In less than eight years, Dollar Shave Club (DSC) has gone from a conversation between two men at a party, to a global business that recently sold for $1bn. It’s a tale of entrepreneurship, venture capitalism and ultimately, a big buy-out, that has led DSC to this point; and, whether you love them or hate them, there are lessons in their story that can teach marketers a thing or two about content creation, promotion and audience targeting.
The viral video launch
It’s the holy grail of digital marketing; a product launch video that goes viral and causes unprecedented demand for your previously unheard of wares. It happens once in a blue moon because the biggest factor in ‘going viral’ is simply chance; the right person seeing and sharing your video to start the snowball. Within 48 hours of the 2012 video launch of DSC’s razor subscription service, they had received 12,000 orders, and that was despite their website’s inability to cope with large volumes of traffic and crashing frequently.
No one can guarantee that a video will go viral. Brands spend millions every year on creating video content that doesn’t, and yet this low budget 90-second long ad captured the imagination of millions. How did they do it?
Understanding the audience
DSC essentially came about as a business idea because it solved a problem that the two founders had. They were spending more money than they wanted on razor blades. Their product/service solved their problem so they knew that their audience was pretty much men exactly like them. Therefore, by creating video content that they would like to watch themselves, they pretty much nailed it in terms of what their audience wanted to see.
The lesson here isn’t to only create products that solve your own problems so it’s easier to work out what content will work, but to make sure that you thoroughly understand your audience on every possible level to give yourself the best chance of hitting the right notes with your content. Getting the angle and tone of voice right is key to the success of the DSC video; with its dry sense of humour, a clear narrative and no-nonsense messaging, it shows that with little more than a camera and a charismatic character, you can create some great video content on a tiny budget. You don’t need the celebrity endorsements of your competitors if you can get the general public to endorse you after watching your clever video and buying your products.
DSC have moved on since then, and I’m not just taking about being bought out by Unilever in 2017 for $1bn. With business & brand growth comes bigger a marketing budget, a larger product range and a wider audience to reach in the US. They no longer aim their marketing at a narrow demographic group. Their own customer info tells them that 20% of their buyers are women. They have the strong foundation of brand awareness, reach and budget which enables them to scale everything up. Their most recent video campaign is all about inclusivity, human relationships and, whilst it still has humour running throughout, it’s very different from the sarcastic wit of the first ad.
In February 2018, DSC launched in the UK. For this, they have gone right back to their roots, in terms of their audience targeting at least. Their launch event was a pop up in London, offering free shaves and table football. One of their American TV ads has been showing on our TV channels for months now, firmly aimed at men in their 20s-40s. The recent August 2018 Premier League transfer deadline day featured a partnership with DSC on Sky Sports News ad breaks and online. This is a 24-hour period in which the main audience they are aiming at in the UK are highly likely to be tuning in. It will be interesting to see if they later go the same route as they have in the US and try to widen their appeal to other audience segments too once more firmly established here.
Using your brand image to stand out from the competition
One of the reasons why DSC has been so successful is because they have always positioned themselves as something authentic and attainable. Compare this to the mainstream shaving TV adverts with A-list celebrities, sports stars and models, along with incredible claims about ever more blades being needed for the best shave. DSC disrupted all of that with their simple, down-to-earth messaging that was simply quite funny. Not taking yourself too seriously has remained a consistent theme throughout their marketing material ever since.
DSC are not the only ‘little guy’ razor subscription company out there. Harry’s were hot on their heels in the US and beat them to the UK, launching here in mid-2017. Cornerstone are a UK-based challenger that launched in 2014. Whilst the big boys may have been a little late to the party, they are also well on the subscription razor wagon now, with Bic Shave Club and Gillette Club up and running. Will DSC’s straight-talking marketing make them the success here that they are in the states? Only time will tell.