The Dollar Shave Club guide to storytelling

Dollar Shave Club and their CEO, Michael Dubin, shot to viral fame a few years ago off the back of their ability to tell the story of their brand and connect with potential customers. As part of our storytelling series we look back on our interview with Dubin, who offers up insight into how businesses can create content that both excites and engages people...

Ask anyone from LA about the strengths of the businesses based there and one of the first responses will undoubtedly pay homage to the capability they have to tell their story, engage people in the brand and increasingly, create great content.

Having sat in countless conferences, workshops and talks about the power of great content, I’ve seen the famous Dollar Shave Club viral video more times than I care to remember. So when we wanted to gain some insight into why exactly LA is such a content stronghold and how start-ups from any location can get their story out there, we decided to pay a visit to Dollar Shave Club’s Venice Beach headquarters and get the lowdown from CEO Michael Dubin.

"I always knew the story I wanted to tell with the brand," reflects Dubin. "I knew it needed to be engaging and that engagement would come in the form of great advertisements, a great digital experience and an engaging content offering. We rolled things out in that order, but we’re always going back and making improvements.

"You need to start by telling your story well through great advertising, then when people reach your website you need to continue to present your story in the right way and the content offering is an x-factor for us, it’s something we’ve always been very invested in."

Being the face of the brand

One thing that immediately strikes you about the Dollar Shave Club story is how intrinsic Dubin is to it. Richard Branson has long advocated entrepreneurs making themselves the face of their brand, yet despite his obvious success many fail to take advantage of this tactic. For Dubin, the decision to put himself front and centre was a tricky one.

"I knew that I was the best person to be able to tell the story of our brand but that didn’t mean that I set out to be the spokesperson. When it came to it I knew I would be the best option to perform in that original video and it worked really well, so we’ve stuck with it but that wasn’t the intention from day one.

Read: How Snapchat is shaping the future of storytelling

"In fact, at the very beginning I was a little timid about the idea of putting myself in the video and on the front-page of the website as I really didn’t want people to have an adverse reaction to the spokesperson."

Choosing which medium is right for you

For a brand that built their initial success on the power of their online content and social media, it’s interesting to see Dollar Shave Club now invested so heavily in TV spots. Our meeting came shortly after the brand’s first ever Super Bowl commercial aired, so I was keen to hear if the decision to turn to TV was a difficult one given the strength of their online efforts. So, was it a straightforward call?

"Yes, of course, there’s such a massive audience on television. There are some brands that are inherently viral, just by the function that the business performs - Uber is a great example of this. You’re at dinner with five friends, leave the restaurant and walk outside and someone says "alright, I’m getting an Uber home". The reaction from the other five is "what’s Uber" and then you suddenly have six people who all know what is Uber is and how it works. That’s amazing, but not all brands have the luxury of being so woven into the fabric of everyday life that businesses like Uber are.

"Shaving and grooming, for the most part, happen when you’re by yourself, so you’re not standing around with other people talking about what razor you’re using. Therefore brands like ours need to tell great stories and we’re lucky enough that our original story went viral, but even if it didn’t we would still have had to use those more traditional channels to grow. I think that because of our original success we didn’t get there [televison] quite as fast as we otherwise might have."

Agencies v in-house

The continued passion for creating content has led to the business forming their own in-house agency, a move which has enabled Dollar Shave Club to ramp up their efforts in the space. "We pride ourselves on being great storytellers and being able to create our own work makes us really nimble. We’re the best placed to tell our story as nobody knows our brand better than we do," explains Dubin.

"Our in-house agency means that we can turn things around very quickly and react to events, we don’t have to reach out to external agencies if we want something done. We do everything from this office and have a great time doing so."

What to do when starting up

For those who don’t have the luxury of having their own in-house agency to call on, Dubin believes there are a couple things to get set right from the start if a start-up is to attract the right sort of people.

"I would say the most important thing a start-up could do is hire someone very early on who is a very strong storyteller and a good brand thinker.

"Every brand needs to tell their story. If you’re an Uber then maybe you don’t need to do that from day one, as you don’t have a customer acquisition problem, but brands who want to compete in a competitive marketplace need to be loud about who they are. Let people know why it should be you and not the other guy."


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