Harry’s shows it’s not the biggest marketing budgets that win

Harry’s is world-famous for selling quality razors on subscription. We chatted with Brand Marketing and Communications Director, Jenni Lee to find out how Harry’s disrupted the men’s grooming industry, stole market share and created a whole new model for men’s grooming.

In a market heavily dominated by incumbents like Gillette, Harry’s very quickly went from an unknown newcomer to what is now a major brand and household name. This was partly driven by their memorable launch competition that helped them disrupt from the start.

Since then, the focus at Harry’s has been much more on sustainable growth and developing from a scrappy startup into a much larger enterprise. More than the number of razors or other grooming products it can sell, Harry’s most valuable asset is its brand, which is managed by their branding and marketing team.

Harry’s social media followings, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, gives you some insight into how popular they are. Yet their brand is extraordinarily well-defined, and their Instagram feed instantly arouses a feeling of life-envy for the bathrooms of other people.

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How Harry’s marketing department operates

A successful marketing team has clearly defined operational areas that work in symphony with each other to the tune of the audience. Harry’s has a laser-focus on the needs of the customers, viewed from every angle.

“Our marketing team has four main areas: Strategy and innovation (new products we’re creating), Brand marketing team (getting in front of new consumers and our existing consumers, analyzing the ways we’re talking to them and the channels we’re using, making sure we connect with them), Acquisition marketing (thinking about advertising driving direct sales to our website), Creative (large in-house creative team that we work closely with).”

Resonant, unique marketing is one of the ways that Harry’s has taken possession of some of the market share of major players like Gillette. A multi-pronged approach has ensured that Harry’s is always ahead of the curve, helping to continue their explosive growth.

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Their strong visual identity coherently ties everything together, to the point where even just their carefully-chosen font successfully invokes the Harry’s brand.

Creating an effective marketing strategy

In a virtuous circle, Harry’s marketing strategy is defined by its own customers, who are both the consumers and producers of their content. It may sound radical, but every team at Harry’s is directly involved in speaking to their customers, and finding out what makes them tick.

“Our consumers are our biggest influence. We’re constantly speaking to them to find out what they want, if they have a problem to be solved or how they want to be communicated with. We balance this with our organizational objectives. We view working with our creative team as an in-house agency model, like how another company might work with an external creative agency.”

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None of Harry’s marketing and branding materials is casually selected. Each one has been painstakingly curated to communicate the Harry’s brand as the go-to destination for the modern, image-conscious man.

We have a business goal and a consumer insight, both feed into our creative development process. We never want to claim we know exactly what our customers want at any given time, but we check in with our customers on a quarterly basis using a standard questionnaire, and we have regular focus groups or one-on-one conversations with our customers.

“Our customers are very open to communicating with us, even in phone interviews. All of the teams speak to our customers, including the R&D team, to our web product team. We are very concerned with how customers interact with us.”

It’s never a good idea to become too complacent about your target market, even if you have already experienced success. A constant feedback loop is key to creating an effective marketing strategy. Each interaction with your company is an opportunity to communicate your brand to your customers, no matter how banal.

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The sheer amount of thought that goes into every post is palpable, and ensures that Harry’s never falls prey to any gimmicky marketing tactics.

Value all of your marketing channels

In an age where digital marketing has disrupted the traditional foundations of marketing, don’t underestimate the importance of offline marketing. Harry’s is notable for their presence in the store Target, where they make use of eye-catching displays to attract customers.

“All of them are very important, but each with a different purpose. At the top of the funnel we do a lot of real-world advertising and we’re conscious of the context through which people are engaging with Harry’s, whether that’s through a podcast advert or a TV advert, or even in-store marketing.

“We’re available in Target stores nationwide and we think about when someone’s in the aisle, what their first impression of Harry’s is going to be.”

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“We view email as an ongoing communication channel and it should not feel transactional. It’s a way to have a direct relationship with our customers, and we think about when the best time to communicate with our customers is and what content to send them. We put a lot of thought and creativity into every point in our customer’s journey.”

A lot of email marketing ends up in the customer’s trash, partly due to the high level of selling that most companies use it for. Harry’s uses email as an opportunity to tell them engaging stories and making it worthwhile signing up to their mailing list.

As a brand and a marketing team, we understand the importance of storytelling. Modern consumers are smart and they expect brands to consistently engage with them over time. In order to do that, you have to have a content strategy. You have to engage with them in an interesting way.

Engaging with customers in an interesting way means not sending them emails containing ‘unmissable sales’, or adverts with lots of loud, flashy copy.

“We’re good at challenging ourselves and thinking of new ways to solve what one might view as an average marketing problem or an average business goal. We like to think outside the box. If we’re sending an email to sell a product, we try to think of a way that we can invite our audience to emotionally connect, and actually make them more likely to want to explore that product.”

Use customer data to your advantage

Harry’s has always known how important collecting and maintaining customer data is for long-term success.

“Our database was custom built from the beginning so we have a ton of robust data about our customers. From a social perspective, we work with Sprinklr to monitor conversations happening around our brand or competitors.”

Sprinklr is an enterprise tool that enable large teams to communicate with customers over social media using one unified platform.

“We strive to answer any burning questions that come through social chatter, which is also handled by our dedicated customer experience team who monitor social, email and calls. For example Facebook or Instagram comments, again using Sprinklr, where we also schedule our posts.”

Finding the untapped opportunity

Harry’s memorable launch competition, which gained them 100,000 email addresses in a single week, has already been notably covered by well-known entrepreneur and lifestyle guru Tim Ferris.

“One of our largest challenges has been competing against the sheer size and budget of our corporate competitors.

“Luckily, we found an opportunity that this specific category that hadn’t been seized, that was beyond product innovations like making the razor sharper. We found that the human aspect hadn’t been explored, and nor had engaging with customers as the brand as a whole.”

Harry’s made its name as a direct-to-consumer men’s grooming company. Their unique selling point was sell a superior razor at an even better price, on subscription.

Since then, they’ve evolved into a much larger company, with products in stores, a physical barber shop in New York City, owning the german factory that produces their razors, and much more.

“Our challenge is still how do we make a bigger impact with less money, and that goes back to why it’s so important we understand what consumers are thinking and feeling. We use the advantage of having the direct relationship with our customers to come up with smarter marketing activations and campaigns.”

“Staying in touch with the human element is challenging for all brands, no matter what size you are. As a marketing organization you need to place importance on it, but other corporations may boil consumers down into numbers and statistics, perhaps forgetting there’s a human element and behavioral insights that you need to understand in order to more effectively speak to those people.

“When we were smaller, there were a million things happening and only 5 or 10 people to handle them. You’re running and sprinting as fast as you can, and once you’re larger it’s a natural growing pain to take on more people and processes. You might become risk averse, but we keep reminding ourselves to maintain that startup mentality even though we’re a larger organization now.”

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Since new startups basically have nothing to lose and everything to gain, it’s imperative to take risks in the early days in order to grow. As Harry’s has scaled, its made a conscious effort to hold onto the mentality that embraces risks, while also needing to conform to the complex processes and increased head count of a larger organization.

We remind ourselves to treat customers like your peers and speak to them like humans. Avoid treating people like a statistic or data point, as people want to be spoken to like another human or friend.

“A lot of great brands out there still find this a surprising concept. It helps them be more open to what your brand has to say and over time you can get feedback on what makes them tick.”

The importance of design and aesthetic

As a brand selling a product as ubiquitous as a razor, Harry’s has embraced being creatively driven. This is expressed through their flawless designs in all their products and marketing, playing a big part in building brand awareness.

When you think of men’s grooming products, bright colors like aqua blue and orange come to mind, signifying ‘manhood’ and ‘masculinity’. Harry’s has shown that men’s grooming products can and should be appealing to the eye, because the modern man has exquisite taste.

“Harry’s had an intense focus on design and aesthetic from our inception. That was a key element of our launch. If you look at an average aisle at a major retailer, the products no longer look like they were made for humans to use. It seemed like the aim was to fit as much copy and loud messaging as you can onto them.

“We place much importance on design and aesthetic, and are lucky that we have such a talented in-house creative team constantly thinking about how we show up in the world, whether it’s through advertising, or the inside of our product packaging or something else.

“Every inch of Harry’s and how Harry’s is communicated is filtered through a creative eye. It’s in our DNA and how we launched our business. Over time, we can be flexible enough to grow, whilst hanging onto our memorable aesthetic.”

Maintaining innovation and risk-taking

With such a spectacular launch and speedy success, there pressure was on for Harry’s to keep standing out. They’re a five-year-old brand, and the landscape has changed since they first began their journey.

“I was lucky enough to be at Harry’s before we launched. Startup years are like dog years, with every year more like 7 years. I feel like I’ve worked at 8 different businesses since we launched, at first we were a disruptive startup in New York City and now we’re this national brand available at mass retail, and have launched in other countries like the UK and Canada.

“Part of standing out from the crowd is being hyper aware and informed on the context in which you’re communicating with people. A lot of things Harry’s did four years ago when we launched were quite innovative, but not so much anymore because so many brands are doing the same type of things now. They’re designing their websites in similar ways, or their logo and brand.

“So understanding that the context has changed and working out how to evolve our brand is key. Part of our success in retail came from going into the aisles and seeing there was a huge opportunity to change, and shake up how things have been done.

“For Harry’s to stand out and be much more memorable in that space, we came up with our beautiful endcaps in Target. Target were a great partner because they were open to our creative vision. We convinced them to do something they’d never done before. They understood that it would catch people’s attention and be more memorable.”

Harry's Razor

“When it comes to our website, we make sure that Harrys.com is always evolving, since we think of it as our flagship store. Traditional retailers are always updating themselves, exploring different ways to merchandise, or innovate their store front. There are millions of beautiful websites out there, and we applied the same concept to the digital world to make our website more memorable.”

Give your customers a reason to keep visiting your website by impressing them every time they stop by. Rather than treating it as a luxury extra, remember that X% of customers will research a brand online before buying. If you’re an ecommerce company, the look and feel of your website is even more important. Image is everything in the online world.

“We’re thoughtful about how and where our brand shows up, and over time we strive to make every experience with Harry’s as special and memorable as when we first launched our website. Not forgetting the care and detail we put into everything.”

This level of care and detail is evident in every customer touchpoint that Harry’s has.

“Harry’s is continually evolving and we’re an almost 5-year-old brand. I think it’ll be interesting to see what comes from Harry’s in 2018 and what’s next for us. We ask that people continue to root us on.”

It’s exciting to think about where Harry’s will go next, and they’ll certainly keep inspiring us.

Catherine is a freelance B2B tech and marketing writer through her business, Away with Words. She writes creatively for humans without the jargon. Learning to code, and advocate for women in tech.