The Brand Challenge: The subscription shaving sector

shavingFrom a standing start, shaving subscription services have expanded rapidly in the past three years, with many big brands, such as Gillette and Bic, entering the market. Now there are more brands online than in your average Boots, including challengers such as British Cornerstone, US import Harry’s and brands copying Dollar Shave Club with names such as Sterling Shave Club and Pound Shave Club.
The quick expansion of companies offering a very similar service has led to suggestions that the market is already reaching saturation. This comes just a few months after Dollar Shave Club, which reportedly has 54% of the US market, launched in the UK.
With another big player entering the field, it remains to be seen whether there is room for everyone. It is clear, however, that companies are facing increasing competition and must outwit their competition to continue to attract new customers in this cut-throat market.

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Click on image to enlarge

There are four factors that influence consumer behaviour; whether we are thinking independently, being influenced socially, thinking fast and shopping instinctively or thinking slow and deliberating over what we buy. These factors generate four dominant modes of behaviour that influence what we buy: habits, copying others, following experts or undertaking independent research. The four modes make up our Purchase Quadrant which we use to understand the main reason why products or brands are bought now and could be bought in the future.
Where are they now?
The majority of shaving subscription companies sit in the ‘popularity’ quadrant at the moment, growing their businesses via social influencers for initial customer acquisition, with the business model being based on customers moving to habit after signing up, as razors are ordered automatically.
For its UK launch, Dollar Shave club invested in the use of influencers to entice new customers to sign up and subscribe, a well-used method to generate a social norm around a brand. It also created humorous marketing content featuring the company’s founder Michael Dubin, while Harry’s has opted to tackle negative male stereotypes. These approaches are aimed at spreading the word about the brand, along with the obvious benefits of making people laugh and lifting the lid on societal issues. Similarly, much of Cornerstone’s success has been attributed to word-of-mouth endorsement from satisfied customers.
Where do they need to go?
With the crowded market, brands will need increasingly inventive ways to stand out, grow, and attract new consumers. With the amount of companies offering similar services, the entire category has moved from being socially influenced, to being a considered choice as consumers can easily compare and pick the subscription that best suits their need.

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

In addition, there is an emerging trend of influencer fatigue in advertising aimed at men (Mintel: Marketing to Men, 2017). After years of being fed images of athletic men in advertising, men are becoming increasingly conscious of male stereotypes which are viewed negatively, and brands using this approach could start to lose their edge.
The goal of the subscription services will not change; once a person has signed up they will move to the habit quadrant and continue to purchase their shaving accessories without much thought. The change comes during customer acquisition where each brand must now stand out in the considered quadrant to attract new subscribers.
How do brands get to where they need to be?
For brands looking to take on the challenge and stand out, there are a few strategies they can look to employ. The first is to find and focus on one key aspect of the product or brand that customers can use as an anchor to base their decision on. With most brands highlighting the quality of their blades at similar prices, it is difficult for customers to value the brands relative to each other. Find what makes your brand unique and communicate that clearly to turn the relative comparisons of products in your favour. This could include a focus on heritage, a truly unique product feature or service.
A second strategy is to promote your brand as more than just a brand. As mentioned, Harry’s has taken aim on male stereotypes. While a noble cause, chances are that the strategy will also have positive effects on its marketing, as men are increasingly concerned with having realistic role models in advertising and working to reject gender stereotypes.
Behavioural science tells us that people like to have their beliefs and values reinforced – if a brand can communicate values external to their product that are in line with those held by their customer base, they could be winners.

Dr Björn Persson is research associate at Durham University Business School. KHWS is collaborating with Dr Bjorn Persson and Durham University Business School to study consumer behaviour and decision-making, to establish a more scientific approach in creating effective marketing solutions

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