3 Challenger Brands Driving Sales By Thinking INSIDE The Box

August 22, 2014 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

Hands down, the most clichéd request in marketing is for “out of the box” thinking. But what we often forget is that sometimes, the magic and the big ideas can come from thinking “inside the box.”

One of the great tenets of challenger branding is that when other brands zig, challengers zag. And while much of the world is consumed with getting bigger by adding brick and mortar locations and franchising by the hundreds, there’s a whole segment of mail-order marketing companies growing their brands by thinker smaller and staying “inside the box.”

Admittedly, ordering stuff through the mail is nothing new. Fifty years ago, we were sending in box tops and a dime to get X-ray glasses and waiting three months for the privilege. Today, Amazon can send you pretty much everything, except plutonium, the next day. What does seem to have changed is our excitement and willingness to pay a subscription fee to have something wonderful shipped to us on a regular basis. Like a kid at camp waiting for the proverbial care package, now every month, millions of people eagerly wait to see what goodies will show up in their mailbox. And for companies like DollarShaveClub.com, Birchbox, Graze, and others, subscription commerce has turned into big business.

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If you’re on Facebook or pay any attention to viral videos, you’ve probably seen DollarShaveClub.com. Odds are, you may already be a customer. What started in March 2012 with a YouTube video that went viral and crashed the company’s server in the first hour, has turned Dollar Shave Club into THE story in the shaving segment.


Within 48 hours of launching their video, DollarShaveClub.com had 12,000 orders—all hand-packed by five friends of the founder. Today, the company has more than 800,000 customers who buy more than 30 million razors a year, along with other products like shaving butter, post-shave moisturizer and flushable wipes for men—a product they leveraged to help raise money and awareness for colon cancer. Just a concept two years ago, DollarShaveClub.com now represents a 7.5 percent market share for men’s razors. I received my first box last week, and I have to say, the shave is every bit as good as the Gillete Sensor I’ve been using for years at a fraction of the cost for blades. I’m converted.


According to their website, Birchbox is the leading discovery commerce platform.  With more than 800,000 customers, they make a good case. Started in 2010, Birchbox offers their consumers a unique and personalized way to discover, learn about, and shop the best beauty, grooming, and lifestyle products on the market. In 2012, they extended into men’s products with Birchbox Man, and today, they have business units in France, the UK and Spain; operate a robust website and magazine; and just opened their first retail location this summer in the heart of SoHo in New York City. According to a recent article in Fortune, in their last round of funding, the company was valued at $485 million.


Like many of the “goodie box” retailers, Birchbox sends a new collection of hip, cool products to subscribers every month mixing the fun of surprise with the satisfaction of quality products the receiver may never have heard of. It gives the companies behind all the products an outstanding channel for distribution and gives Birchbox expert, in-the-know status.

I ordered a six-month subscription to Birchbox for my wife for Christmas last year, and while she liked getting the boxes, what intrigued me was that my 13-year-old daughter LOVED them. That fascination from an age group newly adopting makeup, fashion and style may just be the thing that gives Birchbox the lasting presence it and every other fashion brand, so desperately wants.


Would you have a custom box of healthy snacks delivered to your door every month for the price of a jar of macadamia nuts? Customized snack box company Graze is betting the farm and more than $75 million that you will. With more than 250 ingredients going into 90 plus products that are individually sorted and packed for each customer, Graze fashions themselves the perfect combination of food and technology. Their internationally sourced food, robotic infrastructure and proprietary taste algorithm DARWIN (Decision Algorithm Rating What Ingredient’s Next) suggest they just might be.

GrazeSpend a few minutes on the Graze website and you’ll see they’re dedicated to helping snackers find better alternatives to their normal sweet and salty indulgences. Their “ingredient hunters” scour the world for delicious and interesting ingredients, and then their in-house nutritionist makes sure every snack is somewhat healthy. No genetically engineered ingredients. No artificial flavors or colors. No high fructose corn syrup. Zero grams of trans fat per serving.

Graze was started in the UK in 2008 by seven founders. Five years later, Graze had 350 employees and was number 11 on the London Sunday Times Fast Track 100 list, which ranks Britain’s fastest-growing private companies. With fresh, craveable products, 54 different quality checks, and more than 15,000 product ratings per hour, similar US success can’t be too far behind.

Michael Tuggle is Chief Imagination Officer at The Loomis Agency, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency.

challenger brand

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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