Innovative Company: Birchbox

I think one trait of successful marketing pro’s is they are alway’s on the lookout for innovative ideas, inside or outside of their industry.  When I worked in retail, I would shop a different competitor’s store each week.  My theory is simple – you don’t know what you don’t know.  I think good ideas can be generated from any industry, and it is important to look outside of our current ones at times to generate the best ideas.

So let’s take a look at Birchbox.  Birchbox is a startup launched in 2010 by two business women who went to Harvard.  The premise of Birchbox is to send members a box of the latest samples of beauty items like perfume, nail polish, makeup, and other items for a fee of $10 per month.  Subscribers get to try the latest in beauty products, to see what they like, without having to commit to a large size, and something they may not like.  In 2012, the last time Birchbox released sales numbers, they had over 100,000 subscribers.  That number alone would generate about 12 Million in annual revenue.  So successful, that they recently launched a mens line up.  Although, because they have a very engaged audience, those companies that are placing samples in the boxes are probably paying to get their samples to their audiences as well.  Overall, it’s a really cool concept, and I actually joined the waiting list for a Christmas gift for my wife.  What makes Birchbox a success, and worth looking at for inspiration?

Loyalty: Their subscribers are extremely loyal, and in turn use word of mouth marketing to get their friends and family to sign up for the service.  And these woman talk about it – a lot.   Getting their Birchbox is like an event each month, and Birchbox is armed with thousands of fans who use social media to talk about what is in their Birchbox.

They sell surprises: Imagine an ordinary business telling you you would get a box of something, for $10 a month.  They would not tell you want you get – you just pay – and you get something each month.  That’s basically what Birchbox does – they handpick samples, and part of the excitement for women is getting that brown box each month, and discovering what is inside.  It is a business model that would most likely fail in most industries, but Birchbox has figured out a way to sell surprises – with customers really having no idea of what is in it for them.  I have talked to friends, and they say the excitement they feel when they see a Birchbox in their work mailbox is almost like euphoria, with a few describing it as a special treat they earn each month.

They are grounded in social media: Birchbox is highly engaged in social media, from Facebook (180K fans) to Twitter (50K follows), and engages on Pinterest and YouTube as well.  As a company helping women discover fashion and beauty trends, they are highly engaged and enthused with their following, engaging in conversations and providing tips and not just sales pitches.  It is refreshing, and a reason the company has done so well.  Sometimes being on social media is not just about getting the most fans, but building an army of advocates that sell your brand for you.

It’s customized: Subscribers fill out a questionnaire when they sign up, detailing out preferences and skin type.  So each subscriber gets a unique package that feels like it is just for them.  It seems like part of the excitement – knowing you are getting something that was created just for you.

e-commerce is built in from the ground up: The samples link to a full e-commerce site, where subscribers can buy full size versions of the products they like most.  It is a great way for the companies that give samples to reach a highly engaged audience, with easy access to their products.  And they can be sure there will be satisfaction as they have already tried it.

More background on Birchbox below.

So – tell me – have you tried Birchbox?  What do you love about it?


2 thoughts on “Innovative Company: Birchbox”

  1. For me, the initial appeal of Birchbox was definitely its strong presence on social media and no, I’m not talking to the company itself, but as you mention in your piece every month I witnessed countless discussions about people getting their Birchboxes and I started feeling left out. Oddly enough, the first day I received my box everybody on my TL was complaining that they were done with Birchbox and canceling their subscriptions. I always get into stuff after it’s done being cool! But, I’ve kept my subscription because I generally don’t pay any attention to beauty products or cosmetics and it’s been fun and useful to discover new products without having to actively look for or research them.

    1. Thanks Laurie. I find the concept interesting because, as you say, it was built on social media advocates instead of traditional marketing. I could see a variety of brands using this concept to create buzz and demand.

      Ex. Your favorite grocery store could send top customers new product samples before they are available for feedback and to create buzz. It could be customized, say, gluten free or contain children’s items if you have kids. Or a sporting good store could send samples to runners, to create the same buzz. Its all about targeting and customization, very interesting to watch.

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