What Dollar Shave Club knows about turning content into customer loyalty

“I have always believed in the power of videos to tell stories,” says Michael Dubin, Founder and CEO of Dollar Shave Club. At first glance, you wouldn’t suspect that a sentence like that to be described as an “inspirational quote”  in an archive like  entrepreneur.wiki. If that’s the case, then you also  probably didn’t see  the laugh-out-loud funny video that Dubin made when introducing the world to his subscription-shaving company.  You may not even  have read about Dollar Shave Club’s recent, runaway success in the field of consumer-packaged goods – an industry not generally known for disruptive marketing. If you had, then you’d know he’s a man knows how to serve content that grabs your attention.

You could be forgiven for not associating CPG brands with marketing innovations. Afterall, the top three players in the industry have all been in business for over a century. Proctor & Gamble – home to Gillette razors, Crest toothpaste and Ivory soap among other iconic global brands – earned its first million dollars while selling soap to the Union Army during the American Civil War. Food and beverage giant Nestlé first opened its doors in 1905. And Unilever, the Dutch-owned conglomerate that bought Dubin’s Dollar Shave Club this summer for a cool 1 billion dollars, got its start in the late 19th century.

So how did Michael Durbin carve his name–over just a few short years–into a corporate edifice that’s older than Mount Rushmore?

Dubin’s success – and Unilever’s billion-dollar acquisition – is only part of an emerging trend in e-commerce. Looking at the big picture, we’re seeing the convergence of savvy, data-driven advertising with must-see, viral content.  The result is a new program that’s designed to generate both steady cash flow and customer loyalty.

Advertisers possess granular, first-party data about the various individuals who comprise their audience segments. They know the specific goods, services and advertising formats that get their customers and prospects excited. Their algorithms can track a given customer’s conversion path in real time, resulting in correlations as far as the likelihood of that person’s future purchases. They understand which devices a person shops with and compile holistic pictures of shoppers’ singular likes, needs and means of spending. It’s all part and parcel of the programmable economy.

Publishers, on the other hand, have a knack for serving up entertaining, useful and share-worthy content. They don’t just know the types of goods that their audiences want to buy, they also know the types of media they want to watch, read and hear.  

Dollar Shave Club owes its success to knowing  how to be an advertiser and a publisher, all at once. Not only has the Dollar Shave Club intro video become the stuff of PR legend, but its current blog, “Bathroom Minutes,” features articles like “Oh FAQ! How Do I Get the Perfect Shave?,” “Why You Need to Turn Your Face on Before Shaving” and “Should I Discuss My Divorce with My Barber?”

Unilever shelled out for Dollar Shave Club because it recognized the potential for creating a platform to acquire, engage, and monetize an audience strong enough to put other CPGs on the ropes.

Another case of the convergence of advertising and publishing is Amazon. It’s a data-driven advertiser par excellence, often able to predict what you’ll put in your shopping cart well beforeyou do.

But Amazon is also a major publisher: It produces its own movies and award-winning television series. Audible, its New Jersey-based audiobook division, features state-of-the-art recording studios where Hollywood A-list celebrities narrate the books of bestselling authors. Not only is Amazon a 21st-century answer to Sears’ “Everything Store,” it’s a DreamWorks Pictures and a Universal Studios.

Then there’s Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, known predominantly in the U.S. for its record-breaking market valuation of $231 billion at the first-day close of its initial public offering. Alibaba has data-driven advertising capabilities similar to Amazon, as well as its own original brand-name media. But its largest coup by far is the invention of a shopping holiday. Held every year on November 11th and known simply as “11.11,” or “Singles’ Day,” it’s the highest-grossing, 24-hour shopping holiday on Earth, dwarfing Cyber Monday.

As of now, Alibaba is seeking to promote yet another, “sequel” holiday to “11.11,” called “12.12” –held December 12th of course. Alibaba has, in effect, manufactured a worldwide holiday as a “division” of its company. If the overnight creation of the most profitable holiday in world history isn’t creating great content, we don’t know what qualifies.

Dollar Shave Club proves that smaller companies can find success by synthesizing advertising and publishing like Amazon or Alibaba. There’s a huge opportunity for other major retail and CPG companies to adapt the same buyer-meets-seller strategies their precursors already have. All they need is the right open technology platform to partner with: A technology platform with enough scale, reach and real-time decisioning power to allow these other companies to compete on even ground – and win.


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