Imagine walking into a kitchen being used as a studio by a self-taught fashion designer who’s keen on transforming the look of women’s leggings from being hardly noticeable, to being the centre of attention.
Well that’s exactly what happened to Cameron Parker, a manager at an advertising agency, the day he met Black Milk Clothing founder James Lillis.
That was a few years ago, the early days of Black Milk Clothing, a stand out brand from Australia that today is a wildly successful company with a cult-like following any company would be jealous of.
Since then, Parker has taken over the marketing reins for Black Milk to help take the business from kitchen table to global sensation.
Started in 2009, the company began when Lillis sold his first legging for $10. Today Black Milk Clothing is a multi-million dollar company that’s grown to 150 people and distributes its products globally.
And the best part? They’ve been able to do all that with a $0 marketing and advertising budget.
I sat down with Cameron who heads up all the marketing and operations duties for the company to find out the company’s trade secrets.
Parker travels the world for an annual tour in which the company facilitates meetups for its fan base so they can talk and rave about Black Milk Clothing in person.
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In this interview, he breaks down the tactics that have worked for them, and what emerging ecommerce companies can do differently to gain the necessary traction to be successful.
What are you doing in this tour that you’re on?
We’ve got about 80 private Facebook groups around the world and that's all by geographic location or special hobbies and interests. It could be Black Milk Canada, Black Milk USA, but then it's broken up across, you know, east coast, west coast, then we’ve got Europe in individual countries, Australia, so all these groups, they all meet up. They all catch up all around the world and we help facilitate that.
Is it true you don’t spend a cent on marketing?
My marketing budget is zero dollars. I didn't spend a cent on advertising, don't do AdWords, don't do campaigns, don't spend any money at all.
The whole growth has been purely organic word-of-mouth, building, I guess, a tribe of followers that basically run around the world promoting the product.
How did you guys get started?
We started with a fundamental element: a really different and unique product.
Then the community formed when James's original blog, ‘TooManyTights’ took off. That was just all about bringing out the latest in fashion around legwear, and it found a community - that's where the community really started coming together.
Then, obviously, through the power of social media, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and across 12 different channels really came into the play.
The other big catalyst for us, actually a couple, was that we were doing really unique designs. The muscle leggings was one that really got us massive international attention, in terms of people going ‘check out these crazy leggings,’ It was all over blogs. Then, of course, there was the Star Wars deal with George Lucas.
You guys were one of the first to have Instagram photos embedded in your product pages, can you talk a little about the concept of social proof?
We started the hash tagging system over two years ago and we developed that system before anyone else was doing it. Essentially, hashtagging a product on Instagram or Facebook, and then we’d pull it in and populate it underneath the product.
Our customers loved that, it was like their first five minutes of fame and they're really proud of showing off their individuality of how they style them, and stuff like that. So it wasn’t the models that were selling our products - it was the hundreds of pages of selfies from girls around the world, different shapes and sizes.
Now that’s social proof.
What else is it that you guys do differently on social media?
For starters, in the early days it was just James on Facebook, I was on everything else. But our customers could literally jump on Facebook and say 'I really want a cat on a swimsuit' and our lead designer would be the one listening and responding. In other words, you're talking to the designer, you're not talking to some social media coordinator, because there's no authenticity in that.
It's kind of like someone who doesn't really have a lot of vested interest in their customer, but when you're talking to the actual decision maker, that was key to girls really coming on our Facebook and sharing their experiences and giving feedback.
So we were giving back to the key people in the business, and I wanted a real personal touch, kind of like when you're talking to a friend.
What would you recommend for entrepreneurs just getting started when it comes to marketing on social media?
It should never be about selling.
For us, It was all about sharing customer photos, the selfies, telling funny stories. To rethink our breakdown, the three key factors for our success on social media were authenticity, storytelling, and accessibility.
Authenticity comes in with who we are, it means you're talking to the real people. In terms of storytelling, every element of our business has a story. You look at the product pages, there's a story, the confirmation emails tell a story. Everything has a story, so there's that real brand touch, there's so many multi-layers, we even have our own language.
Lastly, there’s accessibility. If you look at us, James and I, the key people, go around and meet all our customers. I don't know how many people in head of marketing, or head of general management or whatever you want to call head people, can literally list their customer's Instagram names, customer's names, know what customers like. If I go to meet up with somebody, I can be oh, hi so-and-so, and I already know you because I remember you from Instagram.
We put in a genuine effort to cultivate friendship with our customers.
Which social channel would you say was most critical to Black Milk Clothing’s success?
I would say Black Milk wouldn't be around if it wasn't for Facebook. As a struggling business, out of a kitchen in Brisbane, Australia, not known for its fashion industry. How else do you, have a free and global opportunity to find a tribe, to find a community of women that’s niche. That’s what Facebook allowed us to do.
If it wasn’t for Facebook, we’d probably be stuck down on some downtown street in Brisbane. There’s just no way we’d have been able to build an international community, absolutely not.
What other advice would you give to someone thinking of starting their own ecommerce business?
Set up a Shopify store, because it’s so cheap, You know about ten years ago, five years ago, it was so expensive and you needed to have expertise in those areas. Today, you can basically set up an online store for nothing. And then it’s about coming up with something unique or niche, something that’s not mass and build a community around it.
That’s the power of being online and social media so that If you have some special topic interest that appeals to you, guaranteed you’ll be able to find someone else out there interested in the same thing.
Lastly, I cannot stress enough the importance of being genuine, being accessible, and of course storytelling. Give reasons for people to engage with you so they want to get to know you. I kind of go with the saying is the more you know, the more you care, so don’t be so closed up.