“Our blades are f***ing great,” says Michael Dubin, co-founder of The Dollar Shave Club. With a few incredible storytelling techniques up their sleeve, they set up in 2011 and embarrassed the hell out of Gillette and the rest of the stuck in their ways shaving industry.
Their rather memorable video in 2012 prompted over 12,000 orders within 2 days, won the ‘Best Out-of-Nowhere Video’ Award, and has gone on to receive over 16 million views. Yet this company didn’t exist in June 2011. It all began when Michael and his c0-founder, Mark Levine, met at a party and vented about their frustrations of shaving costs and convenience.
Sure, they raised millions through seed money, but they went up against mammoth conglomerates like Gillette and Wilkinson Sword. This is an industry worth an estimated $30 Billion, and Gillette owns around 70% of this.
Think about it for a second. Run those numbers through your head and consider the possibility of a startup with a few million to its name going up against one of the largest brands in the world… in a market saturated with big boys… where the norm is to spend millions on endorsements…
THE STORYTELLING TECHNIQUES BEHIND THE DOLLAR SHAVE CLUB
I love storytelling for many reasons, but we often underestimate the power of a brand story. Because as people, we don’t care about market share and how rich a brand is. Brand recognition helps, but deep down in our ape-like-mind, all we care about is whether something connects with us (be it a brand, person, or idea).
A Brand Story doesn’t care for money or big budgets, it only cares about the storytelling techniques used to create something meaningful; to share a message in a certain way that stops you in your tracks and say, “Me too.“
If you know me, you know I believe in brand storytelling and go on-and-on-and-on about its amazing powers. I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but we live in a chaotic world where we’re bombarded with thousands of marketing messages each day. We blank them out because who has the time to take all that shit in?
I don’t. I doubt you do, either.
Within our ape-like-mind, we trust stories and the meaning they share. This is why a startup can sneak up from nowhere and disrupt an industry. They can share a different kind of tale and pluck the heartstrings of millions. This is what The Dollar Shave Club did in 2012, turning the shaving world on its head.
They did this through a particular kind of brand story, and I wish to focus on three storytelling techniques they used. Because Dollar Shave Club aren’t constrained by decades of hierarchy and ego (which all startups benefit from) so are able to go their own way, as Fleetwood Mac say. It’s amazing what a little fresh thinking can achieve…
1: THEY ARE DISRUPTIVE
One of the approaches I take when Discovering a client’s brand story is to disrupt their thinking. Disrupt by Luke Williams is a fine book that discusses this, and how every now and again a great brand comes along and turns an industry upside down.
For generations, this is the process men have gone through in order to shave their face:
- Buy an expensive razor
- But even more expensive blades
- Have an abundance one minute, and none the next
- Go to the shop to buy more expensive blades
- Forget – because life gets in the way – and end up using blunt razors that hurt your face. Ouch.
I’m not a lady, but I imagine it’s a similar process for shaving legs and arm pits and other body-limbs. It’s an expensive ordeal, and far from efficient. You have to leave your house and go to the shop, but it’s not like food which tends to run out on a weekly basis. You can plan for your weekly food shop, but how often do you shop for razor blades?
When are you supposed to buy a new razor? What about the cream and balm and moisturiser?
But this is how it’s done. The routine and process remains consistent across everyone… everywhere… at all times. As such, we fit into a mindset that any alternative is impossible and crazy.
Where most brands enter the market and focus on the product (can it be cheaper, made from a different material, look sexier…?) The Dollar Shave Club considered the process: How we actually deal with shaving, and how we would feel if someone came along and offered an alternative.
The Dollar Shave Club didn’t invent the wheel here. Netflix send movies to our door for a monthly fee. Magazines and bookclubs have done this for decades. We have fruit of the month club and a whole range of other products we can sign up for, pay monthly, and remove a decision from our hectic day.
It seems simple, but Gillette or Wilkinson Sword didn’t do it, despite each of them having big budgets, big market share, and big executives sat behind big desks. But The Dollar Shave club did, and for me it’s one of the key storytelling techniques in their arsenal.
Because had they entered the market with only a price-point in mind, or a more efficient design, few people would care. But they reached out to folk like you and me and said, “Shaving’s a pain. It’s expensive. There has to be another way, and we now offer it. We’ll send razors to your door each month for a low price. Easy, right? We think so.“
Their story is different to their competitors, but it isn’t different for the sake of it. They’ve built their entire model around this, so it makes sense to share a disruptive, in-your-face, and shout-out-loud brand story.
2: THEY ADD CONFLICT
Adding conflict into a story is one of the biggest storytelling techniques out there. A Brand Story is no different, and whether conflict is character driven, through fear, anger, sadness, or whatever, most stories need it to keep our ape-like mind interested.
It’s storytelling 101 to be honest, for the human race loves to wrap its brain around a juicy piece of conflict. It breeds our imagination, and helps us picture ideas. Simply put, conflict provides entertainment. There are many ways a brand story can approach this, but if you don’t add it in some way, you face an uphill battle.
Why? Because you’ll look, sound, and be like everyone else.
In the same way The Dollar Shave Club disrupted the way we shave, their message turned us upside down, too. Gillette and the like spend millions on advertising budgets and endorsements; on the kind of folk like Roger Federer and David Beckham, guys we look up to. I mean, if they use a Gillette razor, I should, right?
They’re all the same. They talk about the features and play on certain egotistical emotions, but they don’t provide real conflict. They don’t ruffle our feather and give us a reason to talk about their latest advert down the pub. Whereas The Dollar Shave Club introduced themselves by saying:
“Our blades are f***ing great.”
Don’t get me wrong, this won’t appeal to everyone. This is the point. They don’t want to appeal to everyone. They desire to shake things up and speak to those fed up with the everyday… the same-old-same-old… the usual nonsense. As consumers we don’t know what the hell we want. We’re busy living our lives. You don’t have the resources to consider whether you enjoy shaving or not. You go through the motions each day, brushing teeth… washing your face… cooking dinner… driving to work…
The cliche goes…
had Henry Ford asked people what they wanted, they’d have said a more powerful horse.
We require smart people and businesses to disrupt our thinking and show us a new way. But you need more than this, because there’s so much white noise in the world today. You can’t just Disrupt an industry, oh no. You have to follow it up with an unforgettable message. A message full of conflict that makes us laugh and cry and shout, “F**k yeah!“
Watch the above video again and count the times Michael Dubin offers conflict of some kind. The language… the comparisons to brands like Gillette… the tone and how it speaks to us (more on this next)… the dry humour and in-your-face style. It’s designed with the purpose to ensure you love or hate it. This is what conflict’s all about. It’s why it’s one of the strongest storytelling techniques there is. It banishes indecision and apathy, and breeds emotion.
This is what Brand Storytelling is all about, too. If your brand story doesn’t have it, you better start thinking.
3: THEY SPEAK TO THE ‘EVERYMAN’
I love how The Dollar Shave Club began with Michael Dubin and Mark Levin venting to one another at a party. Tired of shaving, they moaned and groaned about it. I imagine the conversation when something like this:
“Jesus, Mark,” said Michael. “You know what I hate? Shaving. I have to do it every day, cut myself constantly, and pay stupid amounts for flimsy razors.”
“Oh tell me about it,” said Mark. “And you never know how long they’ll last. Sometimes a few days, sometimes a week or so. They always get you with the fancy razors, too. They’re never that expensive, but the blades you HAVE to buy… bastards.”
“Yeah. And at the end of all this, I have to go to a damn supermarket where I’m tempted to buy balm and lotions, and beer to ease the pain of spending over $30 on shaving. I hate it.”
“Me too. Someone should shake things up. There has to be another way.”
“Yeah, like Netflix for razors.”
This is how it goes down in my mind, but I doubt I’m far off. We all do this. When I say The Dollar Shave Club speaks to the everyman, I mean the man and woman who passively moan about aspects of life they cannot avoid: public transport… fuel… telephone bills… the internet… telesales calls… the socks you lose in the washing…
Don’t kid yourself, you’re part of the everyman, too. We’re all everymen and everywomen, and although we know we’re unhappy and far from satisfied, we keep doing what we do because there isn’t another way. But sometimes – once in a blue moon, it feels like – a clever individual shows us a new path to take: Elon Musk with Paypal, Garrett Camp and Uber, Brian Chesky and AirBnB, Blake Myscokie and Toms Shoes…
I’ve spoken about three storytelling techniques throughout this post, and had The Dollar Shave Club only done one or two, they may have failed. You can’t disrupt an industry and come up with something genius unless you communicate a message that forces people to take notice. And unless this message actually speaks to people, and makes them feel, you slip into the rest of the white noise.
I remember when I first saw The Dollar Shave Club video. I loved it for many reasons (it’s funny and different and the perfect example of a viral success story), but I recall saying, “Damn, this is a good idea. Why hasn’t this been the case all along? Why did it take until now. Everything they’re saying – about the price and inconvenience and annoyance – is true. I feel this. I’ve felt it all along.”
It spoke to me, and it spoke to a lot of other men, too. This is how you start an army and movement, and the Dollar Shave Brand Story achieved this in an instant. They may now offer more products to more countries, and help women, too, but the message remains the same. It speaks to the everyman/woman fed up with how it’s always been. They continue to show us a new path to follow…
THE STORYTELLING TECHNIQUES OF THE DOLLAR SHAVE CLUB
A brand story can take on so many forms. There are so many storytelling techniques, and storytelling techniques within the storytelling techniques themselves, if that makes sense. A little like Inception, and their dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream idea.
A Brand Story is like any other story (novel, movie, performance…), and this is why aspects like Conflict and Disruption and Relating to your Audience are important. But conflict can come in many forms. Dollar Shave Club use rather curse and straight-laced language, whereas maybe you use empathy, laughter, anger, fear, or any other emotion that drives human motivation.
Disruptive Thinking takes on many shapes, too. The Dollar Shave Club utilised a model no one else thought about, but they didn’t invent anything. It’s a model used in many other industries, but they had the disruptive mindset to think outside the box. Disruption can come in the form of your communication, your staff, the way you build your culture and story…
And for The Dollar Shave Club it’s about the everyman, where your audience is unique to you. But we all have our own version of ‘everyman‘, and it’s about sharing a brand story they ‘get‘. It’s about developing a brand story that speaks to them and makes them realise how much they need YOU.
The key theme that runs through all these storytelling techniques is the ability to be DIFFERENT.
Brand Storytelling requires difference and unique and innate qualities that are all about YOU and your story. This is why I love seeing a startup start up and throw an industry a curveball. Because a company like Gillette are stuck in their ways and stubborn. An up and comer doesn’t have to worry about this. They’re open for anything and everything.
They can’t wait to showcase a quirky quality or two, and as such they share a brand story that ignites a movement. This often forces the big boys to consider a different way, which ensures we, the everyman, receive a better service. I’m not saying a business like The Dollar Shave Club saves the world, but they keep it humble and ever moving. For this, I’m thankful.
You can say the same for Toms Shoes and Virgin Airways and Warby Parker, who all disrupted their industries by sharing a different kind of story. I love these types of storytelling techniques, and I hope you do, too. I’d love to hear your thoughts about them, so say hello to me on FACEBOOK and TWITTER.
Speak soon, kid.
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