The answer: there is no such thing as creating a men’s brand anymore. Centering a brand around a men’s-only product is beyond obsolete; that ship has sailed. Let’s get something clear, this has nothing to do with Jaden Smith wearing a skirt—that was just a fashion statement, and he did it for a reason.
The resurgence of the classic barbershop has eliminated the grooming taboo, and men in North America are finally taking care of themselves. Men are procuring better grooming products and services as the standards associated with what was once a niche market, have finally ascended. Times are different, options are vast, and any advice required is just a Google away, which begs to differ the fact that building a men’s-only brand is an outdated theory.
I am here to tell you as a heterosexual male, a pioneer in the space of men’s grooming and as someone who has produced over a thousand pieces of educational content developed to teach men how to take care of themselves, that men are not in style anymore—there is no use for our gender.
An antiperspirant that is strong enough for a man, yet PH balanced for a woman is a bunch of malarkey. After years of building brands, developing and formulating countless products, I can confidently say it’s all the same physical condition, only brands are charging women double.
As someone who has been cutting hair since the age of thirteen, let me share the common assessment that cutting men’s hair properly (I am not talking about a quick buzz cut at the local barbershop) takes just as long if not longer than giving a woman a haircut and a blow dry. Yet women usually pay three times more than their male counterparts. The reality is that this is not fair. The hairdressing community has to raise their standards, and individual stylists should be charging for their time, not base pricing on gender. (More to come on this topic on BeautyMatter very soon.)
The New View on Gender
Pushing, segmenting, and regulating consumers is no longer pragmatic. Unless men become pets or there is a radical change of our roles in society, pets will actually become a growing product market—the men’s category will not. Believing in the super-human male archetypes is 19th-century thinking.
We are now so post-snowflake sensitivity that we don’t even bother asking which gender we are; if anything, there is a notion as to how we are all the same. Every brand has the opportunity and is obliged to exterminate polarization. This will create a neutral platform for brands to stand behind and share their beliefs.
Gender creativity is another vehicle of self-expression—in essence, every counter-culture movement becomes merchandisable. This is how branding works and storytelling is one thing that will never change. We still clamor for stories and myths; the good ones pull us in enhancing our visual and mental senses. One way of looking at creating a positioning is blatantly taking extreme features and embracing the counterculture.
Nike, which in some circles is looked at as an advertising company, is always testing and pushing the envelope. Their latest campaigns are an example of brilliantly engineering a marketing strategy that in many ways has strengthened their reverence. Affiliating with polarizing influencers and athletes like Colin Kaepernick, Tiger Woods, and Serena Williams is a perfect example of reinforcing their mission statement of bringing inspiration and innovation to every athlete around the world. Their value proposition focuses on the fact that images blended with modern times is the driver of business.
Does all this mean that anyone who believes that there should be a product line for men, while presenting the words “For Man,” is a white supremacist or a sexist? This can be taken as a joke or, in this climate of gender equality, it can be conceived of as a question that really makes you think about the imbalance in specific fractions of our society.
Look at the world of sports as it relates to cheerleaders. Many teams, leagues, and organizations are doing away with these squads. As one female executive said recently, “Why don’t you take a man and put him in that outfit and have him jump up and down in a cut-off wife beater while being looked at as a sexual object?”
Brands “For Men” and How Men Shop
When you turn the pages of trade publications especially in the world of hair, one can’t help but notice photos of male models with their beards intact while introducing niche grooming lines comprised of jars of pomade or beard oil. As much as I recognize and cheer for these micro brands, I also feel an air of volatility as I wonder how these me-too niche brands will grow and survive in the marketplace. The question is, how does a niche men’s brand create economies of scale, aspiring to establish itself while having to move vast volumes of inventory to a demographic which shop in a very unorthodox manner? Men loathe to shop. One of the first things I teach clients is the different ways men and women buy—men hunt, and women gather.
Where are men shopping for their grooming needs? To answer that question, you must first understand how men are exposed to grooming. Unlike their female counterparts who will post a photo of their new lip color, share the latest BB cream with their girlfriends, or frequent their favorite cosmetic department, men are more private about their grooming habits and challenges. Men are exposed to grooming through the following three ways:
A father figure or a role model who took the time to teach them how to groom. Which usually comes down to shaving and hopefully some basic hygiene.
A girlfriend, wife, or significant other who in the process of shopping for themselves decided to buy the extension of the same brand with the words “for men” on it. Once the product is brought home, the man scratches his head as he asks, “What’s a toner?” as if though they just saw something from outer space.
And for millennial and Gen Z men, it begins with a haircut or an example of a role model or an influencer on their social media.
Just because millennials are exposed to different forms of grooming does not mean they are going about it the proper way. Yet they are also not looking for a product that states the word “Man” on it. They don’t edit the world around them through prehistoric positions.
My A-HA Men’s Grooming Moment
In 1998 while being a beach bum in Bali, jumping from resort to resort, hanging out at any and all reflecting pools as a way to contemplate my life, trying to answer the famous question “What do I do next?”, I found one common theme amongst the newlywed brides who were on their honeymoons. They were complaining about their newly wedded husband’s nasty feet, unkempt, hands, and other grooming faux pas. It was there that I got an idea—what if I took everything I had learned on the woman’s side of the business and evolved it into grooming theories for men?
I thought, what if I create destinations where a man could go and shop in the privacy of their own space without the distractions and the embarrassment of walking into a department store and approaching a beautiful woman while asking her what to use for his blemishes. We are talking about a time when there should have been multiple product brands geared towards men but there wasn’t very much. This was before the concept of a metrosexual—remember that word? Before there was Facebook and Instagram.
I had ten thousand dollars to my name, but what was built was a series of stores that broke records and barriers as it related to grooming services and retail. This was followed by a successful catalog, website, and product line. The only reason it worked was that we used the strong discipline of educating both staff and our male clients to think and behave differently. This was achieved through a series of ongoing live classes, service, and retail manuals.
We raised the standards and set the bar and proved that you can take a man who is spending $12 at the local barbershop and increase it to $75 and up. We proved that modern-day barber spas with six chairs can achieve an average of $2.5 million per store, while keeping a 60 to 40 service to retail ratio. We created market share, opened up perceptions as we turned a $10 thousand dollar investment into several million rewarding dollars. We became the standard and study for many consulting and marketing firms.
The one thing I knew which became a personal mantra, was that whoever educates the most effectively would win the game. Education and spreading information in today’s market is not gender specific—the basics are the basics. Yes, the average man has no idea that the soap they just used to clean their nether regions is not necessarily the proper solution to wash their face. At the same time, knowledge and information is relative—it’s all in the delivery and the environment in which it is served.
The global market for male grooming products is very active and is projected to reach US$60 billion by 2020, according to our friends at the Euromonitor. Here is the catch that most entrepreneurs leave out of their pitch as it relates to this market sector: in terms of the assumptions, it could be recognized as a progression in the shaving and fragrance side of the market.
Is what makes a man his clothes? Fashion is arbitrary; yes, there are some standards, but in reality the benchmarks have very little to do with gender-based anything. When you look at beauty or, in this case, grooming, it’s not biological, it’s imparted through attitude.