Last year, Sonal Gerten – Founder of Tumblewalla & Play Activist – approached me for private marketing and business consultation.
Sonal created her beautiful, unique, and functional line of baby & toddler clothing because she wanted to make a difference in the world.
(See what her mission is below!)
She came to me because she needed to get more clarity around Tumblewalla’s message, voice, and unique positioning in the marketplace.
I asked Sonal a few questions recently about our work together and about her challenges and triumphs growing a mission-based brand.
She was gracious enough to allow me to share those answers with you, so that you can learn from both her challenges and her successes.
(You’ll also get a peek – if you don’t know already – at what it’s like to have a marketing & business consultant help take your business to a new level.)
Without further ado, here is our ‘interview.’
HHM: You’ve built Tumblewalla on the concept (backed by research) that PLAY is crucial to a child’s development.
Let’s talk about the evolution of your mission.
Was there a specific inspiration for you? Was there a moment in time, for instance, when you KNEW you needed to make the advancement of play your mission?
SG: The word PLAY seems like such an un-important and almost frivolous word but it’s truly critical for kids.
The turning point was when I realized that as a parent I was making choices that compromised this spirit of play.
For example, I was so concerned about baby’s nutrition at the expense of my health and sleep that I didn’t have the positive energy or time to actually enjoy my baby.
This coupled with my research on our play deficit and books such as Last Child in the Woods really confirmed that this was something I absolutely needed to do.
My note: I have to gush about Sonal a bit here! I love working with women like her who are dedicated to more than just making a profit.
Most people think, “I should do something about that,” when they see a need in the world, but few have the courage and tenacity to create a business or organization around that need.
Huge kudos to Sonal for creating a company that creates beautiful products, makes money, AND makes a difference in the world!
HHM: Before we started working together, what was going on in your business?
Meaning, what was going well already, and what problem were you were looking to solve by us working together?
SG: Tumblewalla was experiencing year over year growth so that was positive, however, our consumers didn’t seem to be connecting the clothing with our core mission as I had hoped.
Many kids clothing companies talk about the general concept of “play,” however, our mission is really rooted in the proven educational and social benefits behind play.
My note: Most business owners (even smart marketers like Sonal) struggle with defining the ULTIMATE benefit their product or service provides.
It’s important to keep in mind the difference between a feature and a benefit.
For Sonal, the feature is that her clothes allow kids more freedom to play. But WHY is play so important?
As Sonal mentions, there are “proven educational and social benefits” that come with play – and she had the research to back it up!
That’s where we looked in order to draw out her brand message – to show parents how Tumblewalla’s clothes could be GOOD for their kids in addition to their other benefits.
HHM: What had you already been implementing in your business as far as marketing, positioning, and even your business model?
SG: I had been communicating the importance of play via blogging, speaking, my website, and of course the Tumblewalla name (which literally means “one who tumbles”).
But it wasn’t perfectly clear to consumers how the clothes themselves promoted freedom of expression (and they didn’t know that we intentionally design for movement).
My note: As a mom myself, I learned something new working with Sonal and hearing about the research behind the importance of play.
It became clear that we needed to ‘connect the dots’ between how play could help children – and how Tumblewalla’s clothes, specifically, could help promote play.
Making this clear connection would allow Tumblewalla to carve out a unique niche in the baby & toddler clothing industry.
HHM: What were your concerns or hesitations about working with me (or anyone) to help you with your marketing and messaging?
SG: My hesitation was that I felt I could do the work myself given that I was the one who was most connected to the brand.
However, what I realized is that as a solo entrepreneur – it’s exactly because I’m the one that’s closest to the brand that warrants even more outside perspective, feedback, and input.
Working with Helen is a true partnership and she was and continues to be very vested in my success. I also felt very comfortable pushing back if I felt something didn’t fit with the brand.
My note: As an incredibly independent self-starting entrepreneur, I totally understand Sonal’s hesitance to seek outside assistance.
I mean, who could possibly know your brand as well as YOU?
The problem with that kind of thinking, as Sonal wisely points out, is that we get so deep in our own work that we can’t see the proverbial ‘forest for the trees.’
Sometimes all it takes is even a few concentrated hours of someone else listening to us carefully, for a clear brand message/position/value proposition to be unearthed.
That unearthing can lead to a huge clearing in that metaphorical ‘forest’ allowing you to create messages that resonate deeply with potential customers and clients.
HHM: How, if at all, did our work together help solidify your mission, both for yourself and for your prospects and customers?
SG: We focused on the higher order benefit of what play delivers to ensure our product and purpose was something to be taken seriously.
Helen is also a genius copywriter helping me to craft compelling language for my features/benefits, about us page, product descriptions, and even Facebook posts.
My note: I’m flattered that Sonal has referred to me as a ‘genius copywriter’ – and I’ll simply say that over 10 years of study, practice, and experience seems to have paid off. ;-)
HHM: What has that done for you? (e.g., more confidence, ability to talk more clearly about your brand, etc.?)
SG: All our marketing is so much more cohesive and I look at the site and just LOVE how we’re talking about our products in a way that feels genuine but also really compelling.
It truly is different than other baby brands out there.
This gives me the confidence to take the brand and our mission to that next level.
My note: Sonal is 100% focused on genuine, sincere messaging. Anything I proposed that felt too ‘over the top’ got nixed, and I agreed wholeheartedly.
When I work with someone, it’s important that I reach as far as I can into ‘what’s possible’ and then we come back down to what’s REAL so that every marketing message is, as Sonal mentioned, both genuine AND compelling.
As I often say, “Marketing is the truth, made amazing.”
(If you know who I’m quoting here, let me know in the comments! I heard it somewhere years ago and can’t remember where.)
HHM: How are things different now in your business?
SG: My customers clearly get what we’re about in the first 30 seconds of visiting our website and/or reading about us or talking to me!
This has enabled me to secure some wonderful PR opportunities and of course, our sales have increased as a result.
I think the biggest wins have been securing a 5-minute feature on TV + national magazine exposure, plus having consumers and buyers actively seeking me out because they like our products and what we stand for!
My note: YAY! It’s so important for people (customers or PR folks) to ‘get’ what you’re about quickly when they land on your website.
And it’s another reason a fresh pair of expert eyes on your business can shift you to a new level.
HHM: What would you characterize as some of the challenges of building a mission-based brand?
SG: One of the challenges is educating your customers on why this mission/cause is important and relevant to their particular family and circumstance, and what you are doing to help solve this issue.
The other challenge is financial – how can you meaningfully contribute to the causes you are passionate about as a new venture.
For me, it’s supporting the organizations in ways beyond just the dollars – via speaking, blog posts, publicity about the organizations etc.
My note: More gushing about Sonal here!
I know that from Tumblewalla’s inception, she’s not only donated a portion of her proceeds to organizations that promote play, but that she continues to donate her time & attention to this important issue via the methods she mentions above.
From spending time around Sonal, it’s clear that she is totally dedicated to contribution in the world, and I just love that about her.
HHM: How have you overcome, or are you working to overcome, those challenges? What wisdom would you impart to others looking to create the same type of brand?
SG: I think once people experience our product – they love it and truly understand what we’re about.
Even though we are mission-based, it’s critical to have a great product/service that you truly feel confident in.
My note: Great marketing can get your mission-based product in the hands of more people.
But as Sonal mentions, you MUST have a great product to back it up.
And I love that Sonal has created such gorgeous, unique pieces. They are truly stand-out pieces that any parent (or grandparent, or aunt/uncle/godparent) should check out for themselves!
HHM: What are some of the key touch points you created during our work together that help your customers and the media connect with your brand?
SG: We created unique and compelling copy in several areas, such as:
- “Don’t let our good looks deceive you” as our headline on the Tumblewalla homepage
- “The one piece that your baby will wear every day” to describe our signature one piece
- Branded Facebook posts
- Our tagline: "Tumblers today, trailblazers tomorrow."
- A refined story & positioning
Much of this foundational work serves as a springboard for hopefully more positive things to come!
My note: Each one of these ‘brand touchpoints’ can help cultivate not only sales but the ‘remarkability’ factor which allows customers to pass along the brand story to others!
HHM: For readers out there who have babies and toddlers, or are grandparents of babies and toddlers. . .
Tell us a bit about why PLAY is so important to the children we love?
SG: Play is much more than just fun – it helps with improved focus/attention, increased creativity, better ability to problem-solve and play nice with others and much much more!
My note: As a conscientious parent, I certainly hope I've allowed my son plenty of time and freedom for unstructured play!
Before meeting Sonal I never realized how important play actually IS, or how the right clothing can help encourage play in a child -- but Sonal's done the research to back it up.
HHM: How do Tumblewalla products specifically address these important needs?
SG: Every Tumblewalla piece is carefully crafted for comfort – there are no:
- Itchy tags
- Hard, scratchy fabrics
- Unnecessary button closures
- Hoods or footed pajamas – or anything that interferes with your child’s crucial need for play
Our clothing features bold colors and global designs that help bring out emotions of positive play.
And our pieces are easy to use – easy to dress babies, easy to wash, and easy for toddlers to dress themselves so they can spend more time exploring and less time fussing.
My note: I think all parents of babies and toddlers can appreciate the marriage of comfort & convenience that the right clothes can provide.
Add beautiful, unique design, and you've got a winner. :-)
HHM: Where can readers find out more about Tumblewalla?
SG: On our website at www.tumblewalla.com!
My note: Check out Sonal’s website for a truly unique line of baby & toddler clothing, and be sure to sign up for updates from her and get a 15% off coupon!
I hope this interview has been helpful in giving you a look inside a small business that is successfully navigating the intersection of ‘mission’ and ‘profit.’
If you liked it, please share it with your friends or your community and help spread the word about Sonal and Tumblewalla.
And if YOU have a mission-based business (or any business, for that matter), please share in the comments below one takeaway from this interview that you’ll use to carve out a clearer brand message for yourself.
Or, share how you’ve already successfully navigated some of the challenges Sonal mentions above.
As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again soon. . .