Marketing A Social Business: Emily Woo Combines Commerce with a Cause

| October 22, 2013

“A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or organization” – Marty Neumeier, Author of Zag and The Brand Gap.

“The age of climbing the corporate ladder is over.  Instead, we’re in the age of jungle gyms.” – Cheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and Author of Lean In.

ssekologo-web-500x500

IMG_8982These are some quotes that inspire and motivate Emily Woo, Director of Marketing for Sseko Designs.

Founded by Liz Forkin Bohannon, Sseko is a ethical fashion company based in Uganda, headquartered in Portland.

Sseko employs women in Uganda who make leather soled sandals with unique customizable straps to help finance their college tuition.

Woo started working for Sseko over a year ago, bringing an extensive marketing background to the table.

After working for 5 years in the corporate sector, Woo decided to make a change to learn more about social business by volunteering abroad in South Africa. There she became a part of a consulting company called Reciprocity, helping large companies bring their products or services to market in low-income townships.

Inspired by the passionate MBA students she worked with at Reciprocity, Woo started a small project on the side creating bags with some women in South Africa. She found herself selling them to friends in the US and in South Africa. This peaked her interest into the social business world where she knew she had found something she really connected with.

Woo learned about Sseko from her brother who was serving in the Peace Corp in the Ukraine at the time. A friend of his there had returned from a visit to some sustainable businesses in Portland and learned about Sseko.  (What a small world!)

When Woo came back to the US, she looked up Sseko’s website and found an ad for a marketing position. She applied and the rest is history!

I was lucky enough to sit down with Woo for some marketing strategy Q&A.

 

With such a big feat of doing all the marketing for a small social business, where do you even start?

Understanding your Brand.  At Sseko, it’s about how can connect our customers with our women in Uganda.  How do we empower our customers and fans to be advocates for the Sseko brand? What’s going to propel our brand is connecting with consumers and that they become a part of the storty to educate and empower women.

Understanding your target audience. Marketing strategy is based on reaching your audience and communicating your brand clearly and concisely.

 Our brand voice and aesthetic needs to permeate in everything from packaging, to retail, online, display banners and even in public speaking events.

What are some marketing tools/strategies you use?

We do display advertising, re-marketing, promotions and blogger outreach.  Blogger outreach is the best way we can partner with individuals that are aligned with our mission and speak to our audience.  

For example we launched a “30 ways in 30 days” campaign where we gave examples of how to tie your sandals 30 different ways. 

This year we had 30 bloggers that we highlighted one everyday.  Each blogger came up with this beautiful way to tie her sandals. She had a Signature Style and then she shared her story with her readers along with the Sseko Story.

This past summer, we created a loyalty program called Sseko Signature Stylist.  Customers sign up online, learn how to tie their sandals and share pictures with their friends on social media.  Social marketing is also key and generating two-way conversations between our fans and Sseko, keeping our brand top of mind.

Our #1 traffic referral comes from Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

employee-sseko-business-cards_back

What are some valuable skills or characteristics someone needs in your position?

Having a vision for where you see Sseko and being able to tactfully execute it. These are two skills that are usually very separate; being able to see the big picture, like ‘where do we want Sseko tomorrow?’, ‘what type of people do we want to be partnering with?’, ‘how do we get there?’, and then having the tactical ability to know how to get there.

Being creative in the content we produce.  Like when I run a photo shoot I think, ‘how do we create beautiful content?’ and ‘what does that look like?’ and I’ll run it by our graphic designer.  

Even when creating content that speaks to our audience I have to think, ‘what would our customers like to know about our women in Uganda?’ and ‘how can we better communicate the uniqueness of our sandals?’ 

Another valuable thing is working and partnering with people and being inspired by the things that they do.  Also being inspired by the emotions your brand brings out and how we can communicate that to our customers. For us, it’s all about connecting women to women. Being continually inspired by my team and working together is really important.

Of course, marketing knowledge. Coming back to your target audience and understanding all the channels, like social media, affiliate, display advertising, SEM/SEO continually optimizing that and negotiating good deals too is important.

How do you plan out your marketing strategy?

I’ll write one marketing plan for the entire quarter.  Before the quarter comes, I think of key messages we’d like to communicate on our channels: display, affiliate, promotions, blog content, social media, and organize that into an editorial calendar.  It’s about maintaining 3 things; brand management, product planning and online promotions.

With entrepreneur companies, things change so fast.  We might not know what products we’re launching a month or two in advance.  Even with the business of working over seas, we’re still nailing down production, getting that flow and ensuring operations are in place.  

Being in a small business and an entrepreneurship role, its important to be flexible and roll with the punches.

I’m a total planner and we’re definitely getting there.  We already have our Spring Look Book out, so we know what’s coming out in the spring.  

How do you feel about social businesses role in today’s economy?

Social business isn’t a trend it’s something that’s here to stay.  More and more consumers are becoming savvy about where their products are being made and how they’re being made.  I think people genuinely care about making this world a better place.  Understanding where their products are coming from and the story they’re telling with what they wear can be a part of that.

America along with Europeans and those in western markets are big consumers.  I think the way we spend money and how we spend money impacts others in the world.

I hope that more brands are paying attention on how they do things and how that impacts our whole economy.  

Last summer in Bangladesh, there was a factory that completely collapsed.  There were over 400 people working in it and it was a factory that was manufacturing clothes for a top western retailer in Europe.

Consumers were questioning companies on why this is happening, whether their workers being taken care of and how they are making their products. Businesses don’t have to be this evil thing that we see and think is corrupt and that all they care about is making profit. 

There’s power in consumerism, and if we can challenge that in benefiting our society, I think there’s a lot of positive changes that can come from that.

What marketing advice would you give to small business owners and entrepreneurs?

Be extremely passionate about what you do.  Authenticity is the best marketing.  If you’re really authentic about what you do and you love what you do, it shows in how you speak about your brand, what you’re creating and the content you put out. It shows in what you’re selling.  

Being extremely passionate will hopefully carry you through the rough patches and through times where you just want to give up.

Sometimes you think you need to have it figured out, but you really are just going to be learning as you go.  Even at Sseko, we do that.  We evaluate whether something worked or did not work and we use what we learned for the next project.

Did you learn how to do all this on the job or was a lot of it from working in the corporate sector?

Working in corporate is great because it provides you with a lot of structure.

Working for Microsoft and Nintendo taught me the framework for marketing.  But it’s always constantly shifting.  Print is no longer mainstream, and now it’s digital media marketing.  We used to do a lot of TV spots with Nintendo and just started getting into social media.  

When you’re in a corporate company you have a huge amount of money to spend, but you need to be wise about how you spend it.  There was time taken into research and developing strategy. 

So, I can take those elements and apply them to Sseko, but with a small business there’s a ton of room to try different things.

It’s different in corporate because you’re working for an established brand rather than growing a brand.  Growing takes a lot of faith and perseverance.  

We’re continually trying to share that Sseko story and find partners that believe in what we’re doing to help us grow that brand.  Who doesn’t want to be part of that story to impact and educate women? That’s what gets me excited about working for Sseko everyday.

Do you have any advice to someone just starting out in marketing? Would you recommend a corporate job to get experience?

Depends on what you’re looking for.  Quoting Cheryl Sandberg, in her book, Lean In, she talks about how people are really into climbing the corporate ladder. She says ‘It’s not really a ladder, it’s more like a jungle gym.’  Lean_in.JPG

The more experiences you have in life the easier it is to connect the dots.  If a position comes your way and it’s in corporate marketing and you’re given the opportunity to learn as much as you can, then take that job by all means.

If it’s in a startup, and you’re given the ability to learn, take it. Half the time you really are learning on the job. Every industry is different.

Sandberg talks about the rocket ship.  When you get on a rocket ship, do you ask where you’re going to be seated? No, it’s more like, ‘I’m on a rocket ship!’ and I believe in what they’re doing and I’m going to go for it!

That’s what Sseko is like.  Things aren’t defined, it’s ambiguous and you have to put that ambiguity in place and find a road map for it.

If you’re really interested in marketing, seek out the job, whether it’s media planning, advertising or brand management to figure out what area you want to focus on and just go after it.  Doesn’t matter if it’s corporate or startup it can be anywhere.  Corporate is just how I got started.

What other creative resources inspire you for marketing ideas?

The book, Zag by Marty Neumeier, talks about strategy for high performance brands.  This is where I get ‘the emotion of a brand’ from.  

Lean In by Cheryl Sandberg.  It’s a great book in terms of workplace and career aspirations. She challenges the norm and I think that’s something that’s really inspiring.

I follow brand aesthetics like Free People, Made Well and Anthropologie. They’ve done a great job in building a brand. They sell beautiful things, but they’ve also created a whimsical aesthetic that we aspire to too.

I like following Modcloth for an eCommerce perspective and Tieks ballet flats. Tieks has gathered a strong ‘tribe’ of followers that love their brand.  

I try to think of how can we create a tribe of followers that love Sseko for not just what we do, but how we do it too.

 

Sseko has sent over 30 women to college and are employing about 50 women. Sseko started with sandals and have grown to include clutch bags and accessories through partnerships with other similar mission aligned companies in Kenya and Ethiopia. Be a part of a Sseko story today. Go check out their website, ssekodesigns.com!

https://vimeo.com/36069709

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“A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or organization” – Marty Neumeier, Author of Zag and The Brand Gap.

“The age of climbing the corporate ladder is over.  Instead, we’re in the age of jungle gyms.” – Cheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and Author of Lean In.

ssekologo-web-500x500

IMG_8982These are some quotes that inspire and motivate Emily Woo, Director of Marketing for Sseko Designs.

Founded by Liz Forkin Bohannon, Sseko is a ethical fashion company based in Uganda, headquartered in Portland.

Sseko employs women in Uganda who make leather soled sandals with unique customizable straps to help finance their college tuition.

Woo started working for Sseko over a year ago, bringing an extensive marketing background to the table.

After working for 5 years in the corporate sector, Woo decided to make a change to learn more about social business by volunteering abroad in South Africa. There she became a part of a consulting company called Reciprocity, helping large companies bring their products or services to market in low-income townships.

Inspired by the passionate MBA students she worked with at Reciprocity, Woo started a small project on the side creating bags with some women in South Africa. She found herself selling them to friends in the US and in South Africa. This peaked her interest into the social business world where she knew she had found something she really connected with.

Woo learned about Sseko from her brother who was serving in the Peace Corp in the Ukraine at the time. A friend of his there had returned from a visit to some sustainable businesses in Portland and learned about Sseko.  (What a small world!)

When Woo came back to the US, she looked up Sseko’s website and found an ad for a marketing position. She applied and the rest is history!

I was lucky enough to sit down with Woo for some marketing strategy Q&A.

 

With such a big feat of doing all the marketing for a small social business, where do you even start?

Understanding your Brand.  At Sseko, it’s about how can connect our customers with our women in Uganda.  How do we empower our customers and fans to be advocates for the Sseko brand? What’s going to propel our brand is connecting with consumers and that they become a part of the storty to educate and empower women.

Understanding your target audience. Marketing strategy is based on reaching your audience and communicating your brand clearly and concisely.

 Our brand voice and aesthetic needs to permeate in everything from packaging, to retail, online, display banners and even in public speaking events.

What are some marketing tools/strategies you use?

We do display advertising, re-marketing, promotions and blogger outreach.  Blogger outreach is the best way we can partner with individuals that are aligned with our mission and speak to our audience.  

For example we launched a “30 ways in 30 days” campaign where we gave examples of how to tie your sandals 30 different ways. 

This year we had 30 bloggers that we highlighted one everyday.  Each blogger came up with this beautiful way to tie her sandals. She had a Signature Style and then she shared her story with her readers along with the Sseko Story.

This past summer, we created a loyalty program called Sseko Signature Stylist.  Customers sign up online, learn how to tie their sandals and share pictures with their friends on social media.  Social marketing is also key and generating two-way conversations between our fans and Sseko, keeping our brand top of mind.

Our #1 traffic referral comes from Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

employee-sseko-business-cards_back

What are some valuable skills or characteristics someone needs in your position?

Having a vision for where you see Sseko and being able to tactfully execute it. These are two skills that are usually very separate; being able to see the big picture, like ‘where do we want Sseko tomorrow?’, ‘what type of people do we want to be partnering with?’, ‘how do we get there?’, and then having the tactical ability to know how to get there.

Being creative in the content we produce.  Like when I run a photo shoot I think, ‘how do we create beautiful content?’ and ‘what does that look like?’ and I’ll run it by our graphic designer.  

Even when creating content that speaks to our audience I have to think, ‘what would our customers like to know about our women in Uganda?’ and ‘how can we better communicate the uniqueness of our sandals?’ 

Another valuable thing is working and partnering with people and being inspired by the things that they do.  Also being inspired by the emotions your brand brings out and how we can communicate that to our customers. For us, it’s all about connecting women to women. Being continually inspired by my team and working together is really important.

Of course, marketing knowledge. Coming back to your target audience and understanding all the channels, like social media, affiliate, display advertising, SEM/SEO continually optimizing that and negotiating good deals too is important.

How do you plan out your marketing strategy?

I’ll write one marketing plan for the entire quarter.  Before the quarter comes, I think of key messages we’d like to communicate on our channels: display, affiliate, promotions, blog content, social media, and organize that into an editorial calendar.  It’s about maintaining 3 things; brand management, product planning and online promotions.

With entrepreneur companies, things change so fast.  We might not know what products we’re launching a month or two in advance.  Even with the business of working over seas, we’re still nailing down production, getting that flow and ensuring operations are in place.  

Being in a small business and an entrepreneurship role, its important to be flexible and roll with the punches.

I’m a total planner and we’re definitely getting there.  We already have our Spring Look Book out, so we know what’s coming out in the spring.  

How do you feel about social businesses role in today’s economy?

Social business isn’t a trend it’s something that’s here to stay.  More and more consumers are becoming savvy about where their products are being made and how they’re being made.  I think people genuinely care about making this world a better place.  Understanding where their products are coming from and the story they’re telling with what they wear can be a part of that.

America along with Europeans and those in western markets are big consumers.  I think the way we spend money and how we spend money impacts others in the world.

I hope that more brands are paying attention on how they do things and how that impacts our whole economy.  

Last summer in Bangladesh, there was a factory that completely collapsed.  There were over 400 people working in it and it was a factory that was manufacturing clothes for a top western retailer in Europe.

Consumers were questioning companies on why this is happening, whether their workers being taken care of and how they are making their products. Businesses don’t have to be this evil thing that we see and think is corrupt and that all they care about is making profit. 

There’s power in consumerism, and if we can challenge that in benefiting our society, I think there’s a lot of positive changes that can come from that.

What marketing advice would you give to small business owners and entrepreneurs?

Be extremely passionate about what you do.  Authenticity is the best marketing.  If you’re really authentic about what you do and you love what you do, it shows in how you speak about your brand, what you’re creating and the content you put out. It shows in what you’re selling.  

Being extremely passionate will hopefully carry you through the rough patches and through times where you just want to give up.

Sometimes you think you need to have it figured out, but you really are just going to be learning as you go.  Even at Sseko, we do that.  We evaluate whether something worked or did not work and we use what we learned for the next project.

Did you learn how to do all this on the job or was a lot of it from working in the corporate sector?

Working in corporate is great because it provides you with a lot of structure.

Working for Microsoft and Nintendo taught me the framework for marketing.  But it’s always constantly shifting.  Print is no longer mainstream, and now it’s digital media marketing.  We used to do a lot of TV spots with Nintendo and just started getting into social media.  

When you’re in a corporate company you have a huge amount of money to spend, but you need to be wise about how you spend it.  There was time taken into research and developing strategy. 

So, I can take those elements and apply them to Sseko, but with a small business there’s a ton of room to try different things.

It’s different in corporate because you’re working for an established brand rather than growing a brand.  Growing takes a lot of faith and perseverance.  

We’re continually trying to share that Sseko story and find partners that believe in what we’re doing to help us grow that brand.  Who doesn’t want to be part of that story to impact and educate women? That’s what gets me excited about working for Sseko everyday.

Do you have any advice to someone just starting out in marketing? Would you recommend a corporate job to get experience?

Depends on what you’re looking for.  Quoting Cheryl Sandberg, in her book, Lean In, she talks about how people are really into climbing the corporate ladder. She says ‘It’s not really a ladder, it’s more like a jungle gym.’  Lean_in.JPG

The more experiences you have in life the easier it is to connect the dots.  If a position comes your way and it’s in corporate marketing and you’re given the opportunity to learn as much as you can, then take that job by all means.

If it’s in a startup, and you’re given the ability to learn, take it. Half the time you really are learning on the job. Every industry is different.

Sandberg talks about the rocket ship.  When you get on a rocket ship, do you ask where you’re going to be seated? No, it’s more like, ‘I’m on a rocket ship!’ and I believe in what they’re doing and I’m going to go for it!

That’s what Sseko is like.  Things aren’t defined, it’s ambiguous and you have to put that ambiguity in place and find a road map for it.

If you’re really interested in marketing, seek out the job, whether it’s media planning, advertising or brand management to figure out what area you want to focus on and just go after it.  Doesn’t matter if it’s corporate or startup it can be anywhere.  Corporate is just how I got started.

What other creative resources inspire you for marketing ideas?

The book, Zag by Marty Neumeier, talks about strategy for high performance brands.  This is where I get ‘the emotion of a brand’ from.  

Lean In by Cheryl Sandberg.  It’s a great book in terms of workplace and career aspirations. She challenges the norm and I think that’s something that’s really inspiring.

I follow brand aesthetics like Free People, Made Well and Anthropologie. They’ve done a great job in building a brand. They sell beautiful things, but they’ve also created a whimsical aesthetic that we aspire to too.

I like following Modcloth for an eCommerce perspective and Tieks ballet flats. Tieks has gathered a strong ‘tribe’ of followers that love their brand.  

I try to think of how can we create a tribe of followers that love Sseko for not just what we do, but how we do it too.

 

Sseko has sent over 30 women to college and are employing about 50 women. Sseko started with sandals and have grown to include clutch bags and accessories through partnerships with other similar mission aligned companies in Kenya and Ethiopia. Be a part of a Sseko story today. Go check out their website, ssekodesigns.com!

https://vimeo.com/36069709