Soapbox Soaps wants to be the change
Entering a crowded marketplace, at first blush, doesn’t seem like a good way to raise funds for a cause, but the founders of SoapBox Soaps, David Simnick (CEO) and Daniel Doll (president and COO), have saved an estimated 3,000 lives in 60 countries through their personal care brand. During their journey, they’ve learned about what motivates consumers and retail buyers to purchase product, how a brand can build a loyal following and what raises consumers’ BS antennae, knowing when to bring in an expert (CMO Billy Collins) and when to lean on external experts, and the importance of knowing your primary mission and how best to achieve it.
With the best of intentions
“No company grows and starts from scratch without its fair share of mistakes,” says Simnick. “And we definitely are not absolved from that.”
Doll adds, “When we really sat back, and thought as a growing company, What is our mission and why are we here? Why are we doing what we’re doing? It’s really to empower that consumer with the ability to change the world. And for us, that’s directly correlated to our mission. So every product that we sell gives us the ability to give back.”
Simnick shares that shoppers told the brand that its initial packaging was causing confusion on shelf. The cause-first labeling scheme didn’t describe the products’ characteristics well, and what the founders considered a novel and eye-catching structure (a flat-rectangular bottle for hair care products) was adding to that confusion. Shoppers were telling Simnick that the bottles looked like they should be for dog shampoo not products for people.
“I am shocked at how far we got with our previous designs,” Simnick opines. “The early designs of SoapBox’s packaging were really about two young entrepreneurs who wanted to make a difference trying their best.” And while Simnick acknowledges that the early designs reflected some of their naiveté, he is also quick to note that they reflected “a lot of passion to throw ourselves into this work and to go up against some of the biggest companies, not only in the States, but in the world. And to really try to make a product that, not only is superior, but also has this mission.”
It goes back to the core of the company, Simnick says. “I get asked this question all the time, which is, ‘Did you want to start a soap company, then you found out this really cool cause marketing strategy in order to build the brand, or did you want to solve this [social] problem, and then you started surrounding yourselves with mentors and advisors, bringing on seasoned professionals, like Billy [Collins] and the rest of our team, to build a CPG company?’ And it’s totally the latter. When we started it was about how do we just prevent these types of silly deaths happening? Why should children under the age of five be perishing through something like diarrhea or acute respiratory disease? These are things that the World Health Organization and UNICEF have shown time and time again, that access to clean water and something as simple as a bar of soap can prevent. These deaths are sometimes as high as 50% [of a population]. And it just doesn’t make sense that this is happening in the world.”
Product-first is the more charitable approach
To Doll’s earlier point, the number of products sold directly impacts the brand’s ability to improve health conditions for people around the world. SoapBox’s one-to-one (1:1) giving model means that for every product sold, a bar of soap is given to a person in need.
Collins notes that as much as the mission is exciting and interesting for the brand and its retail partners, SoapBox has to give the social message more of a surprise and delight role. Discovering the mission needs to be another reason for consumers to feel good about the brand; the primary reason a consumer should feel good about the brand is because they have great products.
Noting that a cause-first approach could raise questions in shoppers’ minds, Collins says, “Consumers can get confused and think they aren’t going to get a good quality product —that they have to sacrifice something to be able to do this. And then there’s an element of skepticism that has started to creep up in terms of why you’re doing it.”
The brand’s work with focus groups of millennial consumers (millennial women make up the majority of SoapBox’s customers) found that a cause-first marketing message raised skepticism even about the brand’s charitable mission. “We were in focus groups with some millennial consumers, and one of them said, ‘You know the bigger you make the mission, the more I doubt it,’” Collins recalls. “We never want anyone to feel that way about our mission, because it’s not true. Because it’s so intertwined with our DNA.”
The next evolution
As a result of the brand’s consumer research and strategy redirection, SoapBox, at time of publication, is undergoing a redesign of packaging for all of its products across the entirety of its line, from soap to shampoo to body wash. Doll explains that the new packaging, being developed in collaboration with the brand’s design agency, Anthem, will recognize category cues and message hierarchies specific to each product category while emphasizing the premium characteristics of the complete product line.
One feature that will be carried over from the previous packaging is the brand’s Hope Code, which when entered into the brand’s website empowers shoppers to see the country that their specific purchase benefited. Collins, Doll and Simnick’s hope for that code on the new packaging is to integrate it into a social media marketing program that will continue to excite people about the brand’s mission and develop deeper brand loyalty.