Hill House Home: A Model for DTC Brands
This start-up’s fast moves, quick changes and hot drops offer lessons for much bigger brands.
Hill House Home (HHH) and its internet-famous Nap Dress have an impressive news presence for just a six-person company founded in 2016. So, how did the founder Nell Diamond generate so much publicity? The company has followed the right strategy playbook to leverage organic content from a community of loyal customers to spark demand for the brand.
Context is Key
Some companies found accidental success during the pandemic, while others capitalized on the new opportunities. Hill House Home did both. Though the brand launched the Nap Dresses in 2019 and trademarked the name in January 2020, the cutesy name became a masterstroke of branding when the divisions between work and home were erased. Rather than relying on the good fortune of newfound popularity, the brand doubled down on the production of dresses and embraced its new reputation as an apparel, not linen company, and it worked. The five-year-old brand had 275% growth in 2020, with the Nap Dress category increasing 1120%. The lesson here is in order for brands to stay relentlessly relevant, they need to capitalize on the quickly changing world around us.
Unafraid to Refocus
Hill House Home started with bed linens as its primary product offering, but the founder always had a bigger vision for the company beyond bed sheets. When the Nap Dress quickly outpaced other categories, Diamond wasn’t afraid to lean into the organic PR customers enabled and spurred even more product demand. Although Diamond is quick to point out that all categories experienced triple-digit growth during the pandemic, the Nap Dress category quickly outpaced all others. It was so popular, likely due to its ruched design, that flatters many body types and professional yet comfortable look, perfect for working from home. HHH allowed the customer voice to guide which products sat at the forefront of the brand. Other DTC companies can learn from HHH’s example and avoid becoming too attached to their product vision to accelerate growth in products that show the most potential.
Drop It Like It’s Hot
The other half of the production equation that has worked well for HHH is selling products using the “drop” model — an industry practice that goes against the usual model of releasing products on a rigid calendar 4-6 times a year. The brand produces limited runs of its products and drops them at random times throughout the year. This creates buzz and excitement more reminiscent of a streetwear brand than a Victorian-style dress brand. Online, women talk about their Nap Dresses the same way sneakerheads do about the latest Air Jordans.
“The cutesy name became a masterstroke of branding when the divisions between work and home were erased.”
Diamond’s vision from the start was to create luxury products at a non-luxury price point, and her production timeline helps boost the brand’s luxury feel. Although the dresses are not made of luxury materials, simply pulling the strings of supply and demand creates an exclusive aura. Other DTC brands similarly can capitalize on the scarcity effect, making limited edition products that are automatically associated with exclusivity.
Content is King
Hill House Home knows that sharing beautiful marketing images and user-generated content naturally gets people talking. The brand maintains an active blog filled with stories from the founder and has more than 100k followers on Instagram. The company shares a mix of photos with of-the-moment influencers, UGC and non-product photos that come together so seamlessly that it becomes difficult to tell which photos were taken by the company and which by its fans. The best CEOs know that loyal customers are their best marketers, and that content and community can fuel each other, generating more and more excitement around the brand.
The brand vision is aspirational and authentic. HHH describes itself as a “lifestyle brand that brings beauty and joy to everyday rituals” which it delivers through high-quality accoutrements such as sheets and bathrobes. Although customers may not attend an outdoor picnic complete with china and tea sandwiches, as many photos suggest, a customer may realistically wear a Nap Dress on a walk outside with friends. All of this is a credit to Nell Diamond’s strong conviction in her own personal aesthetic. The product line and color offerings are tightly curated and adhere to the brand’s ultra-feminine image. It would have been easy to create a Nap Dress in every color and try to appeal to everybody, but Diamond stuck to one unified creative vision.
Hill House Home is a model for any DTC brand looking to create the right mix of content, commerce, and community. Here are the four key takeaways for other DTC brands:
- Content: Recruit customers to market your product for you and allow them to feel part of the brand by championing their content
- Commerce: Adapt when necessary and let your customer guide you instead of trying to guide your customer
- Community: Create buzz around product launches through innovative production models and the scarcity effect
- Purpose: No brand can be relentlessly relevant without having a strong sense of their own brand vision and purpose
Prophet helps companies establish a DTC business mindset and approach for customer-centric, performance-based growth activities, fostering direct consumer relationships to achieve the benefits that unfold. Prophet also helps digitally native companies reach next-level growth in brand and consumer engagement, with a focus on profitability and long-term sustainability.
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