specializes in aligning strategy, design, and technology. After a decade in beauty and CPG working with brands at Estée Lauder and Unilever, she started Atomic N°8. Early clients included sustainably-minded founders in wellness, which included beauty, food, health, lifestyle, travel, and hospitality. Nowadays, she’s focused on emerging tech space, things like block change, NFTs, and the metaverse. Thank you so much for being here and having a conversation with me, Alexa.
Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited.
I’m excited to discuss what you do with new brands and new entrepreneurs in the beauty space. This is a fast-growing space within the beauty industry. Many people are launching exciting and innovative brands. It’s important that they have their messaging and their positioning locked in. This is where you come in as such an expert.
You and I have collaborated on a few projects together where I have done product development and product formulation for a couple of brands. I’ve passed them on to you to take them to the next level. For those of you reading, you may have heard me speak before about the five phases that are important to launching a clean beauty or aromatherapy brand.
One is the product development phase and the second part is understanding the production and how to get there. The third part is dialing in your branding and messaging. This is where Alexa comes in and has such great expertise and experience. I’d love it, Alexa, if you could talk a little bit about Atomic N°8, the work that you do, and how you start working with a new beauty entrepreneur who wants to get her brand out there in the world.
The reason we called it Atomic N°8 is because the actual Atomic N°8 is oxygen. Our slogan and tagline is “Oxygen for brands.” Whether that’s established brands that we’re breathing new life into or new brands that we are that oxygen. The reason that we are able to say that confidently is because my background is in strategy and in brand marketing.
I was doing that for years at Estée Lauder and Unilever. I was always working with founder-led brands, Bobbi Brown, Tom Ford, and even Living Proof®, and wanted to focus more on newer to-market brands or brands that were still founder-led in the market but trying to accelerate their growth but focusing on the strategy piece.
I started consulting. That consultancy turned into Atomic when a lot of the clients that I was working with weren’t just asking for the strategy work but for how that strategy translates into a visualization as well as a communications plan. We started to ramp up our capabilities around brand identity and editorial and messaging.
Our core bread and butter are brand strategy and identity, which are the visual elements of the brand, everything from the logo to typography, to color palette, to iconography, illustration, and web design, all of that stuff, how the consumer sees or how your community sees your brand, and then messaging. How do we talk to our different audiences and our community? How do we build messaging that strongly resonates with them on a recurring basis and gives them that emotional connection to the brand, to the founder, and to the product?
Having a great product is important but it is only one piece of the puzzle. We like to work with founders once they’ve got their product in place. They’ve got some of that vision and mission work done but we try to distill it, codify it, and build the brand around it. The importance of that is that consumer, that user, that person in your community, the closeness to you and your brand. I believe that emotional connection is what keeps people coming back. It’s important to the success of any brand to cultivate that.Having a great product is important, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Emotional connection is what keeps people coming. Click To Tweet
I know that with many of the clients that I work with who come to me and have me work with them one on one to help them develop their products. A lot of that initial work needs to be done even before you get to the branding. We need to understand who this product is for. What is its intention? What are the ingredients being used? How do we feel about the ingredients? Are we only going to use certified organic? Are we okay with using plant-derived and minimally processed? The brand owner, the founder, has to have that dialed in before they even meet with someone in branding. Otherwise, it’s going to become very difficult.
We have worked with founders before they’ve done the product development process. Because I have worked with product development teams and product developers like you, I have that understanding so I can tell them, “These are the things you need to think through before developing a product and before developing a brand.”
We think it’s so important to have those elements pinned down because it informs how the brand mission, values, and vision take shape. If that work hasn’t been done, then that’s something that we encourage founders to do before we even start to craft all of the brand messaging and brand copy. It comes into play even more critical to have done that upfront work when we go to write consumer-facing messages because if that hasn’t been defined, then it can get a little bit confusing. If it’s confusing for the founder and the brand team, it’s going to be even more confusing for the customer.
I’ve seen that too many times. This is where a lot of new founders or people who are dreaming about getting involved in the clean beauty space and being an entrepreneur in this space but they don’t come in with a clear product which is the heart of everything that they do. They end up wasting so much time and so much money floundering trying to find what it is that they’re going to do.
You’ll see many brands or many founders before it even becomes a brand in that in-between space of always trying to figure out what product they’re going to do. They’re changing ingredients or finding this and they’re never quite nailing it. Because this space is moving so fast and there are so many new brands coming out, it’s such an exciting time to be involved. That gray area or dialing around is only going to be detrimental for the new entrepreneur for sure.
I completely agree.
It becomes like a big money pit for them. Let’s say a new entrepreneur figured out what her product is. She has a good idea of what her formula is. She knows her line in the sand, what ingredients she’ll accept and what she won’t accept. Is it only going to be certified organic? Do you only want to use whole ingredients? Are you okay with using plant-derived ingredients? What are your values? What won’t you cross over?
When she understands all of that, has the formula, understands where she’s getting her product, her ingredients from, etc., she’s ready to start talking to someone like you and your team at Atomic N°8. What are some of the steps? If you were to break down your process of working with a new entrepreneur, what would those steps be? Someone who maybe is thinking about working with someone like you, what could they expect? What are the steps of the process?
Normally, we will have an initial discovery. We might do a deeper dive to talk with the founder and understand what their expectations are upfront, what they’re looking for, and where they’re in the process. Normally, it’s a quick intro call. After we have an understanding of where they are, we’ll usually do a longer kickoff where we try to pin down those brand attributes. Between that intro call and that kickoff, we’ll ask the founder or the client to send us any relevant work.
In the past, when we worked with clients of yours, they always come prepared with a lot of awesome upfront information about what their product is, the product brief, who their target audience is, or their target user. We like to have as much of whatever they’ve thought out in any format. Sometimes it’s Excel files. Sometimes it’s a Google Doc. It doesn’t matter to us but we like to have whatever work they’ve done so far.
We like to take a look at it. When we go into this brand attribute session, we have that foundational understanding. Even if they come to us and they’ve got a vision statement or a mission statement, we think it’s important to talk through all of that all over again. We ask probably a series of about 15 to 20 questions where we’re talking about why we’re here, who we’re here for, and where we’re going.
That helps us pin down the eventual framework for our brand strategy, which is mission, vision, positioning statement, brand pillars, and core attributes, and that serves as the basis for the brand strategy. After we’ve gotten some of that down and those brand attributes pinned down, we’ll start to pull references for what the brand might look like and feel like and even sometimes sound like.
We’ll pull that in. It’s a lot of references to visuals, typography, and color and we’ll usually put some initial mood boards and directions together to share with the founder and get their reaction. That’s why the strategy is so important. We normally have three solid directions and one usually emerges as the clear winner. Sometimes we’ll incorporate some aspects of one into another. We’ll refine it and we land on this visual direction from which we build out the visual attributes.
That is selecting the palette and the typography then we’ll go into logo design. We will set parameters for what the product photography and the model photography should look and feel like. Once we’ve got a product in hand, we’ll usually shoot it so that those assets can be used for web, social, and print and ad assets in tandem with that. Usually, at that stage when we’ve got the brand established, we’ll go into packaging as well.
Packaging is probably the longest lead time. We’ll be working on that and as soon as the packaging is finished, we’ll do it whether that’s primary, design of the primary vessel, or it’s secondary, design of cartons or labels or whatever that is. We’ll decide that with the founder. We’ll manage all of that and as soon as that goes into production is usually when we kick off web design and development. You’ve got your website being developed in tandem with the packaging being produced.
Once it’s ready to be filled, you can have your fill date. You have a strong sense of when your packaging is getting delivered, your website will be ready, and you can start selling. The way we time it out is to ensure that everything is ready. As soon as your packaging is filled, you’re ready to launch and you’re not sitting on any inventory. It’s all the way through to that go-to-market.
We usually help our clients also build out a go-to-market strategy. Defining those initial asset needs across different channels. The one part I didn’t touch on, which is part of the brand strategy is the messaging piece. A lot of the messaging that we use on the web in the go-to-market piece is all stemming from the work we’ve done upfront in the brand strategy and brand messaging. We’ll help refine that copy so that it’s ready to be in the market and to be used when you’re ready to launch. We’ll build out a comprehensive 360 and give you everything you need to get into the market with confidence.
Hearing you go through those steps, it’s very important for any new entrepreneur to understand that there is an important strategy and step-by-step process here. So many jump in and want to start out with their logo and the name of their brand or their company. They want to get the website up first. They want to start all these sexier ideas or messaging out there before they’ve done the work.
I always tell all of my clients that I work with one on one and those who work with me in my group coaching programs that we need to do the hard work. It’s not easy. All this stuff, in the beginning, is the hardest part in a way. The stuff that’s going to require full commitment, concentration, focus, and digging deep in yourself as an entrepreneur about what your values are, what you want, what your impact is, and what you want it to be. If that isn’t done first, then all this other stuff becomes more complicated and more difficult, and ultimately a bigger loss of money because you haven’t done the initial work. It’s good to hear you break it down in that way.
I’ve been doing this for a decade. We refined the process over that period. It feels very fluid and natural as we’re going through it but there are specific things that need to go into getting a brand or a product line and turning it into a brand that’s ready to go in the market. We try to hit it on all of those things in a way that still is fun and enjoyable but also thoughtful.
Especially now. Consumers who are shopping for beauty are looking for much more. They’re shopping not only for a high quality and beautiful smelling product but they want to feel connected to the owner and the founder. As you said in the beginning, there needs to be this relationship that is established between the consumer and the brand or the founder that you feel when someone’s buying your product that they’re in a relationship with you. That has changed the way women especially are buying beauty products now. They’re buying because, in a way, they want to be in a relationship with that product or that brand. It has that emotional connection, which I think is so important. That is very different from what it was many years ago.
That’s why we say we prioritize community at the core. Think about whoever is using your product, not as this transactional relationship but as this human-to-human relationship that’s all about community and connection and want to feel like you’re a part of something. It is something that we all look for in life. The brands that make you feel that way are the ones that stand apart from the product companies out there that are very much transactional.
This is much more relational and emotional. That’s what we try to cultivate. That’s everything that we do through the visualization and through the messaging, the overall go-to-market but it’s very intentional to try to craft a brand that way. It doesn’t happen. There are a lot of choices that need to be made in order to turn consumers into a community.Crafting a brand doesn’t just happen. There are a lot of choices that need to be made in order to really turn consumers into community. Click To Tweet
That’s what’s so powerful about what you do and what makes you such an expert in this field. You’ve been able to hone that and articulate that for brands in a way that I don’t see very often. It’s a beautiful and powerful quality for new entrepreneurs to be able to have that experience with you, to be able to articulate that for sure. For any new clean beauty entrepreneurs out there who are feeling inspired by our conversation, Alexa, how can people reach you? What products and brands are you working with?
We work with a very wide range of brands of clients. They’re all in the consumer space. They’re all trying to cultivate community and connection mostly in the direct-to-consumer space. Whether that be a direct-to-consumer service or a direct-to-consumer product, we primarily work across beauty, health, wellness, and food.
There’s been such a close relationship between beauty, food, and health lately that we’ve found that it’s quite similar to build brands in these different categories. Our services are that range that I alluded to before but we are increasingly spending more time in the emerging technology space trying to understand how we can bring technology into all of the brands that we work with. It’s not just for the sake of it, not for the sake of being techy or tech-forward but for the sake of that community piece and connecting with consumers in a more meaningful way.
We have as such worked with clients in the AI space and the virtual reality space. We’ve worked with clients that are in software as a service. It’s a wide range. You can get in touch with me by dropping me a line at Alexa@AtomicNo8.com. I’m also very active on Twitter. That’s more of my Web3 tech-forward side of things. I’m on LinkedIn as well, where you’ll get the full range of what we’re working on.
The benefit to that is that we’re always trying to see what solutions might be out there to create a little bit more meaningful impact and marketing tactics. Marketing can be very expensive, which is also something that we work with our founders on. How do we make sure that we’re driving the most meaningful tactics for them and helping them build a strategy that is delivering a return on that investment? You can get a closer look at that side of what we do on those channels. On our website, we’ve got a bunch of case studies for brands that we’ve worked on lately. If you reach out to me directly, I can send you some of our most recent. I’m available across a lot of formats, whatever works best for you.
Reach out to Alexa, connect with her on LinkedIn or on Twitter, and check out her website. Thanks again for coming and talking to me, Alexa, about branding, messaging, and how important it is for new beauty entrepreneurs. Thank you so much.
Thank you so much. I appreciated it. This was fun.
About Alexa Lombardo
Alexa is a brand builder turned venture builder collaborating with founders to concept, launch and grow brands with sustainability and community at the core. She specializes aligning strategy, design and technology. After a decade in beauty & CPG working with brands at Estée Lauder and Unilever, she started Atomic N°8. Early clients included sustainably-minded founders in wellness (beauty, food, health) & lifestyle (travel, hospitality.) Nowadays, she focuses on the emerging tech space (web3, blockchain, crypto, NFTs, DAOs, AI, AR / VR & the metaverse.)