In the early days of Aurora Heat, founder Brenda Dragon eagerly collected testimonials from her customers. If someone told her they loved the fur hand warmers her company crafted and sold, she’d whip out her phone and get the quote. Dragon still collects those quotes, but less often. After five years of accumulated experience, she’s expanded beyond testimonials to sell her product. But her early interest in them speaks to Aurora Heat’s enduring marketing strategy: build a customer community and believe in the power of authenticity.
Founded in 2015 in Fort Smith, NWT, Aurora Heat provides natural hand- and foot-warmer products made from beaver fur. The warmers—inserts that you slip into your gloves or socks—reflect Dragon’s Dënesųłiné-French-Métis heritage and family history. Her father was a trapper, and Dragon personally knew her designs worked because she’d been wearing fur all her life.
But as a new-to-market product that’s sold largely online, Dragon had to figure out how to convince other people that the warmers worked. Made from a natural and sustainably harvested product, Aurora Heat’s warmers attract attention among consumers looking for alternatives to mass-produced goods. Her warmers also last a long time, which helps them stand out against single-use packets made from heat-producing chemicals. The key to making her message resonate, however, focuses on the value of community.
Dragon’s process starts with an appealing website and quality customer service. She also follows up with customers with phone calls surveys and emails. “Marketing is not only about appealing to new customers, but also taking care of the ones you have,” Dragon says.
Today, Aurora Heat’s customer base reaches across North America. Word of mouth, it turns out, is a powerful strategy. Dragon has found that when a sale comes from a new location, often four or five more orders will quickly follow from that same spot. But she doesn’t leave the legwork to her customers. Aurora Heat uses all the marketing mainstays: Google My Business, Facebook Marketing, magazine ads, and the like. It also puts a unique spin on these platforms. For example, not many businesses track weather to determine their ad strategy. From the beginning, Dragon has tracked storms across the North and eastern seaboard and, wherever one was due, she would target her Facebook ads to the area. When people know a storm is coming, they react, and orders come in from those areas. Dragon says it’s a very effective technique.
It also helps that Aurora Heat’s hand warmers appeal to people with the kind of interest in the North that also drives tourism. Even someone with less interest in fur warmers can find themselves drawn to Aurora Heat by their desire to know more about the NWT. That’s why, on the business’ Facebook page, content focus is split—one third on the product, one third on the North, and one third on interesting facts. “People want to buy from the North” Dragon says. “People are enamored by the North.”
And a strong relationship with customers does more than help Aurora Heat’s marketing. It also informs product development. For example, Dragon now offers a line of warmers for children, cell phone warmers, and even an upcoming pet line—all product ideas developed from customer feedback. The company also recently started selling a fur cleaner that, during a soft launch with little marketing, drew an immediate response. In the end, Dragon says, the best kind of marketing comes from authentic products that do what they say they are going to do.
Dragon’s marketing strategy has only deepened in complexity over the years. Her time with EntrepreNorth, a program that supports Indigenous and community-based entrepreneurs across Northern Canada, helped turn Aurora Heat’s Facebook instincts into the science of analytics and targeted online messaging. Dragon says her son, Joel Dragon Smith, completed an online marketing course in Vancouver—and has continued with further studies—which has helped boost Aurora Heat’s marketing. But through all the change and evolution, Aurora Heat hasn’t forgotten its fundamental marketing lesson: community and authenticity count.