Harry’s Marketing Revealed: What We Learned from Reverse Engineering a $400 Million Startup (Case Study)

By | June 22, 2018

Ever heard of Harry’s? Since founding the business in 2013, co-founders Jeff Raider and Andy Katz-Mayfield have turned their shaving subscription service into an international online powerhouse.

And the numbers don’t lie:

$200 million in revenue in 2017 alone (Adweek)
3 million monthly recurring clients and counting (LinkedIn)

But what’s most interesting, and what I want to focus your attention on, is their marketing strategy. Not because it’s anything new. But rather, because it’s applicable to any e-commerce shop, regardless of size.

I recently spent a month reverse-engineering Harry’s marketing strategy and today, I want to show you five battle-tested strategies you can use to get more engagement and higher conversions.

The best part? They work even if you don’t have venture capital or a multi-million dollar advertising budget.

Sound good?

Let’s begin. http://www.socialleadfreak.com/storeless-review/

Free Downloadable Bonus

This article took 20 hours to write. Twenty. Obviously, there was a LOT I couldn’t include in the post. To make life simpler, I’ve compiled a swipe file of Harry’s advertising materials. Plus, a couple of added goodies (*cough* a bonus strategy that is too good to ignore).

Get access to Harry’s Marketing toolkit and get more traffic and greater engagement today (includes bonus content not contained in the article, email examples, Facebook ads, and more).
Get Access to Harry’s Marketing Toolkit Today →
Harry’s Marketing: 5 Must-Know Strategies You Will Need to Steal

I recommend reading this article from beginning to end (preferably with a nice warm cup of coffee).

But if you are pressed for time, and keen to dive in, click on a link below to jump to a strategy of curiosity (Strategy #5, especially Email #3, is genius):

Strategy #2: Win New Business with This Replicable Word-of-Mouth Referral Engine
Strategy #3: Construct White Hot, White Hat Backlinks with These Three E-Commerce Link Building Tactics
Strategy #4: Merge On-The-Fence Buyers with These 3 Proven Ad Angles
Strategy #5: Engage Subscribers and Increase Average Order Value (AOV) with “The CPS Method”
Strategy #1: Create Brand Advocates with two Emotionally-Driven Story Archetypes

Harry’s leverages two classic storytelling archetypes in their advertising:

The welcomed prophet
The scrappy underdog

Beginning with their about page (appropriately named”Our Story”), Harry’s place themselves as a remedy to a problem that has plagued men for decades: overly-expensive razor blades.

Further, they define what they do, who they do it for, and further down, why they do what they do. Your Why, the reason you do what you do, is vital. As Simon Sinek says,”People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

Without their Why, Harry’s are another”me-too” online retailer looking to making a quick buck from a lucrative industry. But with it, they’re a voice to the everyman, a cause worth getting behind (more on that in a moment).

What is interesting is, if you look hard enough, you realize Harry’s brand themselves , what copywriter Dan Kennedy calls,”a welcomed prophet.”

Put it this way: people know razor blades are costly. Yet few companies rose to the occasion and explicitly referenced it in their advertising.

Harry’s know decent marketing is due to stating things to buyers that reinforce and affirm what they already believe.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a archetype that resonates with their audience on an emotional level. So much so, that Harry’s have managed to get 324 backlinks to their about page alone:

Action Item. Ask yourself,”What do people believe–specifically–that I can appear and agree with, so that you can sell them?” Then, put your answer in your marketing.

For example, if you sell women’s clothing, you can tackle the overwhelm and hassle that comes from clothes shopping (TrunkClub do a superb job of this on their about page).

When Harry’s launched in 2013, they entered a heavily-dominated business with Gillette owning 66.3% of the market share:

Initially, Harry’s were up against what many considered an insurmountable challenge. But Harry’s accepted and assumed the role of David to Gillette’s Goliath–and they ran with it.

You can see it in their”infomercial” below, referencing Gillette as”Big Razor Business”:

Harry’s role as”the scrappy underdog” isn’t anything new; firms have played that role for so long as the archetype has had a name. However, what’s interesting about Harry’s strategy is threefold.

First, it’s consistent throughout their advertising. You see this from their advertisements to their alternate pages:

Second, it’s reaffirmed by fans in YouTube or Facebook comments:

Third, it is reinforced elsewhere when they are covered by media outlets such as Forbes and Marketing Week (after all, it’s a great angle for a story):

We love stories of heroism. But we especially love rooting for the underdog. They are an ordinary person–just like you–and they are worth investing in.

Inviting clients to invest in you mentally, when appropriate, gives you an advantage of your competitors. If, say, your”Big Razor Company” tries to undercut you on price (such as Gillette tried recently with their”cheaper” blades), your customers will stay with you. Why? Because if they are a part of something larger than themselves, they’re invested in you ahead of the brand.

Like many products, razor blades are a commodity which you can purchase at a cheap price. But, once a client has invested in your brand, they stay faithful (providing you continue nurturing that relationship) and are willing to pay premium price.

Action Item: Brand advocates are crucial in today’s market, so give clients a reason to invest in you emotionally using narrative archetypes. You don’t have to use the ones listed above; there are countless narrative archetypes to choose from.

But what’s most important is to get your story consistent throughout your marketing. You want to remind people why you are worth investing in and being a part of.

Strategy #2: Win New Business with This Replicable Word-of-Mouth Referral Engine

If you are like most business owners, you understand the importance of referral marketing. But few construct a predictable and repeatable referral system into their marketing.

And the numbers couldn’t be more revealing.

According to ReferralCandy, 83 percent of satisfied clients are willing to refer services and products. Thus far, so good. However, only 29% actually do.

Harry’s understand this better than anybody. From day one, they built a fully-automated word-of-mouth referral engine–before they even had one customer.

1 week before their e-commerce site went live, Harry’s obtained 100,000 emails addresses via a week-long pre-launch campaign.

“The idea for our campaign was built around our view that the most powerful and efficient way to be introduced to our new company was via a credible referral,” writes Co-Founder and CEO Jeff Raider. “Thus, we focused on building a campaign that helped people to spread the word to their friends.”

Below is how their effort works. Model it. You may not get 100,000 email addresses, but you’ll skyrocket your list building efforts.

Harry’s had only 12 employees at first. Twelve. Now imagine going from 12 email addresses to 100,000 in 1 week. Impressive, isn’t it?

Each employee wrote a private email to everyone in their network notifying them of the launching and inviting them to opt in on a landing page (more on that below).

On the homepage, Harry’s invited users to leave their email address to get notified of the site’s launch:

(Harry’s cryptic headline urged users to opt in to find out more.)

A clear design with a curiosity-driven headline. But here is where it gets interesting…

Step 3: Invite Users to Share on Social (with a Twist)

After opting in, Harry’s invited users to refer other people on societal in exchange for freebies:

And that’s not all…

The more friends user referred, the greater the prizes they won. As an example, if they signed up five friends, they won a free shave lotion. Not bad for a couple minutes of work. But if they referred 50 friends, they won the grand prize: a year of free shaving.

“We wanted the entire experience to feel like a fun game.” writes Raider. “We heard from some friends that they took the referral campaign like a personal challenge.”

And that they did:

A whopping 77% of the emails came from referrals, meaning around 20,000 individuals referred around 65,000 friends.

We only want to refer others to offers that are interesting and make us look good. Therefore, while it is unlikely all 65,000 subscribers were relevant, it’s safe to assume a reasonable percentage were, giving Harry’s a highly-targeted list of prospects before even opening for business.

Step 4: Use Software to Safeguard Yourself Against Fraud

Not everybody, of course, is honest. Few will take advantage given the opportunity. Using SendGrid, Harry’s sent an email to every email address entered. If this email bounced, SendGrid interpreted the email address as illegitimate and removed it from the competition.

Four years after Harry’s launching, referrals are still a big part of the visitors share, with 220,000 sessions in the past three months alone (as of writing):

Action Item: It is tempting to believe a massive audience necessitates virality. But, as we have seen, even a few referrals can compound exponentially.

If you’re starting a new product/service, or trying to reach new audiences, use software like KickOffLabs to create a viral campaign. Offer freebies in exchange for referrals and most importantly, make it super simple for users to share.

Strategy #3: Build White Hot, White Hat Backlinks with These 3 E-Commerce Link Building Tactics

Before moving forward with this section, we need to deal with the elephant in the room.

Harry’s have acquired a TON of backlinks from the press. Their meteoric rise has featured in countless high-authority websites such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Forbes:

Composing you can achieve similar results would insult your intelligence. I am NOT going to do that. But what I will do is show you three untapped link-building strategies Harry’s used you can, too.

These include:

The Poster Boy Formula
The Marketer Magnet

Let us discuss each, step-by-step.

A frequent search query for clients at the consideration stage of the buyer’s journey is”best [blank] for [blank].” Harry’s is a subscription box support mainly for guys. Here Is What I found when I searched for”best subscription box services for men”:

Google delivered 6,560 search results for that exact phrase. Impressive.

PureWow is one example of a site that featured Harry’s in a best-of article called”The 50 Best Subscription Boxes”:

This 1 article earned them a Great link from a site with a domain rating score of 77:

Whether Harry’s marketing department achieved for this connection is irrelevant: You do not need to wait for websites to link to you; you need to reach out and ask.

Here is how to do that.

First, run a search for “best [blank] for [blank].” For example, if you sell women’s yoga pants, you may search for”best yoga pants for girls” (I recommend adding”+ [current year]” for up-to-date material ):

If you want to go 1 step further, you can add + [competitor] to the search operator:

You can go to’Tools > Past Week” to get recent results (this makes link building easier):

Check each website’s DR and add any sites with precisely the same DR to your website (or higher) to a spreadsheet. Then, reach out to them asking them if they would consider adding your website to their list. Yes, it is time-consuming. But it works.

Link Building Strategy #2: The “Posterboy Formula”

Coined by Bryan Harris, the”Posterboy Formula” involves writing a client testimonial in exchange for a link to your website.

Here’s how it works:

Choose a Business with an audience such as yours
Buy one of their products
Inform the company specifying the outcomes you attained
Offer to write a case study

Nobody is exempt from using the”Posterboy Formula”. Actually, Harry’s got a juicy 92DR connection from ZenDesk after writing a case study on how they deliver effortless customer support:

Regardless of what industry you’re in, marketing blogs always need unique marketing illustrations for their content.

Take our post on abandonment cart emails, for instance.

We wanted to go above and beyond with that post, so we left dozens of checkouts to get great email examples.

When we included a site’s email in our post, we linked to them. But we also got links to our content from other blogs because our examples weren’t available elsewhere.

Here’s a link we got from Neil Patel’s blog:

Win. Win.

Harry’s understand this better than anyone. They have innumerable examples of good marketing to link to and feature. (I would not be writing this article otherwise, right?) .

From their about page to their Facebook advertisements to their email marketing, Harry’s give marketing blogs never-ending fodder for their content.

Here’s an example of Kissmetrics praising Harry’s customer support portal:

Action Item. To make content that’s a marketer magnet, go above and beyond in your marketing. Ask yourself,”What can I do differently that will give advertising blogs a motive to feature me in their articles?”

Like most link-building strategies, The Marketer Magnet is HARD. You will have to do a whole lot of email outreach and you won’t get many answers. However, it does work and it’s worth the organic traffic that comes from the effort.

Strategy #4: Merge On-The-Fence Buyers with These 3 Proven Ad Angles

Facebook Advertising is a double-edged sword for many marketers.

On the one hand, done right, it is a predictable and repeatable acquisition station. Profit comes out. By contrast, it’s a constant source of frustration for even seasoned professionals.

Objection handling
Damage mitigation


As mentioned before, Harry’s place themselves as”the company that is fixing shaving”

One thing to note about Harry’s advertising is their storytelling runs throughout their advertising. From their about page to their Facebook Ads and everywhere in-between, Harry’s fortify their purchaser individual’s pain (expensive razor blade) and place themselves as the alternative (custom-made razor blade at very affordable prices).

In one advertisement, they pose the problem:

When users click through, they are directed to a landing page where they’re offered an immediate answer:

From there, Harry’s offer users a chance to begin a free trial. If they don’t convert, there is an chance to retarget them with the below ad…

Ad #2. Objection Handling

This advertisement works well with a cart retrieval email (see: Strategy #5).

Here is how it works:

A user visits Harry’s website either via search or clicking an ad like the one above. They reach a product page or even checkout page, but they leave their website before completing their order. They showed interest, but something prevented them from moving ahead.

A retargeting ad like the above works nicely for three key reasons:

It’s personalized. It addresses the fact that reader is already considering buying. The user visited the website before, but something prevented them from moving forward.
Harry’s customer-centric copy concentrates on what the reader stands to profit from taking action.
It gives an ironclad guarantee. Nobody wants to commit to something they might not want later. So they provide a guarantee customers love (and competitors hate).

Beyond Facebook, this advertisement was consistent as a display ad as well, showing up on many websites users browsed later:

Damage Mitigation

In 2017, Gillette, Harry’s biggest competitor, ran an ad that falsely proclaimed”Most men leave Harry’s after attempting it.”

Have a look at the below ad they started to address the elephant in the room:

When taking action, Harry’s direct users to an alternative page. On it, they tackle Gillette’s false advertising:

Then, they compare their razor’s to Gillette’s:

Finally, they provide users a clear call-to-action:

During a similar effort, they utilize customer testimonials to distinguish themselves from their other competitor (Dollar Shave Club):

You won’t convert all users. That is a given. But approaching them from different angles is an efficient way to ensure you’re covering all your bases.

Action Items: Ask yourself,”What is important to my customers?” Then, ask why again and again till you uncover what they really care about and what they’re really struggling with.

Finally, write ads that address the above, focusing on how your product is the vehicle that will move them from where they are to where they would like to go.

Harry’s is based on a small number of emails that are proven to fuel their sales engine. I identified three recurring kinds of email, each having a particular aim. I predict Harry’s approach to email marketing”The CPS Method”:

The three types of email focus on:

Cart recovery (with a twist)
Item praise
Stealth promotion

Email #1: Cart Recovery (With a Twist)

Like many e-commerce businesses, Harry’s understand the value of sending retrieval emails to near abandoning shoppers.

In actuality, while researching for this article, I went through their checkout only to depart before purchasing (found out why from the bonus strategy).

A few days after, I received an abandoned cart email as anticipated:

That’s until I scrolled down…

Harry’s provide a downsell to on-the-fence buyers. Why? Because they know they intrigued the user (after all, they got as far checking out). But they also know something prevented them from going forward.

Maybe it was the pricing. Or maybe, most likely, it was an objection to having to commit up-front. The downsell increases –and overcomes–their top objection and assures users there are no up-front commitments.

But there’s something else going on here…

The Trumen Set is a $15 downsell. However, when you go to checkout, there’s an opportunity for Harry’s to upsell you to a higher price point:

Expanding on this, let us look at some rough numbers:

A Shaving Strategy subscription is $3 on the front end with the choice to upsell to $15 or $21 during checking. This gives Harry’s a total of $18 or $24 per customer after 30 days. (This is an oversimplification since there are lots of factors affecting customer lifetime value like delivery frequency, upgrading, and downgrading, etc..)
A Trumen Set is a one-off payment of $15 on the front end with the option to pay for $5 or $15 during checking. This gives Harry’s a total of $20 or $30 per customer (with the capacity to convert that customers into a monthly subscription client down the line).

Offering a downsell does not only give Harry’s extra cash flow to offset against ad spends and customer acquisition costs (CAC). Additionally, it allows them to find a foot-in-the-door with potential subscription customers. Not everyone is prepared to become a subscription client, which, as you’ll see with Email #3, isn’t always the goal.

Action Item: Use abandoned cart mails to recover revenue, of course, but go one step further. Offer a downsell to anyone who may need further coaxing to buy from you. A good downsell acts as more than a tripwire; it is also a hidden opportunity to upsell on the front or backend.

Harry’s rarely sell their merchandise in their emails. Instead, they have their customers sell for them.

Check out this recent email promoting their Face Wash:

Notice the wording here. This is not a generic testimonial (“I love Harry’s Face Wash”); it is a humorous confession of an advocate’s undying devotion to their preferred brand.

Building on the above, Harry’s then uses compelling copy to create a”mental movie” for what it’s like using their product:

Using sensory adjectives and future-pacing, Harry’s walk the reader through the experience of using their product, from beginning to end, before following up with a clear call-to-action to buy.

If that isn’t good advertising, I do not know what is.

Action Item: Using compelling copy to get people to buy is good. But using customer testimonials that sell your services and products for you is much better.

ProTip. Use humor if possible. The funnier and more memorable the client’s quote, the more likely it is to”stick” in the reader’s mind–and convince them to buy from you.

Like many e-commerce shops, Harry’s frequently taken advantage of various holiday periods to engage readers–and drive more sales.

Have a Look at the following email boosting around Father’s Day:

On the surface, it looks like a normal content marketing email, right? That is until I clicked-through into the content and began scrolling through their content…

Halfway down the page, Harry’s encouraged me to purchase a box set, not for myself–for my dad.