When Birchbox launched in 2010, it set the subscription box retail trend in motion. Now, consumers can find a monthly box service for almost anything -- snacks, shaving needs, dog treats, makeup, meat.
If you can think of it, there’s a box for it.
It’s a rapidly exploding industry, and market intelligence firm Euromonitor International points out that it’s the curation factor that keeps consumers coming back for more, month after month. While the hype around the nearly endless option of offerings has tended to focus on the element of surprise and joy they bring to the consumer, one critical overlooked aspect is the value they bring to brands.
Finding a new way to cut through brand clutter
In today’s world of endless options for everything, brands need to work hard to cut through shelf clutter, be it physical space at a Whole Foods or Sephora or click-and-mortar outlets like Amazon where a search for “nail polish” returns a staggering 48,000 results.
Consumers are dollar-conscious, and they want to know they'll like something before committing to a purchase. While the idea of sampling is hardly new, the concept of placing your brand in a subscription box is. This business requires a two-pronged approach by brands: providing customers with products they'll enjoy while using a fresh, direct-to-consumer platform to market products nationally without ever having to leave your corporate headquarters.
Are in-store sampling demos dead?
As a brand, perhaps one of the biggest pain points is how to get your product in the hands of new customers.
That applies if you're a start-up or a multinational corporation. It used to be the only way to do this effectively was through costly in-store sampling demos, but now there's a new, just as effective -- if not more so, in some ways -- strategy that brands can leverage to get their products in the hands of consumers on a national level while saving approximately 80 percent off the cost of in-store demos.
Imagine eliminating travel, store set-up and staffing fees all in one fell swoop without sacrificing exposure.
Gold mining: gathering consumer feedback
Another major pain point for brands, large and small, is collecting and implementing customer feedback.
Focus groups are effective but costly. Social media offers a way to monitor what consumers are saying about your brand, but it could easily be a full-time job just to monitor those conversations, and the feedback isn’t always helpful. When done right, the subscription box model offers brands a customized market research platform providing feedback on both the product and the packaging.
This is something I initially underestimated, but I’ve seen firsthand how this kind of consumer feedback has been so valuable to some brands that they make changes to their products and presentation right away. This applies both directly to the subscription box feedback platform as well as the broad world of social media.
Box subscriber bonus: word-of-mouth
It’s fair to say that all brands understand the power of social media, but many are still learning how to navigate its rapid pace and uncontrollable content. In general, subscription box receivers are a group highly active on social media that often takes to blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other large platforms to share their experiences -- increasing a brand's exposure exponentially. Brands not only have the chance to establish one-to-one exposure with a consumer interested in a particular vein of products, but they also benefit from the halo effect in the social realm.
This kind of social conversation and feedback is an informal type of focus group as all brands have to do is look to the Internet to hear what consumers think of both the product and the packaging. By partnering with a subscription box that also has a large social reach on its own, brands can achieve millions of impressions in just one month without any additional cost.
Imagine the dollar investment you'd need to make to buy that as part of a different campaign.
The power of partnership
A strong partnership between the brand and box provider is what really solidifies value, whether it’s a small artisanal product or a well-known brand.
One unique partnership opportunity that many subscription boxes don’t offer is the idea of an online marketplace where users can go to purchase full-size versions of the products they loved best. It’s essentially opening an e-commerce door giving consumers an easy way to find and purchase products while also providing insight into the traction a brand and product gained by being included in the box.
Subscription services are seemingly here to stay as a way to delight consumers with a regular dose of monthly surprises, but their biggest boon is really to brands as a new-age marketing platform to reach a national audience, increase social traffic and convert to full-size sales all from the comfort of their headquarters.