How do you know what your customers are really looking for?
“Take a look at what your customers need, and provide the answer with your product.”
Easier said than done – we know it’s a tough gig to actually apply this to your own business.
Whilst problem and solution are quite obvious with some products, e.g. skincare specifically formulated for sensitive skin, or lactose-free milk for lactose-intolerant people, others, especially aspirational products, can be more difficult to pinpoint.
We sat down with Joe from Black Blaze to chat about how he and his business partner Ray created a home fragrance and accessory business that is tailored to exactly what their audience is looking for.
How did your brand Black Blaze come about?
Our story began in 2015. Ray and I were working at Kinfolk Magazine in China at the time, and came to visit Australia on a holiday. I remember exploring this beautiful country, feeling particularly drawn to all the unique scents found across different locations. The sea breeze at Bondi Beach, the earthiness at The Daintree Rainforest, the bushwalking scenery at Cradle Mountain, to name a few.
Soon, we resigned from Kinfolk and left China to start a new life here. We decided to travel for a little while, and inspired by what we saw, decided to pay tribute to these locations, with each candle scent representing different locations of Australia. That’s how our story began; the desire to capture the ambience we felt through our sense of smell, and thus our candle collection was born.
Who is your ideal customer?
There’s a reason we worked for Kinfolk, and not any other magazine. We were really inspired by the minimalist design, lifestyle and story that Kinfolk often portrayed in their magazine. You’ll find that a lot of thought and meaning goes into the products and designs featured.
That’s very us. You can definitely see Kinfolk’s influence in our candles and the packaging! There’s a lot that goes into our design process. For example, the candle lid. We actually had to design the leather lid by hand, and then find a manufacturer who would produce it with high quality leather. Once you’ve finished with the candle, the lid doubles as a coaster.
Our ideal customer
We imagined that our ideal customer would most likely enjoy reading Kinfolk, and is passionate about their quality of life. They like spending time cooking, decorating their living spaces, taking care of plants and flowers. In other words, really focus on the finer things in life. That’s who we thought our ideal customer would be. Someone who shared the same interests as us.
Our assumptions turned out to be mostly true. Our customers were people who enjoyed creating a comfortable living space and who shared similarities with Kinfolk’s simplistic style. We’ve also been approached by bookstores and minimalist homeware stores, and that confirmed our assumptions.
One thing we were wrong about though, was that we assumed our potential customers would have higher spending power. It was true that we had customers with a higher disposable income and who were willing to spend money on home decor. But we found that students were also within part of our audience. I guess it really boils down to the way they like to live, whether they enjoyed the finer things in life.
What’s the best way to get to know your customers?
Before we opened up our store in Sydney’s Paddington, we decided to test our market with some popup stores. I think it’s a great way to trial your products and gauge your customers’ interests to find out what works and what doesn’t. It was important for us to do that – Ray and I were both quite new to Australia, so the way we saw and interpreted things might have been different from people who have lived here their whole lives.
The first one we opened was in 2017, near the Old Clare Hotel in Chippendale. It was only open for roughly two months, but we gained plenty of feedback. Both from international students and the locals who lived around the area. Our popup was right next to the restaurant strip near Spice Alley, and people would stop by to take a look at our products. The second one opened in The Galleries in Sydney’s CBD, and we were there for one year. The foot traffic was great and helped us understand our customers a lot better.
Testing our market through popups was quite successful. The experience gave us a lot of insight about who our audience was. It even led us to open our store right here in Paddington!
Talk to your customers
Having a physical storefront is great. It means we get to see who our customers are in person, get to know them a little, and hear their thoughts on our products. Coming from a different country, Australia has been, quite literally, a breath of fresh air for us. Ray and I were both fascinated by the array of interesting scents uniquely found in the Australian natural environment. Of course things would be refreshing for newcomers like us, but who knew for sure if our candle scents appealed to anyone else?
We knew there were other candle brands on the market who created scents inspired by Australian nature too, so it was super important for us to meet and get to know our customers. Not only did we attract a lot of international students, there were a lot of locals who appreciated our candles. On top of that, we came across designers and stylists who really liked our brand and aesthetics, and bookstore owners were happy to stock our candles too.
The best way to get to know your customers is really just to talk to them. Simple as that!
How important do you think customer feedback is?
I think feedback is really important, but it also depends on where it’s coming from. Especially for small creative businesses, your brand has a lot to do with you and your design-thinking. I wouldn’t necessarily take on everyone’s feedback – only if I feel they genuinely understand my design and the way I think.
The way I see it is, we each have a path we want to carve – think about this as your brand – and on this path, you’ll attract a range of people with different interests. Some might resonate with your brand, and that’s great. But some just stop by out of curiosity and nothing more, so why stop and change your path if it’s not relevant?
I think it’s important to stick to what you’re doing. Don’t develop your brand into something else because someone else told you so. I think a brand is an extension of your own style and way of thinking. As creatives, we all have our own unique style. It’s difficult to merge your brand into something that’s not you. And you can’t please everyone! But feedback from someone who gets my design and understands the way I think? I’m more than happy to hear them out.
How do you find out if customers like the new products you launch?
That’s a good question! Just before Christmas 2019, we launched our new pillar candles. The candles sold really well, but we thought sales would drop off after the rush. Surprisingly, they didn’t. So I guess we did a little bit of a trial-and-error to find out, and made sure we asked around for feedback. Here are some other things we picked up while launching new products:
Introduce products that align with your brand
When we introduce new products to our range, a lot of thought goes into how they would align with our brand. The addition of a new product should enrich your brand, and not dilute it. It adds meaning and helps define what your brand is about.
For example, our first product was our candle collection, or what we call home fragrance. If we were to venture away from candles, these new products would have to be similar. Think homeware, home decor, bathroom accessories. The bottom line here is: If it’s not your brand, don’t do it. That’s the first step to creating products your customers align well with.
Make sure you do your market research
One of the best ways to understand your customers is just to ask for their opinion and feedback. Depending on who buys your products, you can ask the customers who walk into your store, or your stockists. Customers will give you insight into what they like and what they don’t like.
For example, we were pleasantly surprised to find that quite a few of our stockists were bookstores and homeware stores. From this insight, we could work out the kind of people who would be interested in our candles. And when we spoke with our stockists, they confirmed our assumptions of who we thought our market was. Our advice: Ask your stockists! They know who your customers are.
Test the market
Another work in progress we’re looking to launch is our oil burner. Our products include not only candles, but also diffuser oils in the same scents. Right now, we sell oil diffusers, but they’re not designed by us. We wanted to develop our very own, one that aligns perfectly with the rest of our brand, and so our bronze oil burner was in the making.
We took a few months to refine our design prototype, and then sent it off to have it manufactured. Once it arrived, we displayed it in our store to test it out and the feedback was amazing! We’ve already had some very keen customers asking when they’d be able to buy it, even though it’s still in the beta testing phase right now. That was really encouraging feedback and we’re excited to launch it!