Michael Dubin on how to build a brand vs a product

Steven Loeb · October 19, 2015 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/40c4

His advice for entrepreneurs: Target your end customer and get into the discussion

At Vator's annual Splash LA event on Thursday, Michael Dubin, founder and CEO of Dollar Shave Club, sat down with Vator CEO Bambi Francisco to discuss his company, how it grew so big so far, and how he is trying to disrupt the shaving industry.

While Dubin made it clear that he is not looking to bring new technology to the razor itself. In fact, his business is less about the product itself, but is more about creating a brand, which the company has done with its popular and high profile parody videos (one of which you can see in our previous story), which helped create a narrative around what the target market was talking about. Dollar Shave hit a nerve, and the videos reflect the discussion being played out by its end customers.

"It sounds like you have a great value proposition, you're lowering the cost and keeping the product simple but it's effective, but you also have really great marketing savvy and strategies. What's made Dollar Shave Club? It doesn't sound like it's the razors, it sounds like it's more the marketing. What's made it successful?" Francisco asked.

"Look, the razor is excellent and we have 2.4 million members in Dollar Shave Club getting a shipment from us every month, or every other month. I don't care how funny the commercials are, if the product isn't good or great, you're not going to achieve that level of adoption," said Dubin.

Still, the way that the company thinks of itself is as a "lifestyle brand and experience company," rather than as a razor company.

"We're running a service, we're providing guidance and we're providing great content to build this experience and help guys find what they need in the bathroom. That philosophy infuses our approach to everything that we do," said Dubin."

So, yes, the commercials are great, it's the first touch that a lot of people have with the brand, you get a laugh from it, whether its this video or any of our other eight or nine commercials that are running at any given time, and then you come to the website, and you have this very easy browsing experience. It's very hard to make something look so simple but we have a ton of engineers and digital product people working to make that experience really seamless and nice."

The package itself also contains more content and more humor, including a Highlights for men, called Bathroom Minutes, and people say they subscribe just for that.

"People feel an emotional connection to this brand. And that reflects a larger theme in business today. If you want to be successful you have to create an emotional connection with your customer, you have to have a conversation with your customer. You don't want to talk at your customer and I think brands in this generation are doing that a lot better than the incumbents," Dubin said.

"It used to be product, place, price, promotion. The four P's, as they'll teach you in school, and now it's the four E's: exclusivity, engagement, emotion and experience. That' s how we think about building our business, and, yes, of course the razor has to be of high quality but people don't think of us a razor company and that's the way we want it."

Francisco asked him how Dollar Shave Club goes about creating a brand versus promoting a product.

"I think the first thing to say is digital companies today have a lot to gain by thinking about building a brand. It's not the first thing that comes to mind when a lot of entrepreneurs in the tech space get started because they focus on the product itself, the digital product itself, and that's probably smart but not everybody is going to be like an Uber, where it's completely word of mouth and totally viral," he said.

"Most businesses, whether they're B2B or B2C, don't do a good enough job at celebrating their reason for being and the resonant idea that's at the core of what they're doing. So I encourage anybody starting any kind of business to think deeply about what they're offering the customer, who they are as a company and then bring that to life using great advertising or social assets."

What Dollar Shave Club did is was create videos that help its customers "have a conversation that they're already having with each other. Guys talk about how ridiculous it is to buy razors in a store, all we do is give them a funny thing to look at that told the story they were already having with each other."

So this is Dubin's advice for tech founders: the first hire isn't always going to be the marketing guy, "but they should have someone who understand brands and marketing, or advertising, or even just a great copywriter to start. Somebody who can communicate your ideas clearly on your website and that will pay for itself."

Thanks to our main sponsors Wilson SonsiniKPMGJavelin Venture PartnersSky MediaWavemakerAll Good Living Collective,  Bread and Butter Wine, and our co-production partner, Bixel Exchange.

Editor's Note: Our annual Post Seed conference is around the corner on Dec. 1 at Ruby Skye in San Francisco. Speakers include John Doerr (Kleiner Perkins), Vinod Khosla (Khosla Ventures), Alfred Lin (Sequoia Capital), and more. Join us! REGISTER HERE.

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Dollar Shave Club


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Michael Dubin

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Founder and CEO ­ Dollar Shave Club Michael Dubin is a passionate, creative executive & trailblazing brand­builder.