Using Sex for a Sales Breakthrough

How does a marketer who sells a utilitarian, and arguably boring product, breakthrough in a multi-million dollar category? At least one secret sauce ingredient to their success: sex.

How does a marketer who sells a utilitarian, and arguably boring product, breakthrough in a multi-million dollar category? At least one secret sauce ingredient to their success: sex.

The original Dollar Shave Club viral video.
The original Dollar Shave Club viral video.

I first wrote about the Dollar Shave Club in 2012 when they released a video that went viral (with over 24 million views now).DSC introduced how to save a boatload on razor blades and related personal products. And in the interest of transparency, I became a customer myself a couple of years ago (look at my picture for the evidence that I use a lot of razor blades).

So, while the concept of a continuity program where you’re shipped razor blades once a month for anywhere from $1.00 to $9.00 monthly (depending on the razor blade you want) may be boring, it’s their cheeky marketing messages that make this product so much fun and appealing.

Dollar Shave Club's version of content marketing.
Dollar Shave Club’s version of content marketing.

Their blog posts are light, humorous and often touch on the topic of sex. For example, a recent email came with the subject line “Six Reasons Science Says Sex is Good For Your Health.” Who wouldn’t open that one?

I suspect that particular email had a high open rate because it included the word “sex” in the subject line, and it was used in a way that probably wasn’t offensive to most people.

Consider the primal human brain and the all-important amygdala. The amygdala is the primal “fight or flight” part of the brain that flags us to fear, hunt food and reproduce. Because the brain is primal, this explains why messages of safety, never being hungry, along with beauty and virility, can usually be effective. These all touch upon the mass desire of our hopes, dreams, fears and desires.

And it’s getting to these core mass desires that brings prospects and customers back around to razor blades. It’s ordinarily a boring product, but one brought to the forefront of the mind with DSC’s advice about grooming, health and style, with a peppering of sex thrown in here and there, all using highly provocative and clickable headlines. DSC successfully uses content to cross-sell other personal products like shaving cream, skin care, One Wipe Charlies (or “butt wipes” as they call them), and more.

Obviously the marketing of Dollar Shave Club has broken-through and disrupted old-guard consumer product marketers. Unilever acquired them last year for $1 billion.

So what are the lessons here? My takeaways are this:

  1. You can make a utilitarian, perhaps even boring, product sexy.
  2. Light-hearted content marketing works (note I didn’t say “humor,” which often doesn’t work).
  3. You can make light of products with descriptions that don’t dance around nicety, and gets right to what people think (e.g., “butt wipes”).
  4. You can attract the attention of the brain’s amygdala by introducing sex (and safety and eating).
  5. Subject lines and headlines now, more than before, make or break a marketer’s success.
  6. Videos, where the neuroscience of why people share kick in and lead to it going viral, can build a business quickly.

So, adapting the DSC subject line of “Six Reasons Science Says Sex is Good For Your Health,” I didn’t have a list of, for example, “Six Reasons Marketers Say Sex is Good for the Bottom Line” as I had considered.

But the reality is this: the headline of this blog used the word “sex,” and you clicked the link, and if you’re still reading this far. The point about using sex to sell has, arguably, been made.

Gary Hennerberg’s latest book is “Crack the Customer Mind Code: Seven Pathways from Head to Heart to YES!” is available on Amazon. For a free download with more detail about the seven pathways and other copywriting and consulting tips, go to Hennerberg.com.

Disrupting Entrenched Marketing Ideas

Disruptive technologies can fundamentally shift a business’s trajectory. But what about disruptive marketing ideas? Continuity-marketer Dollar Shave Club didn’t disrupt the technology of razors, but they disrupted the distribution channel with monthly shipping of razor blades direct to the consumer. DSC chipped away at the dominance of retail competitors even if DSC sales were only …

Disruptive technologies can fundamentally shift a business’s trajectory. But what about disruptive marketing ideas? Continuity-marketer Dollar Shave Club (DSC) didn’t disrupt the technology of razors, but they disrupted the distribution channel with monthly shipping of razor blades direct to the consumer. DSC chipped away at the dominance of retail competitors even if DSC sales were only 5 percent of the U.S. market with 3.2 million members.

https://youtu.be/JbsJPO-ZreM

So now we learn that Unilever is purchasing the unprofitable (as of yet) Dollar Shave Club for $1 billion.

Procter and Gamble sees the writing on the wall of disruptive marketing and is testing a continuity program named Tide Wash Club, where P&G will ship Tide Pod capsules via an online subscription service. The question is: Is P&G perceived by consumers as too entrenched in retail distribution? Or will Amazon beat them to the punch with something better, like Amazon Dash?

Disruptive Marketing Ideas: Amazon Dash ButtonsAmazon Dash buttons enable the user to replenish a growing list of consumables in the home, bypassing the phone or computer. Just press the button you stick on most any surface in your home and Amazon will ship your order. Here’s a pretty good summary article on the Dash Button.

As direct marketers, we might say to one another that these are more examples of a shift in distribution channels, going direct-to-consumer.

But I think there’s a bigger message for marketers of all kinds:

Someday, you and your business could be blindsided with a disruptive technology or disruptive marketing ideas from a competitor.

What does it take to get in front of the kind of change that can put you out of business? You must vanquish entrenched establishment thinking and determine how to get in front of either disruptive technology or marketing approaches.

The thought process I suggest you begin with is to lock yourselves in a room, offsite if you can, taking zero interruptions and have a deep discussion covering at least these six topics:

  1. What new big idea — technology or marketing — could disrupt your business? Think big and let your imagination roll.
  1. Will the big idea you identify change behavior? An idea is only as good as your strategy to change behavior from “the way it’s always been done” to a new approach. Dollar Shave Club created a marketing video that went viral and launched their direct-to-consumer business. Consider that once someone had the Amazon experience of purchasing a book or other merchandise online, it changed behavior. Same with Uber: the first time riding in a stranger’s private vehicle may have been a bit uncomfortable, but once you had a good experience, why would you go back to riding with surly cab drivers and unpredictable fares?
  1. What are your competitors thinking? Unless you have sources inside a competitor or other public information, project their past actions into the future for possible insights.
  1. Think broadly between qualitative and quantitative. That is, what is the intangible emotion you might produce from a new idea, and at what point do you monetize and quantify the change?
  1. What do you anticipate as the core emotional response from your prospects and customers from a disruptive technology or marketing?
  1. Go on offense. How can an emerging, disruptive technology help you leapfrog your competitors before they get wind of it, or have committed to testing it?

If you’re serious about getting in front of disruptive technology and marketing, start now before you find yourself losing market share and sales. Find a meeting moderator who can challenge your entrenched thinking and bring out the best and brightest ideas from your staff or consultants. And don’t stop there: customers are often your best resource for ideas of how you can serve them better.

My new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code” is available at the DirectMarketingIQ bookstore. Or download my free seven-step guide to help you align your messaging with how the primitive mind thinks. It’s titled “When You Need More Customers, This Is What You Do.”