When I started my fashion business, Bastet Noir, I had this idea that brand awareness came after a sale happened. I was utterly convinced. I thought the only way you could have brand awareness before a sale was if you had deep pockets—like celebrities-promoting-you deep. And my business's pockets were basically non-existent.
What I discovered, however, is that there are ways to create brand awareness without a budget. And if you do it right, it'll not only get you customers, but it'll also keep people coming back for more.
Get press without a budget
I always knew that press was important for building brand awareness: in addition to shedding light on our product, it could help with our SEO. A backlink on a site as popular as Vogue, for instance, could potentially bump us up in the search results to the point where more people were learning about us organically.
The problem is that these sites usually charge thousands of dollars to get your product to appear on one of their lists or use expensive affiliate marketing software you can't afford if you're operating on a budget. The chances to get on there are very slim—but slim doesn't mean impossible.
If you have the budget to hire a PR agency, do it. If you don't, here's how you can get started.
Send out cold emails
This is what I did first. I started by compiling a list of all the publications we were trying to get our brand featured in and then found the journalists who were writing for our vertical. And then we did it: cold emails.
Some of them responded back explaining that they only work with affiliate links, which as a small brand, we couldn't afford; and many of them just never responded. But some were moved enough by our story to the point where they wanted to feature us. That's all it took to get us in Refinery29 and Elle: our story.
Bear in mind: this process of cold emailing reporters can get gruesome. Sometimes it feels like you're working your butt off and there's nothing to show for it. But other times, you're overwhelmed by the genuine support some of the reporters are glad to extend to you—even if they don't write about you. All it takes is one person to say yes, so don't get discouraged if you don't find success right off the bat.
If cold emailing isn't your cup of tea, there's another option. HARO (Help a Reporter Out) connects journalists seeking expertise to include in their content with sources who have that expertise. Reporters from major publications, including Time, Forbes, and the New York Times use it to find experts for the articles they're writing. In this case, you're the expert.
When you sign up, you'll opt in for emails that you get three times per day that list dozens of press opportunities. If you think you have something valuable to offer, you submit your pitch along with whatever the reporter is looking for. If the reporter is interested, they'll either drop your quote in their article or contact you for more information—simple as that. This is how we managed to get our brand featured in Forbes.
Plus, if you get featured, you now have the start of a relationship with a reporter, and that's invaluable. Zapier has a great article about how to get backlinks through HARO, which will give you more tips on the process.
Try product placement
Getting your brand in a major publication is the traditional route for brand awareness. But what about thinking outside the box?
For example: I've always been interested in how technology impacts the fashion industry—I think that 10 years from now, technology will play a huge part in the way we dress. With this in mind, last year, we decided to experiment a bit and started applying to be featured in fashion game apps.
At first, no one wanted to work with a new and relatively unknown brand. Most of the games were designed to offer luxury pieces to players: if you can't afford Dior in real life, at least your avatar can get one in the virtual world. But I kept applying, and after a few months of doing this Sisyphean work, I finally got us into Covet Fashion: our brand was featured through challenges organized by their brand partnerships team.
To be honest, I wasn't expecting much. I mean, I expected to see some traffic increase, but nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. Not only did our traffic increase drastically—with highly engaged customers—but our revenue also increased to three times what it had been. As a small brand, getting that level of exposure is incredible. Our team was over the moon.
Take everything a step further
But we didn't stop there. We knew that Covet Fashion had highly engaged followers across every social media channel, so we joined their Facebook group and their subreddit, and we asked them to give us a shoutout on their Instagram account.
We also took advantage of the new partnership to create a contest: we had people submit their Covet Fashion stylings of our collection by tagging us on Instagram, and the winner got one of our dresses. This helped us tremendously with brand awareness and brought a major increase in followers on Instagram. Meanwhile, the Reddit community was pleasantly surprised to have a brand reach out to them, and they voluntarily promoted the giveaway.
You can read the article I wrote about how to do social media without a budget for more details on using each platform in the best way. But the takeaway here is that once you've found success with brand awareness, don't stop there. Always think about how you might build off of that momentum.