The age of the internet has seen the rise of countless new industries and business models and the fall of many more. It’s had a seismic impact on the way we interact with businesses and consume what they have to offer.
One model which has been hit square between the eyes by the unencumbered choice that the web offers us is subscription-based shopping magazines. Although it’s easy to lose sight of the number of people who have yet to embrace online shopping – 50 million in the US still don’t make regular use of the internet – as those people dwindle, the number still going through these subscription-based catalogues and ordering over the phone will become ever smaller.
Although that’s certainly a worry for businesses working on to this model such as Argos, the internet is a benevolent entity and it giveth as well as taking away. From the ashes of this crumbling mega-industry has sprung a tangentially-related model that is taking entrepreneurial corners of the internet by storm; the “subscription box” industry.
The premise is simple. A company, such as Graze or Dollar Shave Club, will send you a box of goods on a regular basis designed to help solve a problem while charging a subscription fee to do so. Graze’s offer to customers is that they’ll help them eat more healthily for less. Dollar Shave Club offers an escape from the exorbitant markups found in mainstream shaving and the hassle of going to buy it.
Given Amazon alone were estimated to be selling over 150 million products to the UK and US markets last year, one might wonder how viable a monthly subscription service is.
However, it’s impossible to underestimate the role that ease and greasing the wheels plays in the success of subscription box companies. Sure, you could go back to Amazon and repeat order, but the chances are one month you’ll forget, and who wants to go the effort of physically clicking a mouse and typing a password? God forbid. With subscription boxes, it’s one transaction and then out of sight, out of mind.
Amazon even added a function to “subscribe” to products in an effort to play the subscription boxers at their own game.
However, with thousands of would-be Richard Bransons trying their hand at the model, branding and marketing has come to the fore. It’s no longer enough to simply solve a problem. Obvious human needs and wants – such as the desire to eat better without trawling through aisle after aisle at the supermarket – are easily identified and have become saturated quickly. At the very least, you need to do so with some panache in order to stand out.
Wet Shave Club
Wet Shave Club first came to my attention when browsing Reddit’s Entrepreneur subsection. Ordinarily a fantastic place for entrepreneurs and “wantrepreneurs” alike to gather and discuss business tactics, ideas and motivations, the Subreddit is a must-visit for any aspiring startup founder.
Occasionally a post comes along and eclipses everything else. That’s exactly what Wet Shave Club co-owner Rohan Gilkes’ post (currently the third most upvoted in the Subreddit’s history) did.
For those of you too lazy to click or unable to tear yourself away from my beautiful words, in the post Gilkes went above and beyond, breaking down everything from originally acquiring the domain to costs to marketing.
I’ve already covered the underdog effect in marketing, and that can be readily applied to Wet Shave Club. They came up against a major competitor in the form of Dollar Shave Club, who generated $65 million in revenue last year from their 1.5 million customers and have earned $150 million in equity over two funding rounds.
Gilkes and fellow-founder Kevin Pereira needed to find their branding differentiator.
Thankfully, they didn’t need to look too hard. In fact, their stand-out feature was already present in the domain name before Gilkes and Pereira had even heard of the business.
Whether you think of wet shaving as a symptom of the rise of hipsterdom, as demonstrative of a desire to grapple with a Fight Club-style perceived loss of masculinity in modern society or simply a cool thing to do, there’s no denying that it’s back in a big way.
While Dollar Shave Club’s messaging is skewed toward solving the aforementioned problems that men encounter when it comes to buying shaving gear, Wet Shave Club offer a more aspirational, lifestyle-oriented approach. “We wanted to have more of the old school shaving type vibe and be a premium service,” explains Pereira. “We charge more for our subscription [than Dollar Shave Club]… because our brand’s about quality.”
It’s not about saving yourself a quick buck and a drive to the shop; it’s about detaching from the digital mainframe for five minutes a day to shave in the same way generations before us have done. It’s an acknowledgement that sometimes the old ways are better – and more satisfying – than the new. As Pereira concisely puts it, Wet Shave Club’s brand is a personification of “old school simplicity.”
It’s the same line of reasoning that means that no matter how many futuristic new flavour-infused whiskeys hit the market, there’ll always been a huge audience for the classic No. 7 whiskey from Jack Daniels, who show deference to the past in just about everything, from their marketing campaigns to the very design of their bottles and labels:
The reason that this style of branding is so effective is because it goes further than simply using the age of the company as social proof. It speaks to a history of tradition and makes an attractive commodity out of heritage.
Wet Shave Club even go so far as to say “Est. 1972” on their boxes. Although Pereira states that this was originally an oversight due to his and Gilkes’ unshakeable belief in agile, rapid business, it fits perfectly.
Gilkes and Pereira have embraced this style of heritage branding and made it ubiquitous across the full range of Wet Shave Company’s properties, including their website, social presence, packaging and blog content.
Reminders of Wet Shave Club’s branding are sprinkled into the design of their website amidst the subscription forms and social proof. The images promote simplicity and the rustic nature of the act of wet shaving through the use of wooden backdrops and sepia tones, while the colour scheme of black and red subliminally enhances the masculinity angle.
As with any product which aims to leverage an aspirational lifestyle, social media is the perfect place to set out exactly who your target customer is. Wet Shave Club’s Instagram feed adheres to the time-honoured ratios of social sharing by giving preference to lifestyle shots and keeping product-focused photos to a select few.
Once again, heritage, tradition and manliness are three common themes across the posts.
The boxes themselves are another fine example of how Wet Shave Club uses branding to differentiate themselves. The simple label design boasts various features evocative of times gone by, including a ribbon banner, a single-colour palette and similar details reminiscent of an age before digital printing.
The theme continues inside the box, where the products are packed in sawdust-style shavings that hark back to saloon bar floors in the old West.
Much like their social channels, Wet Shave Club make excellent use of their blog as an area not to just espouse the virtues of their products and services, but to sync with their target demographic’s lifestyle goals.
They’ve even gone so far as to name their blog section “The Manliest” as a way of tapping into the sense of unbridled manliness that comes with a wet shaving kit “just like grandpa used to use,” as Pereira describes it.
While heritage marketing is a force of nature when it comes to branding, it does have some limitations. One of those is that, in terms of public perception, it’s solidly the domain of male-oriented products.
This meant that Wet Shave Club faced a big challenge when it came to launching their women’s range.
However, despite bracing for a need for an abrupt about-face, the company found that, save for a few tweaks with the packaging, the product (obviously) and blogger outreach (which Pereira lists as the marketing tactic that has delivered the best ROI), the nostalgic factor is still just as persuasive when it comes to a female audience.
Thank you very much for reading my first-ever fully-fledged case study. I’m always on the hunt for more companies to examine under the marketing microscope, so if you have a company of your own or know of another that deserve a moment in the spotlight, drop me an email!
Images courtesy of Wet Shave Club and Tomatoes for Cucumbers. Thank you very much to Kevin Pereira for very graciously agreeing to an interview for this case study.