With black buying power set to surpass the trillion-dollar mark by 2021, black consumer magic is becoming more than a phenom. However, for some black entrepreneurs, being known for catering to a solely African American customer can have a few stigmas attached. Typical negative stereotypes about black businesses have even led some founders to hide the fact that their businesses are black-owned, and some entrepreneurs see the label as limiting in terms of attracting new business, diverse customers, lucrative opportunities, and increased revenue.
“I think there’s a huge misconception that targeting black people is going to result in a small business that can’t reach the million-dollar mark, and that’s not the case at all,” says Amber Williams, a former marketing professional and founder of PunkyFlair. Williams has been successful at helping black-owned brands like Heat Free Hair find immense success by effectively incorporating authentic storytelling that includes being proud of serving black consumers.
Black Enterprise caught up with Williams to talk more about the benefits of black businesses leveraging an authentic brand story and why it’s a good idea to cater to your own community with no shame.
Why is it important for entrepreneurs to embrace being black-owned, and for black consumers, how can they get past the negative misconceptions to support black enterprises?
Amber Williams: This is important to know: Just because you target one group of people doesn’t mean others won’t buy. I don’t know if you can name one high-earning black woman who doesn’t own a [designer bag], however, if you go to websites [of popular luxury brands] and you look at their ads, you can barely find a black woman or any melanin anywhere. We still buy. I always tell my clients just because you speak to who your brand is for, doesn’t mean other communities won’t buy from you.
I’m really passionate about black people putting black wealth back into our communities. To those who say, ‘Oh, I’ve had such a bad experience,’ or ‘This always happens when I buy from a black-owned company,’ I ask, what are you doing to change that? What are you doing to fix it? Are you going through the proper channels to let them know that there needs to be improvement? Are you using your talents to help change the perception? When you come across a good experience, are you writing that review or sharing on social to help debunk myths?
I work with black entrepreneurs every day who run their businesses amazingly—who have top-notch customer service and who have high integrity with their products. If more black people would promote those businesses, we could help change the narrative.
How can black entrepreneurs overcome stigmas associated with being labeled as a black business?
The first step is education. … [Look at] success stories old and new. I reference FUBU: Daymond John built up a multimillion-dollar empire by being authentic—serving black people because that’s what he set out to do. …He never veered away from his message. Black people aren’t the only ones who bought FUBU, but he remembered who his customers were. People have always loved black culture, trends, and language.
I try to show [entrepreneurs] those success stories, as well as the success stories of several startups of today: [Companies such as] Heat Free Hair—a brand that focuses on virgin-hair extensions for people who want to rock a natural look—or Walker & Co., which owns Bevel. They serve black people. Bringing those successful examples to life really help startups to make that first shift.
Where do black entrepreneurs start in utilizing authentic storytelling to see growth and results?
Understand who your customer is. They are the center of your brand story. Everything your company does has to be built around who this customer is. I work with entrepreneurs who, at times, will come to me and say, “I’ve created this product for black women,’ and when it comes to me doing my job to help them pick their imagery, or help them in understanding tone of voice of messaging, or [composing] the actual message, some of them scale back and say, ‘Wait a minute. I don’t want to be too black.’ …I have to sometimes have this difficult conversation to bring them back to why they’re [in the market] in the first place and reassure them that this black community, this black woman you want to serve, in no way limits you as a business owner. Serving black is really about being authentic to your brand and true to who your customers really are-—serving those people in a way that lets them know you are here for them and always will be.