The Value Of Differentiation, From Razors To Sourcers

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Mar 8, 2012
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

If you’ve seen me recently, you may have noticed that I’m not as clean cut as my avatar may suggest. It’s still winter and besides a cup of coffee in the morning, I like some scruff to keep my face warm. Plus, it’s one of the few privileges of living in the great Northwest and working from home truly affords.

The fascinating tale of my personal grooming habits aside, I couldn’t tell you what brand of razor I actually use when I do manage to shave. I just know that when it starts feeling like I’m rubbing sandpaper on my face, it’s probably time to change things up. And when I go to the store, I look at a wall of different razors and never know which one to pick.

That problem changed today with some master-level differentiation from a new upstart. And there’s a lesson for sourcers here, too.

Dollar Shave Club

If you haven’t heard of Dollar Shave Club, it actually was founded back in April of 2011 but was relaunched this week according to Techcrunch. It features a pretty comical commercial too (for those with co-workers or bosses sensitive to censored swearing, you might want to skip the video):

The premise is a simple: they will deliver new razors to your doorstep for as little as $1 a month. Anybody who has had to shave with a dull razor knows it isn’t fun but the problem is you never remember until it is too late. Now, you can just grab your latest shipment of razors and use a fresh one.

Differentiation and finding your niche

While the commercial is flashy, the concept is more than marketing hype. They combine convenience (both the delivery and the not-thinking-about-it factor) with a low price point. And whether you’re an in-house or independent sourcer, there is a strong takeaway or two.

For one, if Dollar Shave Club had differentiated themselves in only one way, it wouldn’t have worked. Just offering another cheap blade is a margin crushing move and offering an overpriced razor delivered to your door wouldn’t have worked either.

When you’re thinking about what you can bring to the table, be it for an employer or client, it’s not always a question of being the cheapest, fastest, or best. Is there a need for someone with your special combination of skills? How will you continue to differentiate yourself in the future as new tactics become old tactics, pay and budgets change, and workforce needs shift?

Finding those pain points in the recruiting process and being able to solve them is the key. Is there a quality issue? Is there a quantity issue? How about service-level or price guarantees as part of what you can offer?

Looking beyond the obvious

Sometimes those pain points aren’t obvious. Going back to our example, over the last decade, razor sales have been flat if even just a little bit declining. The biggest players had carved up the market into people who would pay various amounts for razors and priced their offerings accordingly. Most people will need a razor at some point so the sales were virtually guaranteed. Nobody knew though how to make it easier for people to make sure they had a fresh razor to make the experience better.

Dollar Shave Club found that pain point and built a unique service and product around it. Even without a budget for a fun commercial, every sourcer out there has the time to think about, define and execute a differentiation strategy. Many of you probably have most of it figured out but taking it to the next level is all about doing these things intentionally.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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