Chris Thorne

Customer first is more than a mantra at The Honest Co.

Depending on direct communication with consumers electronically or otherwise and surveys over high-level market data and trend reports, the nontoxic household products and beauty company relies on the preferences of its customers to guide its decisions. In particular, it doesn’t move forward on product development, community building and design efforts without consulting people outside its Santa Monica, Calif., headquarters.

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“We’re consumer first. Everybody says that. Well, if you don’t have that direct one-to-one relationship, I don’t think you are,” said Honest’s chief marketing officer Chris Thorne, noting that the company has eight million members and registers 5,000 contacts with customers daily. He asserted, “Our consumers run our business. I know that sounds like a line, but it’s actually true.”

When it comes to product development, Honest has surveyed thousands of customers about the categories it should enter. While product segments such as kids’ apparel have been experiencing explosive growth, its customers informed Honest it should instead stick to categories in which the safety of ingredients is a preeminent concern such as skin care, hair care, cosmetics, infant formula, cleaning products and pet food.

“You talk to our big retailers, and they say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ll give you shelf space, get into baby clothes.’ If you are going top-down, you’re going to go headfirst into that market. That’s actually a huge miss because our consumers — the ones that know us, the ones we’re talking to — that’s not where they want us,” said Thorne, adding, “We have very limited resources. We can’t go and make something in every category. When we go into a category, it has to succeed. The big guys can make mistakes.”

To choose its diaper prints, for example, Honest solicits input from hundreds of thousands of customers. Thorne reported that customers’ favorites often don’t align with Honest employee picks and indicated the feedback ultimately helps the diapers perform better at retail. “When you are producing thousands and thousands of these, you want these to sell. You don’t want the excess inventory,” he said.

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Thorne stressed that community involvement is vital to public relations and marketing as well. He showed an upcoming Honest advertisement focusing on footage taken by its customers during the births of their babies and displayed a map spotlighting 13 cities that Honest cofounder Christopher Gavigan had traveled to in the last few months to connect with the brand’s customers in meetings of various sizes. “Sometimes it’s 20 people inside someone’s home talking about raising children and making good choices,” said Thorne, declaring, “This is really how you build that bottom-up groundswell.”

Even during its toughest moments, Honest counted on its close relationship with consumers. Confronting a controversy about sunscreen last year, Thorne detailed it responded directly to messages on social media, and Gavigan and fellow cofounder Jessica Alba called concerned customers themselves. He said, “There was a lot of brands that would have had trouble withstanding that and it shows the strong base of support we have and why we continue to invest in cultivating it.”

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