Conventional Approach to Unconventional Marketing

By

Michael Dubin, CEO of Dollar Shave Club - he’s that guy in that YouTube video about getting “f&*king great” razors sent to your door every month.

michael-dubin-dollar-shave-club

When a start-up has what looks like bold and unorthodox marketing, it’s easy for marketers in more established and conservative companies to dismiss the start-up as being a different breed.

However, what this interview with Michael Dubin reveals is that his approach to marketing is very much the conventional approach – done with confidence.

This interview also appears in the new SoDA Report - find 234 pages of insights here.


What can a marketer who can’t change their business model and who doesn’t own the transaction the way the Dollar Shave Club does, learn from what you did in 2012?

One of the reasons I think we were successful isn’t necessarily because we own the transaction and not necessarily because we are disrupting an industry that has become very complacent but because the core business offering makes sense and the product is in demand. And the way we speak about the problem resonates very loudly with our target audience.

If you look at that and want to extend it to brands that have been around for fifty years or so, there’s almost been a de-evolution away from the question “What problem are you solving?”.

Having watched and read a few interviews with you, the way you use the word “problem” is obviously like a tech startup whereas I’ve found many marketers don’t often like the word. It has certain emotional baggage, which is very different to the startup scene where you latch onto a problem and try to solve it.

You don’t have to call it a problem but when you do it’s a more active indictment of a situation compared to calling it a need that you’re meeting. If you’re selling rental cars, you’re solving a problem, which is that someone who may not own a car needs to get from A to B. If you’re offering that car there’s a world of opportunity there to define that experience for your target and make solving that problem really stand for something larger – like discovery and adventure. And some rental car companies have taken that tack.

In another interview, you mentioned that Dollar Shave Club might not have been possible just a few years ago. Is that due to technological change or has there been a cultural change as well that’s helped you?

I think it’s three things. Number one, I think social media wasn’t what it is and people were much less comfortable with social media five years ago. I think the second thing is, while we Americans are very accustomed to getting a monthly bill for services that we use – cable, internet, cellphone, magazines, etc – I don’t think that five years ago America was ready to think about their whole life being serviceable by a membership or subscription model. The third thing is technology. Right now we’re trying to work out the right billing platform to use. You’d be surprised at how far the technology is yet to go – even today – to be able to offer these types of businesses in a very seamless, easy way. Five years ago, a startup integrating a warehouse in one place with your servers elsewhere was almost unthinkable.

Dollar-Shave-Club-razors

Your products are split into three choices. Does that have anything to do with the science of choice and decision-making?

It absolutely does. Guys need things very easy and simple. You see a lot of ecommerce shops throwing tons and tons of options out there. You can’t be Bed, Bath and Beyond and not have a ton of items. But I think there’s beauty in simplicity and fewer options. For us, to have a thousand razors would have been a bad thing. We do see people gravitating toward the middle option, which is most popular.

Can you talk about your approach to planning campaigns?

The video I shot back in October 2011 and we didn’t launched it until March 2012, so I would say that for all the talk about being spur-of-the-moment, fast actors, this was a strategically planned, meticulously architected moment. We re-launched our site with the announcement of the million-dollar seed round with the video and with the new site design. It was all set to go at once. And all of our future campaigns – you’ll see a bunch of them this year – are going to have that same kind of strategic planning and thought behind them.

Old-Glory-2012-2

Can you talk about the thinking behind the Old Glory 2012 campaign?

Old Glory was our way of making a commentary on the election. When we create content at DSC we think about a couple of things. One is, is it relevant, timely? Does it have a strong reason or being? People have always asked us, Where’s the next video? But nothing states the case for Dollar Shave Club as clearly as that first video so launching anything else video-wise would be a big distraction so we’re not going to do it until we have something really important. So that’s the first requirement: does it have a strong reason for being?

The second is: is it timely, is it relevant? Our goal at DSC is that we want our members to feel they are part of a membership that is current and that has its finger on the pulse of American life. That was our way of celebrating the election and giving our members great content without asking for anything in return. We got these illustrators to create these very unique, original works of art and we shared them with our membership first, and give them a laugh. Give them another way to think about the election that isn’t a debate or campaigning.

What are your thoughts on the role of user-generated content for the brand? Currently, it’s mostly on the blog as opposed to front and center in a campaign.

I think UGC has a role. Frankly, we’re still figuring out what role it plays for us. I don’t necessarily think what our members want from our brand is endless photos of our membership. I think there’s a time and place for user-generated content. We want to celebrate our membership absolutely but Americans right now are hyper-sensitive to over-sharing – and that’s by brands and people. We’ve already seen user engagement in Facebook decline in favor of other media. Brands need to be careful about how much they talk to their audience. Once a day could be the right number – it’s different for every brand. People want different brands at different frequencies. It’s unique to each situation.

You’re pretty active on Google+ with a good following (over 350k at the time of the interview). How are you finding Google+ for the business?

Google+ has been great. We love those guys over at Google. You know, sometimes the engagement isn’t as high as you’d like. People are still discovering the tool. There’s also a lot of foreign users on our Google+ channels. It’s definitely on the up-tick and Google is doing a great job at building that tool, making it more relevant for brands and making it easier for people to connect to. We hope that it’s going to deliver for us.

Do you do multi-variate testing?

We just started. We use Optimize.ly. So far it’s been great. We’re learning a lot every day about which pages work. It’s a process that every e-commerce company needs to go through. We like to look at the backside of the funnel first. Meaning, if we can convert more people who are already at the checkout page that’s a big win. Then moving back through the funnel – getting people to the last step of the funnel is the way to go for us. It’s hugely valuable. You’re surprised every day by what you thought might work and what actually does work.

And how do the results of those tests get communicated through the organization? I’d imagine you’re pretty flat and sit next to each other.

Well, exactly. But if you’re a big brand and you’re trying to share that information you gotta have experiments where you come up with a theory and then create steps to test the theory and then look at the results. It’s not just a web thing, multi-variate testing. It’s what companies have been doing since companies have been around.

From a communications point of view, is there anything you would have done differently looking back at 2012?

We made a ton of mistakes so it’s not about finding one, it’s about finding which one. The three that come to mind are: create a separate Twitter handle for customer service, radio works and hire a Marketing Chief that understands brand.

For more verbage like this (including General Mills, Adobe and Nandos), get your mind computer over to the new SoDA Report.

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