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Customer Acquisition Lessons From Men's Underwear and Razor Blades

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Women shouldn't be the only ones who have fun shopping online, Dollar Shave Club CEO Michael Dubin told Wired magazine late in 2012. Yet in the realm of ecommerce, male consumers have traditionally been hard for marketers to pin down. They usually leave razor blade and underwear purchases to wives or girlfriends, as the conventional wisdom goes.

The success of upstart companies like Dollar Shave Club and Flint and Tinder in this niche market have something to teach any entrepreneur about acquiring customers.

Dollar Shave Club launched in well-saturated market with a simple value proposition: many men would be happy to receive new razors delivered to them each month and not have to worry about buying razors. Competing against the big guys on price, Dollar Shave Club has also differentiated itself with plucky, unusual internet videos written by and starring their CEO, Michael Dubin. It launched in early 2012 and by the end of that year had raised $9.8 million dollars, and had won a large user base. How?

Beyond basic convenience and price, Dollar Shave Club offers customers something name-brand razors can't -- a story and kooky sensibility. Customers can choose from three levels of razor quality, starting with the $1 a month model ("Reliable; this is the ’82 wagon that starts when the temp’s below zero") to the "Executive" ("like a personal assistant for your face").

The quirky video that launched the service has racked up over 10 million views on YouTube. But of course Dollar Shave Club's customer acquisition strategy is simple -- get people paying a small amount of money on a subscription model and you can upsell them on other accouterments (such as aloe vera strips and even moist towelettes), and earn their loyalty that way.

Men's underwear company Flint and Tinder took a similar approach to winning the hearts and minds of their customer base. Founder Jake Bronstein had noticed that in major department stores, almost all men's underwear was made overseas. In a bid to "reinvigorate American manufacturing," he built Flint & Tinder to produce a higher quality mens underwear, and he crowdfunded the effort, becoming the best-funded fashion startup at the time.

More recently, Flint & Tinder sought to further solidify their "made with care" image among their fans by creating the "10-year Hoodie." In contrast to "fast fashion" put out there by the likes of H&M, Target and Forever 21, this hoodie is built to last ten years and comes with a warranty that Flint & Tinder will repair your sweatshirt during that period. This new product was also launched on Kickstarter (with the tagline "It's not that it's so cheap we can replace it - it's that it's so well made, we'll mend it free of charge!"), but it broke the companies previous record by a mile, earning over $1,000,000 of a an initial $50,000 goal.

What you can learn about customer acquisition from these stories:

  • What incentives can you give customers to keep them coming back? By putting forward a subscription model, Dollar Shave Club creates a strong recurring revenue base.
  • Where can you expand your product line? Dollar Shave Club started with razors and Flint & Tinder with men's underwear, but both have expanded to other product to further solidify their brand image in customers' minds.
  • How can you stand a part from the pack? Dollar Shave Club uses humor and online media to have a personality that the big guys can't match, while Flint & Tinder consciously sets out to differentiate itself from "fast" and disposable clothiers.
  • How can you use unconventional marketing tactics to get noticed? Kickstarter has been a huge boon to Flint & Tinder, creating a strong customer base for the company before it shipped its first product, while Dollar Shave Club uses social media like YouTube to stick in the minds of its customer base.

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