During Day One of the Festival of Marketing 2020, Ella and Matthew Mills, founder and CEO, respectively, of Deliciously Ella, spoke about how the brand has dealt with the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic by rediscovering its start-up roots.

Operating in the health food space, a market where trends frequently come and go, both Ella and Matthew are used to a rapid pace of change. Because of this, they’ve become accustomed to staying focused on the brand’s core purpose.

“We try to keep away from trends as much as we can,” said Matthew. “It’s easy to think in too short-term a way, but for our brand and planning purposes, we try to have a clear, long-term set of guidelines that we adhere to. As a family business, and a business that wants to be around for a very long time, it’s important for us to have a mark that we don’t get too deviated from, tactically, if a new trend emerges.”

This has helped Deliciously Ella to maintain brand consistency and remain on-message while things are changing around them. “I think there is a strength in continuing to believe the same things and share the same message day in, day out,” added Ella Mills.

With that said, remembering how to be agile and flexible has been crucial for Deliciously Ella as the brand navigates the coronavirus pandemic, and Matthew Mills emphasised the importance of being “deep into the detail” of the news and current events for him as a CEO. “Things have changed so quickly; we’ve had to change our business on a dime at moments, depending on what was happening in the outside world, so I think being close to that is incredibly important.”

Ella added that having transitioned from a start-up to a scaleup business over the last five years gave them plenty of practical experience to draw on when it came to navigating uncertainty. “You need this mindset of being so incredibly flexible and being happy and willing to change your plans; we love that quote, ‘If you’re going to fail, fail fast’.

“This year, nothing has been more relevant than that – to continue to have that flexibility and dynamism that you have when you’re a tiny brand, right at the very beginning.”

“Strategy has to be an evolving thing, and never has that been more true than this year,” Matthew agreed.

Content, community and consistency

One of the biggest factors enabling Deliciously Ella to keep abreast of what its customers want and remain focused on their needs has been its leaders’ hands-on approach to social media and community building.

“The community has been the centrepiece of Deliciously Ella since day one,” said the founder. “We now have a social media following of more than three million people; our Instagram channel will get a reach of 20-25 million per week. I still run all our social media channels – we try to stay close to them every day, reading all the feedback, responding to people’s messages and understanding what that core member of the Deliciously Ella community wants and how we can best serve them.

“When we started Deliciously Ella, people were quite surprised by how much time we gave social media as the founding partners of the business; I think it’s been so valuable for us, the insights that we’ve had. We see very quickly what it is that resonates with people and what doesn’t.”

The fact that the brand is used to relying on free, organic channels for building customer relationships has also helped it to weather the economic uncertainty of the pandemic.

“Our strategy up until relatively recently was so reliant on organic channels and how we can create a true, meaningful relationship with people,” said Ella. “It has been incredible to see what power that can have; it’s taken us years and years to build that, and so much of it has been through creating the same message that stays on the same track, without changing based on what’s popular today or what’s popular tomorrow.

“It’s about building a free brand that had integrity and had consistency, and was truly engaged with every person that engaged back with it.”

CEO Matthew Mills described the business as being “founded in content”; producing free content continues to be crucial to the Deliciously Ella brand and its growth, and served the brand well particularly during the lockdown and the change in consumer habits that it brought about.

“People have a lot more time as a result of everything that’s happened,” said Matthew. “They’re spending more time at home, engaging with content in a deeper way; I think it’s incredibly important to make sure that content is useful to the people who are on the other end of it.”

Ella Mills added, “The more free content that we’re able to give that genuinely supports people, the closer they are to our brand. I think it creates a sense of trust and authenticity that you can’t manufacture; I think that will continue to be key for creating a reason to believe in a brand, and as a result, a reason to buy from them.”