3 Things Dollar Shave Club Got Right

Dollar Shave Club’s recent acquisition by Unilever has many business folks talking, and for good reason. DSC was purchased for well above the valuation set by VC firms that had invested in the company. (While it sold for $1 billion, its most recent funding round valued the firm at $630M.) DSC’s value, and phenomenal success, is a case study of what great brands must do to be successful today:

  1. Be informed by an insight of their target
  2. Delivered through a simple, more useful experience
  3. With engaging, compelling, emotional marketing and content

Informed by an insight
The men’s cartridge razor category had, for years, been on the same innovation trajectory. Two blades followed by three blades followed by four blades, ad nauseam. Special tweaks like lubrication strips were added as enhancements, but nearly the entire focus of innovation in the category was on the functional task: a closer shave. (Or on the “job to be done” to quote Clayton Christensen.) What Dollar Shave Club did was simply ask a different question. Rather than ask “How can we make the shave better?” they asked, “How can we make the process of shaving better?” That may seem to be a subtle shift, but by opening the aperture on their view of the customer and his life, looking beyond his 5 minutes at the bathroom sink every day to focus on his life outside the bathroom, DSC was able to find an insight that they could build a brand, a business model and a business around. They discovered that, while the average man’s shave was probably close enough, the process of shopping for and acquiring shaving equipment had room for improvements.

Delivered through a simple, more useful experience
That key insight: focusing on the whole process of shaving, not on the closeness of the shave itself, then informed a business model and a customer experience that is the heart of the DSC brand. Focusing on the process of product acquisition and restocking, DSC was able to find additional ways to be useful to their potential customer, usefulness that would be worth paying for. By moving to a subscription sales model, allowing customers to “set it and forget it” when it came to ordering, and by interacting with and shipping directly to the customers, DSC made the process of acquisition much easier than struggling with the sales cases and sales staff at a local Walgreens or Duane Reade.

The experience is so central to the DSC brand that the founder, Michael Dubin, calls DSC an experience company, not a CPG company or a digital retailer. In doing so, he is telling the company (and its employees) that the experience (delivering on the DSC brand promise) is just as important as the marketing (or the making of the brand promise). Like DSC, brands today must make sure that their experience, and even their core business model, is in-line with how their target customers want to shop, purchase, use and repurchase their products. Today business strategy and brand strategy must be defined and delivered side-by-side. For the most successful brands today, those that are truly disrupting their categories and seeing phenomenal, there is virtually no “daylight” between the business and the brand strategy.

The customer experience is so important to DSC that they have invested in the technology to make sure that they can manage and control the experience to their satisfaction. For example, they have a team of 45 engineers (almost one quarter of their 190 employees) who have built, in-house, almost the whole IT infrastructure and engagement platforms. Originally reliant on third party software platforms, DSC took the entire technology stack in-house so that they could create custom software and systems for e-commerce, CRM, order fulfillment, customer support and data sciences. Because the experience is so important to the brand, they believe they can deliver a better experience if they can create it from the ground up.

Engaging, compelling, relevant marketing
DSC demonstrates that marketing can and must still play a key role in building a big, valuable brand. First and foremost, DSC marketing is designed to be engaging, to deliver a relatable, authentic brand personality while also transmitting relevant and useful product information. From its very first viral commercial (which broke the company’s website originally), DSC’s marketing has been recognized not just for selling a product but for connecting with their customers, often through cheeky humor and bad puns. Their marketing tells a story, rather than just sell a product and is optimized for contemporary customers: through cost-effective on-line channels (where the commercials can be enjoyed many times). More than simply building awareness, DSC’s marketing and content strategy is designed to engage with customers through their “Bathroom Minutes”, a monthly magazine full of short-form content perfect for the bathroom, and a vehicle to expose their customers to more products like bathroom wipes and grooming products.

Dollar Shave Club went from a start-up disrupter to a billion dollar consumer product brand in just 4 years. They did it by getting three things right:

  1. Finding an insight into the role the product plays in the customers’ life, beyond mere usage
  2. Designing and delivering an experience that solves new problems for customers
  3. With engaging, authentic marketing and content that both sells a product and builds a relationship

Brands looking to duplicate their success should start with the same road map.

Image: Flickr user Adam Franco


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