Mio skincare: Entering a crowded market, where others wouldn’t dare to tread

  • 20 October, 2015
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  • Blog


When Sian Sutherland and her business partner Cathy Mellor looked at the cosmetics market they could easily have walked away in the knowledge that it’s a crowded industry… we’ve all heard that before. However they did quite the opposite. They identified a tranche of potential customers who were underserved or unsatisfied by what was currently available.

Before Mio became a thriving business, both Sian and Cathy had struggled to find safe and effective products to use on their skin while they were pregnant. They developed Mio as a brand specifically designed to address this gap in the market and serve the specific needs of pregnant women and new mums. Since then, they haven’t looked back, with huge success selling their products in 14 markets around the world.

Knowing your customer base

There are some valuable marketing lessons in what they have achieved. Firstly, all great marketing plans should be founded on the understanding of your customer needs and whether those needs have been met, partially met or not met at all? Also to consider how common the need is among certain customers groups, are such customers accessible (can they somehow be reached) and would it be profitable to target them?

If the answers to these questions are yes, it may well be that the specific customer group can be classed as a customer segment. In order to get this far, one needs market insight.

What are your market insights? 

True market insights are hard to come by. They aren’t simply about market data, but rather about market observations that are uniquely valuable to those that have them. Sometimes it takes extensive and expensive market research to uncover these needs but in this case, Sian and Cathy were actually part of their potential target customer group. It doesn’t matter where great insights come from: the founders, the sales team, primary or secondary market research or somewhere else. What matters is knowing what to look for and then tapping in to all the possible avenues to find out what they needed to know?

Meeting your market needs 

Once Sian and Cathy had spotted the unmet need and decided that this was a true customer segment they could better serve than anyone else, the next challenge for them was to come up with a product and service offering that target customers would be compelled to buy. The Mio brand specifically designed to do exactly that.

The product formulation was developed with safety in mind for this customer group. The branding and messaging was designed to emotionally connect through empathy and the right tonality for mums and mums-to-be. This relentless focus has meant that Mio’s marketing budget, modest compared to the dominant players in this market, has been spent very efficiently with amazing results, particularly stimulating word of mouth which has been critical to their success.

Without wishing to underestimate all the challenges associated with raising the money and bringing their dreams to practical reality, it isn’t surprising, from a marketing purists viewpoint, that they have had great success in this crowded market. It’s really a story of David and Goliath.

Finding out about Mio’s success

In her interview with Peppered Moth Marketing, Sian explains that she would far rather start with understanding customer needs and meeting them, than with an analysis of the competition. Otherwise she may have never taken the bold step to go into this market. That’s not to say that understanding the competitive landscape is not important, but rather to say that as a start point in their planning, it could have dampened their passion.

As new competitors enter the market, Sian believes it has really confirmed their idea that this is a new segment that deserves a new category. In the beginning, drive and tenacity were imperative to challenge the views of potential stockists and the media who weren’t familiar with this category. But now they have entered, Sian welcomes the validation they bring and has seen this sector grow. She also recognises the role of healthy competition in driving their innovation so that Mio, being the first-mover, can stay ahead of the pack.

When entering a crowded market place, you can imagine how challenging it is to get placement in the portfolio of products already offered by the huge brands. One of Mio’s less obvious strategies to navigate this issue, which to some extent is with the benefit of hindsight, has been to find alternative channels to market. When you sit back and think about it you soon realise where you might find the target customer and in which context they may be ready to buy such products.

Such creative approaches to reach customers have been a major success factor for Mio as it has helped them to step around the issue of being a small player, offering a new category and the current players in the market not knowing where to place them or having bigger fish to fry.

Since the success of Mio the company is now introducing another category and has developed an overarching positioning: “fit skin for life”. This is an exciting development, not least for the next raft of ‘unmet need’ customers they seek to serve but also because it has prompted them to develop an umbrella brand. This allows them to continue to develop Mio (now called Mama Mio), launch a high performance body care brand for active women and subsequently introduce brands for the next target segments that they choose the serve.

Where will they go next? Your guess is as good as ours, but each brand will require its own specific positioning and messaging. Importantly, the umbrella positioning is meaningful and broad enough to give the company plenty of scope for future growth.

One final and indeed critical aspect of Mio’s success is the sheer passion and commitment shown by Sian and Cathy for their business. Having gone through pregnancy more than once, they are very familiar with the needs of their target audience, passionate about the products and feel emotionally rewarded by the business every time they see or hear another women getting the results and feeling more confident as a result of engaging with the brand. In fact, they want to become the most recommended cosmetics brand.

Sian points out in her interview with Peppered Moth Marketing that having these great ideas is one thing but executing against them is another. Aside from some great strategic decisions, sheer hard graft and a little luck on the way, I think the real drivers of Mio’s success are religious focus, passion, energy and drive.

Hear the full interview with Sian on iTunes or Peppered Moth Marketing.

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