If you ever get the chance to sit down with Damian Soong of Form Nutrition to talk about all things ecommerce, consider yourself lucky. That’s exactly how I felt before we even started our formal interview (virtually, of course).
After chatting with Soong for just a few minutes, it was clear he’s not only a passionate entrepreneur but has also built something truly special with Form Nutrition—a brand built on shared values and authenticity that has attracted a unique audience.
But Form Nutrition isn’t a typical wellness brand. And this isn’t a typical founder story.
Buckle up, Resilient Retailers, because this is about to get inspiring.
A career built on making the world a better place
Like many entrepreneurs, Soong was hit with inspiration like a ton of bricks. Well, in this case, it was an eye-opening documentary rather than a ton of bricks. But you get the point.
After watching Cowspiracy, a documentary that investigates the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, Soong’s interest in vegan eating piqued.
But hold on. Let’s rewind for a minute.
Soong had an interest in exercise, nutrition, and health long before watching Cowspiracy. He began his career in banking before shifting to business. Soong went on to get his MBA at Imperial College London and became involved in the startup world, working for and building companies such as Orbel Health (a patented alcohol gel dispenser for hospitals) and Hydrachem (the UK’s leading manufacturer of chlorine tablets for hospital disinfection).
It only made sense that the next move in Soong’s career was also rooted in making a difference.
Soong’s interests, work experience, and all-or-nothing personality gave him the confidence to develop a plant-based protein powder and nootropic supplement—or supplements that can boost mental and physical performance—brand that resonated with people with value sets similar to his.
Soong’s personality and interests sent him diving head-first into learning all he could about plant-based eating. He devoured research and documentaries on the topic, and even tried the vegan protein options that were on the market at that time.
His findings, coupled with his work experience, gave him the confidence to take the idea of a protein shake and elevate it.
When Soong analyzed the nutrition industry at the time, he felt it was crowded with polarizing industry personas—like the “gym bro” and “hippie” types—and brands that were solely focused on athleticism.
“As I became more interested in the space, it struck me that the vegan movement or the rise of veganism wasn’t just going to be a trend,” says Soong. “It was really being driven by big systemic drivers, emerging effects on health, and things like sustainability, animal welfare, global warming, and those kinds of concerns. So for me, it was a perfect storm of really big interests, a chance to make a difference, and the opportunity that I saw.”
"For me, it was a perfect storm of really big interests, a chance to make a difference, and the opportunity that I saw."
Currently, Form Nutrition offers three different vegan protein powders packed with superfoods, digestive enzymes, and other good-for-you ingredients. Those looking for an added boost—whether it be in energy, focus, or sleep quality—can find a supplement to meet their needs.
Soong wanted to focus on holistic health, or taking care of the whole self—mind, body, and soul. In addition to holistic nourishment, he wanted to change the way people thought about nutrition in general.
This idea of mindful health inspired a unique way to give back to the greater community.
In 2017, Form Nutrition launched the Form Feeding Fund, which provides food for patients of the Bansang Hospital in Gambia. Every purchase supports the hospital, which has ignited a new sense of purpose for the Form team and their customers.
Building a lifestyle brand that resonates with real people
Form Nutrition was created with the belief that you can be the best version of yourself while being mindful of others. Unlike other nutrition brands, Soong and his team aren’t concerned with appealing to a specific customer or activity.
While this may work for some brands—and Soong notes that there’s no right or wrong approach—Form Nutrition focuses on helping its customers elevate their performance, no matter how that looks to them. Soong wanted to build a brand that speaks to people with a shared connection in how they view health and wellness.
But why take this approach?
“Traditionally, everyone’s thought about nutrition in terms of athletic performance, and in a lot of ways, that’s true,” Soong says. “Instead, performance might be about a busy mother, a teacher, getting through a tough day at the office. It means so much more than just athleticism.”
"Performance might be about a busy mother, a teacher, getting through a tough day at the office. It means so much more than just athleticism."
As a result, Form has attracted an audience that resonates with a mindset and value system that believes taking care of yourself and others are equally important.
This sounded familiar. I’ve interviewed tons of founders and entrepreneurs who have said the same thing: People crave connection. To brands. To each other. It’s a trend we’re seeing across both retail and ecommerce.
As Form Nutrition began to flourish, it experimented with physical retail in addition to its thriving ecommerce store.
Attracting the right audience with authenticity
In the direct-to-consumer (DTC) world, brands have access to troves of customer data. This makes it easier to learn all about your customers on a numbers level. Brick-and-mortar retailers who don’t have access to this level of data are constantly wondering, “How am I going to understand our customer?”
However, brick-and-mortar retailers have access to something that DTC companies only dream of: face-to-face access to customers.
So how does Form Nutrition do it?
Simple: It listens to its customers. If you spend time getting to know your customers and listening to their opinions and ideas, you’ll unlock insights you otherwise wouldn’t have. You’ll attract the right customers if you show up authentically.
“Your customers will be attracted to something you’re doing,” Soong says, “whether it be your product or your brand—whether or not you realize it right away.”
"Your customers will be attracted to something you’re doing, whether it be your product or your brand—whether or not you realize it right away.”
Making value-packed content a priority
A powerful way retailers can connect to their audience is by providing them with information that teaches, informs, or appeals to their interests. This type of value helps solidify your brand as a go-to (and trusted!) source.
Known as content marketing, this kind of strategy is not only great for attracting your target audience, it’s also instrumental in increasing sales across both physical and digital stores.
Plus, it helps boost repeat sales.
Typically, content marketing is regarded as a long-term strategy for driving customer action and search engine optimization (SEO). A single blog post or Instagram Live is part of a larger strategy, and it can take time to see results.
💡 What’s that term mean? Content marketing is a marketing strategy centered on producing and consistently sharing value-packed content with the goal of piquing the interest of a target audience. This interest will eventually drive customers to act, whether that be a sale, a sign-up, or another action.
Form Nutrition’s content marketing strategy is built on providing content that strays from what you might typically see provided by a nutrition brand.
Form publishes posts four to five times per week on its blog, inForm, but you won’t find see titles like “Get 6-Pack Abs in 14 Days with This Meal Plan” or content concerning common topics found in the fitness industry, like #legday or #gymlife.
Instead, Form Nutrition creates content around topics like intermittent fasting, body composition, stress, and more. Form focuses on topics its team genuinely finds interesting themselves and that they think their audience will also find interesting.
Form Nutrition also offers email courses for their customers. These courses are delivered as bite-size lessons that focus on that day’s content.
This is known as an email drip campaign. Form Nutrition promotes its courses through its existing email list, partners, and paid advertising.
Form’s blog content and email courses are lead magnets—content delivered for free in exchange for information, like an email address. Form adds the email addresses collected by its lead magnets into a database to use for future value-adding opportunities.
It may seem odd to give customers free products or information, especially when creating these resources usually takes a lot of time. But the long-term result speaks for itself.
By offering its audience this kind of value, Form Nutrition has positioned itself as not only a brand that produces high-quality products for its customers but also one that understands their interests and needs.
In it for the long haul
Soong notes that many brick-and-mortar merchants struggle with getting email addresses and knowing what to do with them.
“Too many people look at emails as a way of only selling something,” he says. “Like, ‘Oh, I have this email. Now I need to start selling.’ That is completely the wrong way to do it. You have to continually be adding value to that person.”
That’s a major reason why many customers are reluctant to give a brand their email addresses in the first place.
Soong says that, instead of spamming customers with emails encouraging them to “Buy! Buy! Buy!” brands should take a different approach. “As long as you don’t abuse that, then that’s something that is a valuable resource for you—as long as you continue to provide them with value.”
In other words, customer relationship management is a long-lasting commitment, like a marriage. Building a meaningful, trusting relationship with your customers takes time. You don’t just meet someone and ask them to marry you on day one. Yikes, right?
That’s not so unlike when you visit a site and get a pop-up, followed by a bunch of emails exclaiming “SALE!” If you want to see lasting results with your customers, fostering the relationship the right way is key.
Similarly, Form Nutrition maintains its “in it for the long haul” approach across other aspects of its business, such as discounts and sales. Form doesn’t offer discounts to new customers, but instead loyal, existing ones.
It’s quite simple, actually. When Form tested discounting as a method to acquire new customers, it didn’t see much success.
“If your goal is to discount to make someone purchase,” Soong says, “then the question is, ‘Is the discount big enough to get the customer over the hurdle and how is that sustainable?’”
While other fitness and nutrition brands have built profitable businesses from discounting, the reality is that retailers must do whatever works for their business.
Maintaining control of the ship
Form has built a wildly successful ecommerce business, so I had to know what sparked its interest in partnerships and physical stores. As retailers know, there are many variables that come with partnerships, like branding consistency, which products are shown to customers, the in-store setup, etc.
According to Soong, Form considers physical retail a way to reinforce its brand positioning and serve as a place of discovery. But it’s important to be strategic about who you choose as your partner.
For example, Form has declined opportunities that would have resulted in many sales because they weren’t the right fit from a brand perspective. On the flip side, it’s said yes to opportunities that may not lead to high volume but would place its product with the kinds of retailers where they want to be found.
Form Nutrition does not use distributors and works directly with retailers instead. This lets it control variables like pricing, in-store setup, and even bidding on keywords for ads. Form’s partnerships have been successful from a sales standpoint, and have also been great for brand discovery.
By being ultra-selective of who it partners with, Form can control how its brand is consumed in retail settings.
For retailers, the reverse is just as important; where you choose to source your products and brands for your store is critical. Knowing the story behind each product or brand you place in your store brings you closer to your customers.
As the evolution of the conscious consumer continues to rise, customers care more about what they’re buying and who they’re buying from more than ever before.
Talk to your customers
When I asked Soong his best advice for brick-and-mortar retailers shifting to an online storefront, his answer was simple, yet something that’s often overlooked.
Talk. To. Your. Customers.
“Every DTC person wants a focus group of actual people to talk to,” he says. “If you have a physical store, you’re talking to people every day. So, use that to your advantage and look for the nuggets of wisdom that your customers are only too willing to tell you.”
"Every DTC person wants a focus group of actual people to talk to. If you have a physical store, you’re talking to people every day. So, use that to your advantage."
Speaking with customers first-hand gives you insight into all sorts of information, like their opinions, preferences, and ideas.
You can use this information to develop online offerings regarding content, products, events, and more. This information may also help you avoid mistakes or think about ideas in different ways.
At the end of the day, you’re building with your customers, for your customers.
The future is resilient for Form Nutrition
So, what’s next for Form Nutrition?
Soong anticipates the United States being a key location for the brand in 2021 and beyond. He’d like to dip into experiential retail in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Austin.
Soong’s interest in design and architecture may mean a dedicated physical store—not just retail partnerships—is in the cards someday. I’m picturing a beautiful, multifunctional space perfect for classes, events, and other cool opportunities.
When asked what resilience means to him, Soong recognizes the light and dark of any situation.
“My biggest strength is resilience,” he says, “but that’s also my biggest weakness. For me, resilience is about being able to take obstacles on and keep moving forward and finding solutions. The reason that becomes a big weakness is that you can take on too much and you don’t always know when to ask for help.”
"For me, resilience is about being able to take obstacles on and keep moving forward and finding solutions."
There's more where that came from...
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