July's DTC air conditioning units are unavailable, but the company is still marketing them

The startup’s Head of Brand, Emily Simmons, told Marketing Brew why it’s funneling 10% of its budget into marketing.
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5 min read

Here’s a brain teaser for you: You’re one of two employees at a brand that sells DTC air conditioners. The brand has 35,000 people on its waitlist for the units + can’t mail any of them until 2022. Oh, and also, 10% of your company’s yearly budget goes toward marketing and branding, and you’re in charge of spending it.

That’s where July’s Head of Brand, Emily Simmons, finds herself today. July is a DTC brand that transformed a pretty ugly product—AC units—into something a little more sleek and minimalist. The company also claims they’re easier to install than competitors’, not to mention wi-fi-enabled.

July’s product went beta in 2020. Since then, Simmons told Marketing Brew, July has grown its customer base fivefold, though she declined to share exact numbers. While much of her role involves marketing a product that most people can’t get their hands on for months, July’s advertising strategy is largely focused on building excitement and awareness of the brand + encouraging people to reserve a unit.

But first, a word on the waitlist

Despite having “thousands” of units in the wild already, according to Simmons, the product is not currently available to buy. Why? Simmons told us that as July grows, it is fighting for space in its production factory. Plus, she said the brand is working to improve the product before sending it to more people.

Anyone interested in buying a July unit can “reserve” one with a $50 deposit for a 2022 delivery. Or they can ask the brand to email them once the product is in stock. Once someone has reserved an air conditioner, Simmons said part of her job involves “trying to welcome them to the community,” whether that’s “talking to them about when their AC is going to arrive” or finding ways to keep the interest going.

“It's sort of a different flavor than most companies, where they're constantly able to sell product,” she continued.

Part of the marketing strategy also involves creating accessories that people can actually buy—for instance, July recently worked with artist Amber Vittoria on a beach towel to maintain interest in the brand.

Paid strategies

Simmons said July uses paid media to target two types of potential customers: those who are actually in the market for a new AC unit, and people the brand predicts might be interested in July’s aesthetic.

July uses search terms and SEO to target people actively looking for new AC units in large cities, like NYC and Chicago, because they often have older buildings where central air conditioning is less common.

The brand also uses paid Instagram and Facebook ads to target design-oriented folks who might be willing to swap out their old AC unit for a new one. “About 50% of our users are those who already have an AC, but are so design-driven they're willing to upgrade,” she said. That means building lookalike audiences and targeting people who’ve shown an interest in brands that its customers also buy: think subscription fashion services like Rent the Runway or Scandinavian furniture brands.

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“When we think of who the persona [for July] is, we ask, ‘What else are they shopping for?’ Are they buying Recess drinks? What are the other overlaps that we can state and set up so that we have our audience all carved out?” Simmons explained.

Overall, Simmons said roughly half of July’s marketing spend goes to Facebook and Instagram, while 20% goes toward search, and the remaining budget is dedicated to offline activations.

So why market a product that you can’t deliver for a year? In Simmons’ words, it’s because each action a user takes as a result of July’s marketing moves them one step closer to conversion, or spending $50 to book a unit in advance. For example, “every five emails we collect become two checked-out customers,” she told us.

Organic strategies

Simmons said the majority of July’s marketing strategy—about 60 to 70 percent—comprises organic efforts. Strategies and channels include…

Live chat: “Lots of companies use that as a way to have people reach out while actually shopping, but it actually serves double for us. We are able to answer a lot of questions that break through the barrier of not understanding your product. We get a lot of questions like ‘What is a BTU? How much square footage works for which one? What size window do I have?’” Simmons told us. This feedback helps Simmons build Instagram content around those questions, as well as make July’s installation guides more accessible. With only two full-time employees, July hired a part-time customer experience team to communicate with customers via both live chat and email.

Email: July recently started an email newsletter for brand building purposes. “Our newsletter goes out to our full waitlist,” Simmons said, noting that customers who’ve reserved a unit receive additional emails and offers. She hopes the newsletter can help the brand talk more about its sustainability initiatives (July claims to produce two-thirds fewer emissions than competitors).

UGC: A small part of July’s user-generated content comes from influencer gifting. “It's actually usually been inbound—we have a lot of influencers reaching out to say, ‘Hey, I'm looking for an AC. I'd love to get this one,’” Simmons explained, adding that the brand has sent units to about 10 influencers upon request, including Harling Ross, LaTonya Yvette, and Gabe Kennedy, who “were excited to try out the product in year one and now have several ACs,” Simmons said. “When we partner with influencers to test out the July, we do require posts and content in exchange.”

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Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.