Sometimes, a joke is more than a joke. In 2012, the Dollar Shave Club released its first quirky, low-budget commercial with the CEO deadpanning into the camera: “Are the blades any good? No, our blades are f**king great.” What followed was a 90-second, non-stop barrage of zany one-liners. The jokes were funny — but perhaps more importantly — the jokes were smart and profitable.
In the two days that followed the video’s launch, Dollar Shave Club parlayed its $4,500 video production cost into 12,000 new members to its monthly subscription service. Four years later, the company sold to Unilever for a billion dollars. Dollar Shave Club delivered the jokes, but, ultimately, they laughed all the way to the bank.
Dollar Shave Club’s success marked a dramatic change in the marketing landscape. With the rise of niche marketing, scrappy yet innovative startups could competitively go toe-to-toe with Goliath-sized brands through products and sales models that were disruptive to the marketplace. Dollar Shave Club’s blades were indeed f**king great — and so was its marketing plan.
Niche Products & Services Disrupt the Market
The Dollar Shave Club video was eccentric, to say the least; however, its product and service were not. Instead, the company honed in on one product, did it well, and offered a disruptive way to deliver that product to new consumers. The Dollar Shave Club went niche.
Companies can now tailor and streamline the production of niche inventory. A globalized shipping and transportation system, like Amazon’s, provides accessibility to affordable manufacturing and destabilizes the marketplace’s traditional barriers to entry. But to go big, you sometimes have to (at first!) think small.
For Dollar Shave Club, thinking small meant thinking the size of a razor blade. In 1901, Gillette released the first disposable razor. The niche product was primed for a shake-up and, over a century later, the Dollar Shave Club did just that. Not only did it provide a new, competitive product in the stagnant shaving market, but it also disrupted the ways in which it was acquired that was more affordable and convenient for consumers. Apart from the risk of a little stubble, consumers had few reasons not to try the new shaving product.
Niche Marketing: From the Super Bowl to a Tiny Screen
In the past, the Super Bowl’s halftime huddle may as well have referred to people huddling around the TV screen, soaking up big-budget commercials. Enormous companies like Procter & Gamble still pursue mammoth audiences that only national events like the Super Bowl can provide.
In 2017, more than 111 million people watched the Super Bowl. In contrast, The Dollar Shave Club’s first video has had nearly 25 million views in the last five years. For niche brands, advertising at the Super Bowl is an inefficient use of dollars, because only a small percentage of people who see the commercial then purchase the product. Targeted advertising campaigns can make a smaller amount of views, impressions, and clicks mean more.
There’s deep value in connecting with people through their everyday mediums: social media, YouTube, blogs, etc. Advertising platforms like Facebook allow niche marketing to even more narrowly target the consumers for which their products are best suited.
Go Niche, Capiche?
For the Dollar Shave Club, a close shave was not a close call. In fact, the razor-sharp niche marketing plan was a clear winner. The Dollar Shave Club is only one of many niche marketing success stories. Warby Parker is yet another case study that embodies the niche marketing evolution. The brand disrupted the status quo of shopping for eyewear, revitalizing the customer experience with a take-home try-on program.
Next year will be an exciting one to watch as niche marketing’s tentacles reach into the world of blogs, affiliate links, and other forms of native advertisements. It is now possible to transform a good idea into a profitable entity, all for a relatively small investment of time and money. In the coming year, niche brands will continue to take advantage of these new realities, and the companies that once supplied the masses will be placed under increasing threat.