As my book Brand Relevance asserts—the only way to grow is to create a “must have.” It must define a new subcategory and then manage that subcategory by becoming its exemplar through ongoing innovation that creates a moving target.
No brand has done that better than Gillette.
Instead of being killed off by the introduction of the electric razor in the 1930s, it used innovation and self-expressive benefits to lead the subcategory (and thus Gillette) into profitability and dominance for the better part of a century throughout the developed world.
Gillette has been most impressive in India. In 2008, Gillette’s premium shaving subcategory needed to fight the low end, double-edged razors that had 80 percent of the market, as well as a growing subcategory represented by men modeling the stubble look of some movie stars who shaved only once a week. The breakthrough was a Gillette-stimulated program called W.A.L.S. (Women Against Lazy Stubble), designed to change perceptions and behavior toward the subcategory (as opposed to the Gillette brand).
It was based in part on a 2008 Nielsen survey that revealed 77 percent of women in India preferred clean-shaven men. The effort involved the campaign, “India votes, to shave or not,” the endorsement of two glamorous Bollywood actresses, a record setting event in which 2,000 males shaved simultaneously, and more.
The momentum of W.A.L.S. helped, but more was needed to counter the low-end market. Into that context, Gillette made its signature Mach3 razor much less costly (to only three times that of the double-edged razors where it had been fifty times). Perhaps more important, a new razor was developed, the Gillette Guard, which was equal in cost to that of the double edged razors. In addition, Gillette crated a distribution strategy that accessed the rural retailers that reached the mass of users outside urban areas.
By 2013, two out of every three razors sold in India was a Gillette Guard and the Mach3 enjoyed an increase in sales of some 500 percent.
Then the home-run program was imported into the United States market. In 2013 Gillette launched the Kiss & Tell campaign to document the fact that women in the United States did not like stubble. In fact, in a survey of 1,000 women, one-third said that they have avoided kissing a guy because he had facial hard and more than one-half of the respondents said that they an experienced facial scraping or irritation from facial hair. The campaign included a YouTube documentary (with a variety of experts relevant to kissing) a microsite (couples can provide kissing feedback at kissandtellus.com), and live events (the largest shaving lesson and the most kisses in one minute).
The take-away is that there is a huge pay-off in focusing on building and managing a subcategory rather than being preoccupied with “my brand is better than your brand” marketing. Winning can be based on making competitors irrelevant, instead of just “not preferred.”
With few exceptions, creating, protecting and building subcategories is the only way to grow.