Dollar Shave case study: The underdog success that no one saw coming

Dollar Shave Club is a subscription-based razor company. It is based on the idea that consumers are highly frustrated with the growing cost of razor blades. It is a classic case of finding a major un-addressed consumer problem. And, they use a creative brand solution that helps to turn that problem into a consumer enemy that upsets them emotionally.

Dollar Shave case study

We are seeing many brands use new technology options to set up the old guard as the enemy ready for attack. This was the strategy for Netflix on movie rentals. Beats by Dre on the headphone business. Uber against the entire taxi industry. And for Dollar Shave on Gillette. The cost of a pack of razors going for $20 at your average drug store. Or, even $50 at Costco. They saw a huge opportunity in the marketplace. Yes, we’ve seen huge technology gains in the last 20 years with way more blades than we ever thought possible, flex balls and blue lines telling us when to throw it out. But for a great many of us, price still matters.

The fundamentals of marketing matter

The marketing fundamentals that we show in this article are part of what we use in our marketing training programs. Marketers will learn strategic thinkingbrand positioningbrand plans, writing creative briefsadvertising decision-makingmarketing analytics, and marketing finance

Competitive positioning

We’ve always said that brands really have 4 options: better, different, cheaper or else not around for very long. The key is to find a unique selling proposition for your brand. You don’t always need to find a rational point of difference as long as there is room to be emotionally unique.

To illustrate, click to zoom in on our brand positioning diagram. 

Brand positioning

To find the competitive space in which your brand can win, look up at the three circles above. The first circle comprises everything your consumer wants or needs. The second circle includes everything your brand does best, including consumer benefits, product features, or proven claims. Finally, the third circle lists what your competitor does best.


Your brand’s winning zone (in green), is the space that matches up “What consumers want” with “What your brand does best.” This space provides you a distinct positioning you can own and defend from attack. Most importantly, your brand must be able to satisfy the consumer needs better than any other competitor can.

Avoid playing where you will lose

Your brand will not survive by trying to compete in the losing zone (in red), which is the space that matches the consumer needs with “What your competitor does best.” When you play in this space, your competitor will beat you every time.

As markets mature, competitors copy each other. It has become harder to be better with a definitive product win. Many brands have to play in the risky zone (in grey), which is the space where you and your competitor both meet the consumer’s needs in a relative tie. 

Sadly, I always have to mention the dumb zone (in blue) where two competitors “battle it out” in the space consumers do not care. One competitor says, “We are faster,” and the other brand says, “We are just as fast.” No one bothered to ask the consumer if they care about speed. Both brands are dumb.

Beloved Brands playbook

Our Beloved Brands playbook goes in depth on everything you need to build a brand consumers will love. Learn to about strategic thinking, brand positioning, writing brand plans, advertising decisions, media planning, marketing analytics, and financials.

Beloved Brands Laptop

Our readers tell us they keep our Beloved Brands playbook close by for whenever they need to take on a new project. Clearly, we are thrilled that 89% of Amazon reviewers have given Beloved Brands a 5-star rating. Also, we wrote a B2B Brands playbook and a Healthcare Brands playbook

The Dollar Shave brand

Dollar Shave has figured out a new business model

The internet has opened up many subscription opportunities, cutting out distribution costs in exchange for a committment to continuous purchases. With the Dollar Shave Club — you sign up for a monthly fee depending on the quality of blades and the number of blades you need per month.

To illustrate, click to zoom in to see how Dollar Shave works. 

Dollar shave advertising

Amazing launch advertising

Dollar Shave took advantage of viral advertising, making such an innovative Ad that it was shared and viewed by up to 18 million people. The ad starring the CEO, who is also a burned out Hollywood actor, was made with such an anti-corporation feel/tone that it jumps off the computer screen. It is a hilarious, edgy, low-budget YouTube-driven video, that generated millions of hits. 

The tagline is “Our blades are f**king great,” which will undoubtedly alienate many people, but it will inevitably make the younger male audience quickly love them. And, the ad tells a quirky story of why the brand doesn’t waste money like Gillette does, setting up the idea its razors are much cheaper than Gillette’s. The ad did so well, that it crashed the Dollar Shave website in the first hour!!!  

 

Dollar Shave ad: "Our blades are F***ing Great"

To view, click on the arrow to see the video or the sound to listen. 

Craft brand

A craft brand strategy

Craft brands must win a small space in the marketplace that offers something unique to a highly engaged target. These brands succeed when they are far enough away from major competitors that the leaders ignore them because craft brands stay hidden away. 

Craft brands build themselves behind a micro-benefit, including gluten-free, low fat, locally grown, organic or ethically sourced. These craft brands take an antagonistic approach to the rest of the category, portraying every other brand in the category as old-school, overly corporate, unethical, flawed in the manufacturing or the use of ingredients. 

Many times, these brands take a very aggressive marketing stance, calling out the other brands as unethical or stupid. Craft brands believe it is better to be loved by the few than liked or tolerated by many.

To view, click on the brand positioning diagram to see where Dollar Shave fits. 

Here are the four key principles brands need to establish a successful craft strategy:

  1. First, pick a segment small enough that it won’t be noticed and you’ll be able to defend it. Be aggressive. Put all your resources against this small target, so against that specific target, you will have the relative force of a major player.
  2. Next, be flexible and nimble. You need to enter quickly to seize an opportunity that others aren’t noticing, but be ready to exit if need be, if consumers change their minds or competitors notice you and attack you.  
  3. Then, explore non-traditional marketing techniques to get your brand message out and your brand into the market quickly. Because you are playing in a non-traditional market, you will be given leeway on the tools you use.
  4. Finally, for craft brands, take the mindset that it is better to be loved by the few than tolerated by the many. Leave the mass consumers for the mass brands.

How Dollar Shave plays the craft brand

As Dollar Shave started out, they were up going against one of the biggest consumer goliath brands in the world. Gillette’s global sales are in the billions. A successful niche strategy is when the leader is willing to let you have your space, because they don’t see you as a threat. For Dollar Shave, first-year sales were about $30-50 Million, much smaller than Gillette’s $2 Billion. That sales level should not even be enough to make Gillette to lose an ounce of sleep.

$50 Million is a ton of money for an entrepreneur

While Gillette did not take Dollar Shave seriously, they didn’t realize they were getting backed into a corner where they could not respond. It would be impossible for Gillette to change their entire business model to counter Dollar Shave. 

  • Gillette can’t risk launching their own subscription model, because it would dramatically upset major retailers, who would retaliate with delistings and reduced support. 
  • Gillette can’t afford to dramatically cut their price or their Sales and profits would nose-dive.

The only strategic move for Gillette is to let Dollar Shave have their $50 million in sales. That’s the beauty of the Dollar Shave strategy.

Five years after the launch, Unilever paid $1 Billion to acquire Dollar Shave

Our best case studies

To view any of our marketing case studies, click on any of the logos below.

Advertising Decisions

The Creative Brief defines the box.

At Beloved Brands, we believe the best creative people are in-the-box problem solvers, not out-of-the box inventors. This builds on our Strategic ThinkBox we used in our planning process. The box below demonstrates how we need creative work that is focused on the target, fits with the brand, delivers the message, and executes the strategy. 

As marketers, we kick off the advertising process using a Creative Brief to define the box the creative advertising must play in. The execution align with the brand positioning work and deliver the brand strategy statements you wrote in your marketing planMoreover, we show examples of the good and bad of the Creative Brief. And, we introduce our Mini Brief for smaller projects and the Media Brief as part of media decisions. We have a Creative Brief template you can use. 

As marketers, we kick off the advertising process using a Creative Brief to define the box the creative advertising must play in. The execution align with the brand positioning work and deliver the brand strategy statements you wrote in your marketing planMoreover, we show examples of the good and bad of the Creative Brief. And, we introduce our Mini Brief for smaller projects and the Media Brief as part of media decisions. We have a Creative Brief template you can use. 

Use our Creative Checklist to determine if the creative work is in the box.

Then, we introduce a Creative Checklist that is designed to help you make advertising decisions. When you see the creative marketing execution come back from your experts, use our creative checklist to make decisions. Next, use your feedback to your marketing experts to steer the ideas back in-the-box. Importantly, the Creative Checklist highlights the gaps you see. Your role is to provide your problems with the work, while avoiding providing a solution. Let your creative marketing execution experts use their in-the-box creativity to figure out new solutions that will fit the box. 

To illustrate, click to review how our Creative Checklist helps decide if the creative advertising fits the box..

Use our ABC's of Advertising: Attention, brand link, communication stickiness

Here are four questions to ask:

  • First, is it the creative idea that earns the consumer’s attention for the ad?
  • Then, is the creative idea helping to drive maximum brand link?
  • Next, is the creative idea setting up the communication of the main consumer benefit?
  • And, is the creative idea memorable enough to stick in the consumer’s mind and move them to purchase?

To illustrate, click on the ABC’s of advertising to see details.

Get comfortable with various advertising techniques.

Learn how to be better at advertising. Explore other advertising ideas such as emotional advertisinghumorous ads, feel-good ads, and ads that bring consumer insights to lifeMoreover, read how to conduct your own marketing research, social media plans, or using influencers.  

Video on how to use in-the-box creativity

Have a look at our video on how to use in-the-box creativity to ensure our marketing execution stays on strategy. We introduce how our Creative Brief defines the box the work must play in. And, our Creative Checklist to allow you to decide if the marketing execution delivers. To read more, click on this link: How to use in-the-box creativity. 

To view, use the ▶️ controls to play our brand strategy video. 

Marketing Excellence

We empower the ambitious to achieve the extraordinary.

Without a doubt, our role at Beloved Brands is to help the ambitious marketers who are trying to improve their marketing skills. Most importantly, we will prepare you so you can reach your full potential in your career. You will learn about strategic thinking, brand positioning, brand plans, marketing execution, and marketing analytics. As well, we provide a suite of marketing tools, templates that will make it easier to do your job, processes that you can follow, and provocative thoughts to trigger your thinking. 

Have you gone through an assessment of the marketing skills of your team? Take a look below:

The fundamentals of marketing matter.

Our Beloved Brands marketing training programs cover different streams to suit the type of marketer you are. For instance, our marketing training covers consumer marketing, B2B marketing, and Healthcare marketing. 

The marketing fundamentals that we show in this article are part of what we use in our marketing training programs. Ambitious marketers will learn about strategic thinking, brand positioning, brand plans, marketing execution, writing creative briefs, advertising decision-making, marketing analytics, and marketing finance

Importantly, when you invest in our marketing training program, you will help your team gain the marketing skills they need to succeed. Without a doubt, you will see your people make smarter decisions and produce exceptional work that drives business growth. 

Finally, I wrote our Beloved Brands playbook to help you build a brand that your consumers will love. If you are a B2B marketer, try our B2B Brands playbook. And, if you are a Healthcare Marketer, try our Healthcare Brands playbook.

We designed our brand templates to make it easier for you to do your job.

Moreover, we provide brand templates that help you run your brand. For instance, you can find templates for marketing plans, brand positioning, creative briefs, and business reviews. Altogether, we offer brand toolkits with all the presentation slides you need. 

Beloved Brands video

Everything a Marketing must know about.

Importantly, Brand leaders need to know how to think, define, plan, execute and analyze with the best of them. Moreover, while the brand leaders don’t really know how to do anything, they are looked upon to make every decision. Have a look at our five minute video on everything a marketer must know. To read more, click on this link: Everything.

To view, use the ▶️ controls to play or volume buttons 

If you are looking to make your marketing team smarter, we can help. To get started, email Graham Robertson at graham@beloved-brands.com

Beloved Brands graham robertson

Contact Information

Graham Robertson

Email: graham@beloved-brands.com

Phone: 416–885–3911

Search our site for any marketing topic

Marketing Book

beloved brands

the playbook for how to create a brand your consumers will love

With our Beloved Brands playbook, you will learn how to think strategically, define your brand positioning, write a marketing plan, make execution decisions, and analyze your brand. Our readers tell us they reach for Beloved Brands as a reference tool to help them with the day-to-day management of their brand. We are proud that 89% of online reviewers have given Beloved Brands a 5-star rating. As a result, Beloved Brands has been a #1 bestseller in brand management. We also have the B2B Brands playbook and our Healthcare Brands playbook

Marketing Training

The smarter your team, the better the results you will see!

If you are running a marketing team, your will always benefit from having a smarter team. When you invest in our marketing training program, you will help your team gain the marketing skills they need to succeed. As a result, you will see them make smarter decisions and produce exceptional work that drives business growth. 

We have designed our marketing training program to build the fundamental skills that will help your team reach their full potential. We will work with your team to help them learn take on Strategic Thinking, Brand Positioning, Marketing Planning, Marketing Execution, and Brand Analytics. 

Mini MBA brand management certificate, online marketing course
brand toolkit marketing templates