While most kids sought to change their curfew, then 16-year-old science prodigy and Florida native Ben Stern sought to change the world. “I was sad to learn that 4 out of 5 people admit they don’t consistently recycle any items from their bathroom—that’s the equivalent to filling 1,200 football stadiums each year from empty shampoo bottles alone,” he said in his opening statement on Shark Tank in 2016.
His company, Nohbo (No Hair Bottles), pitched single-use solid shampoo balls that dissolve in water. Excited by this sustainable innovation and major market opportunity in a category that is a leading contributor to landfill waste, Mark Cuban funded Nohbo—and Ben set out to do big things.
Fast-forward to 2020. Nohbo had reformulated their shampoo ball into single-use body wash, shampoo, and conditioner pods encapsulated in a proprietary biodegradable film. They also launched coconut soap slips: single-use, wafer-like hand-soap strips.
"Nohbo was stuck in a rut with a disjointed identity, mixed messaging, and a product-market fit that didn’t quite fit."
By Rebecca Bartlett, Founder and Creative Director of Bartlett Brands
Millennial consumer brand or serious B2B innovation company?
Alongside Nohbo’s initial direct-to-consumer commercial strategy, they had a number of B2B engagements and projects with some of the leading Fortune 500 CPGs to create sustainable packaging for their consumer product lines. Nohbo was also primed to serve the evolving needs of the hospitality industry. They were in talks with one of the largest European hotel distributors to bring plastic-free, single-use personal care to the European market, where the EU’s vote to ban single-use plastic items had encouraged the hospitality industry to seek out more sustainable alternatives. Further, New York State and California have since banned plastic amenity bottles in hotels by 2024.
With a $3MM seed round led by Material Impact, the heat was on to untangle this hairball and start showing some serious returns.
Nohbo engaged Bartlett Brands, a creative innovation agency that specializes in strategy, branding, and sustainable package design, with a proven track record for developing first-to-market sustainable concepts.
“The clients we choose to partner with are not interested in an incremental reduction in environmental harm. They want to fundamentally change how consumers interact with their brand and products,” says Rebecca Bartlett, Founder and Creative Director of Bartlett Brands. “We love developing problem-solving strategies to give sustainable brands their best fighting chance at entering a category with new innovations to make a meaningful impact.”
“When we unpacked what Nohbo was doing, we found they were trying to use one brand to communicate multiple value propositions to distinctly different audiences—while simultaneously trying to lure the coveted Millennial / Gen Z consumer with a cool, compelling DTC brand. Our job was to create a singular focus,” says Vannett Li, Strategy Director at Bartlett Brands.
Detangling the Nohbo Hairball
Step one was to separate their B2B and B2C offerings. Bartlett Brands created a two-pronged approach by repositioning the Nohbo brand to be a packaging innovation company focused on business-to-business opportunities and partnerships. Step two was to identify the brand opportunities for the then-undetermined B2C brand.
“We were struggling to communicate the value of the innovation to the consumer. We weren’t sure who exactly the consumer was or how they were interacting with our products,” says Ben.
Additionally, Nohbo’s pod and slip innovations came with some barriers to entry:
- Mental Barrier
A new, unfamiliar delivery format that required an explanation
- Physical Barrier
Delicate products that could not be exposed to water or humidity prior to use
The strategy? Product-user research with two very different audiences: Nohbo’s current consumer in regard to their at-home experience, and hotels to unlock the potential within the hospitality segment. It was soon clear that:
- Everyday use at home is challenging. While consumers enjoyed the product experience, they felt the delicate pods and soap slips required a behavioral change since they could not be stored inside the shower or on the sink without getting wet.
- There is a niche opportunity for on-the-go and travel use. Consumers enjoyed taking their pods and soap slips to the gym, camping, etc. However, these use cases were infrequent—and therefore not ideal for a business looking to scale quickly and make a meaningful sustainable impact.
- Hospitality presents a large-scale and dire unmet need for innovation. While some hotels wanted their own private-label sustainable toiletries, most preferred a hotel-ready approach with a modern sustainable brand that would elevate the overall experience and make the sustainable swap not feel like a sacrifice.
“Cutting-edge sustainable advancements don’t matter if the consumers don’t want to use it,” says Vannett. “Consumers are inherently lazy and unwilling to be inconvenienced. Functional headlines like, ‘This product helps prevent X amount of plastic from entering the waste stream,’ is not enough. Today’s B2C brands need to lead with an emotional payoff so compelling that consumers are willing to forgive inconvenience AND be excited to change their behavior.”
Creating Aspiration to Cancel Out the “Inconvenience”
Nohbo’s positioning at the time was, “sustainable, planet-first, portable, single-use personal care that disappears without a trace.” “‘Sustainable’ and ‘planet-first’ are category table stakes,” says Vannett. “The key points of difference were ‘portable,’ ‘single-use,’ and ‘disappears without a trace.’ We used these PODs as a jumping-off point for the B2C brand.”
Vannett explains: “First we connected ‘portable’, ‘single use,’ and ‘disappears without a trace’ to the emotional payoff of unhindered, carefree freedom. Then we zoomed out of the category to see if there was a macro cultural trend we could borrow cachet from—because if you can find one, your brand will have an automatic sense of familiarity to the consumer.”
“We identified a relevant macro cultural trend of the need to disconnect to reconnect. This primal longing to escape to the great outdoors with fewer things and simpler exchanges—a counter to our modern, fast-paced, tech-dominated world.“
“We then put this positioning territory through its paces to assess its brand authenticity fit. ‘The Wild Expansive Freedom of the Great Outdoors’ connected to the brand equity perfectly: paying homage to Ben’s Florida beach-culture roots, the timeless tradition of returning to the water for its healing properties, the water-droplet shape of the product pods, and the uplifting, detoxifying experience of the formulation itself—a rejuvenating moment of singular focus and pleasure.”
"Born from a thousand miles of Florida beach magic. And a thousand years of humans harnessing its healing powers. Modern-day remedies for modern-day maladies."
Bringing the Aspiration to Life
“Every touchpoint of the brand purposefully reinforces the aspiration of “The Wild Expansive Freedom of the Great Outdoors,’” says Rebecca. After establishing the initial brand positioning, Bartlett Brands dove into naming for the B2C brand—leading with an emotional hook.
“We loved ‘Sunrise Session.’ It evoked the carefree freedom we all yearn for and draws to mind the sun rising over the ocean during that wellness ritual you wish you had,” said Elyse Winer, Marketing Partner at Material Impact.
From refreshing, botanically charged language to uplifting marketing soundbites to brand visuals reminiscent of sunlight refracting through water, they took the leap, and Sunrise Session made a splash. “Portable, single use personal care innovation that helps prevent tons of plastic from entering the waste stream” became “A new wave of take-anywhere selfcare: Water-seeking concentrates made with feel-good ingredients to power your present and protect our planet. Flood your body. Free your mind. Leave no trace behind.”
Sunrise Session inspires anybody who wanderlusts—hotel guests, travelers, at-homers—to awaken their escape. Drown out distractions, sink into restoration, and turn the tide on sustainability with single-use, plastic waste-free self-care for here, there, and everywhere.
The results? Sunrise Session launched in Summer 2021 and has been applauded by the travel industry, eco-actives, and entrepreneurs alike. Forbes named them one of the top “Fashion Travel Essentials You Need For 2021.” Splish splash!
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