When direct-to-consumer cleaning startup Truman’s launched seven months ago, it didn’t just set out to disrupt the way cleaning companies make and distribute products.
Its underlying goal was to humanize the category by creating a direct connection with customers.
“I like the idea of reimagining what a brand can be in a sleepy category,” said Alex Reed, co-founder and CMO of Truman’s. “There hasn’t been a true disruptor in the cleaning space that’s interacting with consumers in new and different ways.”
The cleaning category has struggled to break into ecommerce because the shipping economics aren’t favorable. Truman’s, which offers four non-toxic surface cleaners and a subscription for refillable tablets, was able to get around that issue by killing two birds with one stone. Tablets that customers can mix with water at home in reusable bottles are cheaper to ship and more environmentally-friendly than other cleaning products on the market.
Truman’s caught the attention of German CPG Giant Henkel, which invested $5 million into the company in August.
“We bring certain things to the table – a fresh perspective, a new product line,” Reed said. “But they have a lot of knowhow and expertise, intellectual property and distribution capabilities.”
To get its message out, Truman’s relies on digital channels, where it taps into influencers and user-generated content. The brand uses social media to engage with people directly, both by highlighting customer reviews as posts on Instagram and making sure that its founders respond to every tweet personally.
“Our whole theory was this notion of social proof,” Reed said. “We want to show our customers using products, and their feedback on those products.”
As the company tests new marketing channels such as Pinterest, it’s figuring out which platforms work best for certain kinds of campaigns. Influencer unboxing and mixing videos, for example, work really well on YouTube and Instagram, while organic interaction with the company’s co-founders is most effective on Twitter and through Facebook comments.
“Our goal, regardless of which platform we're using, is to make sure that we’re showing up in the right way for how people are consuming information on that platform,” Reed said.
In a similar vein, Truman’s likes to look at typical performance metrics, such as CPM, clickthrough rate and conversion, within the context of an entire campaign. People might love a Truman’s ad on Facebook, for example, and then go straight to search for the product on Google, making search seem like it’s the main driver of performance.
“You have to be open-minded about performance,” Reed said. “All these things work in concert.”
While it works with agencies on certain creative projects, media executions and to find the right influencers, the Truman’s marketing team is largely in-house. The company handles all of its strategy, copywriting and social media to ensure that its voice remains consistent across channels.
“The more you can do in-house from a strategy perspective, the better,” Reed said.
But keeping agencies in the loop for an outside purview is important because “they don’t drink the Kool-Aid,” he said.
As Truman’s grows, it’s planning to expand its marketing budget to both connected and linear TV. While its current audience skews toward millennials, the company’s target is quite broad – everyone needs to clean their homes – so going straight to national TV could actually make a lot of sense.
Truman’s is also testing podcasts and local radio and wants to grow its experiential marketing and referral business. The key to trying new channels is testing and learning – and not being afraid to fail, Reed said.
“We’ll do things not oriented to generate sales, but to see if it has an impact on something macro,” he said.
But it’s early days, and Truman’s is still figuring out who its best customers are on digital. Although the brand does have a sustainability message with its reusable bottles, it’s going after the “casual recycler” rather than the niche, hardcore environmentalist.
“We’re trying to shift the entire industry, which is predominantly ready-to-use cleaners,” Reed said.
While Truman’s wants to stay firmly in the cleaning category, it’s also looking to expand into new products and eventually sell product in brick-and-mortar stores. After all, people have a lot more to clean than just their kitchen counters. There’s clothing, cars, furniture, you name it.
“We see a lot of opportunities to reimagine the industry,” Reed said.