Eclectic Thought Samples From Larry Burns

New News About Discovery Commerce

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I try to pay attention to social media statistics, trends, and what is being discussed in “the media” in general.  Over the summer I continued to notice that Discovery Commerce remained a hot topic.  I have been asked about it by many of my clients who are exploring ‘getting in the game’ either themselves or via some of the players out there in the market.  In addition, I’m sure many of you might have noted ads for Birchbox and Bark Box both of whom used decent online media weights in the early summer timeframe.

Yet, in stark contrast I did want to mention an email that I wasn’t totally surprised to read, but I found it enlightening nonetheless.  It was from Cravebox and it said:

“We love you, Cravers! You’re the best!  That’s why we are so very sad to say that as of today May 31st, Cravebox is no longer in business.”

So read the short and not so sweet announcement of the demise of one of the Discovery Commerce subscription box models that I previously mentioned in these pages.   Cravebox did some interesting things in their approach to the market, but in the end, my concerns seem somewhat validated.  I suspect that not having sufficient sample inventory to support a broad based discovery commerce model contributed as well as perhaps the marketing, positioning and somewhat (at least to this observer) “randomness” of the offerings.

On another front seems to have a well integrated, yet quite specific, canine based model, which includes a very interestingand vibrant facebook fan page.  Interesting is not simply an opinion but based on having 178,000 likes .. and YES – I know a “like” is not a good measure of anything … but in this case I think it happens to be credible.  Bark Box has multiple subscription offers that are based on the size of your dogs, they’ve already done some interesting things with celebrities, include the the wise notion of giving Bark Box as a gift and hence, there is apparently continuing interest from customers.

I think the real difference between Bark and Crave was the curation and relevant content production that was or was not being done. I know that ‘curation’ has become an “overused overhyped word” (someone must have invented a good word for this class of adjectives by now – yes?  Anyone?  Bueller?  Bueller?)  but, at it’s core this function truly is what we humans seek.

The BarkBox publishing model seems engaging enough that people may stay with it, and seems intriguing enough for brands to evidently continue to want to support it.  People love their pets and in truth, there are many folks who will do almost anything for their pets.  BarkBox has solid consistent branding that is wrapped around the notion of YOUR dog.   They offer a weekly email called “The Best Dog Stuff on the Internet” and do any number of other things that make the entire BarkBox experience feel tailored to one specific and very important part of certain people’s lives – their dog(s).   So, BarkBox is not ‘just’ a subscription to a bunch of stuff – it is a a place to go if you’re interested and curious about your dog, it offers you information, ideas, cute photos and an environment all about meeting a need – treating your dog well.

Another company that appears to have found their rhythm as well is BirchBox.  They have always been all about curating beauty, which is, for many in their “target audience” a fairly overwhelming prospect.   I assume the classic leaky bucket phenomenon is happening: people are signing up while other people are leaving because it’s not meeting their needs.  But the highly curated nature of the overall product bundle is providing continual value – including the relatively new addition of The Magazine – a monthly collection of articles, blogs and videos & a really smart move if one were to ask me!.

There are other entrants as well – including one I just came upon recently with an interesting “give-back” twist to the model.  Lovewithfood offers subscriptions of varying length offering to help  “ .. you discover new organic, all-natural snacks delivered to your door every month.”  Now their extra hook is that  ‘for every box sent we donate a meal to a hungry child’ and in fact they even have a lovely eye candy map showing where donations have been sent.

Now, I only see three LWF boxes to date, first one being sent April of this year and because I just signed up my box is only due to mail on October 10th so the jury is still out for me on delivering on my own expectations –  yet this meets some of my ongoing criteria for longevity.

Another what I would still term at least an off-shoot of  “Discovery Commerce” entry Naturebox takes an entirely different approach and is not ‘curating’ existing product but is rather creating an entire snacking brand that bears watching as this ‘direct to consumer’ model bypasses all the traditional infrastructure and inherent hassles of retailer store shelf battles.  To my brethren in the CPG industry – if you are not paying attention to these kinds of models, you should.    For more on NatureBox specifically I’d point you to  Forbes on Naturebox’s relatively recent venture raise!

Is There Longevity in the Model?

I still remain concerned about the ultimate longevity of these kinds of subscription boxes in their current form, although granted that Naturebox is truly different.  My CPG sampling customers are intrigued by the idea of people willing to subscribe and pay to try samples of their products.  Yet, this brand question… “Well, once they try my ____, why would I want them to try it again anytime soon?” remains open in their minds.  I am quite sure Birchbox and others have solid answers to those concerns although I am still hearing that particular question quite frequently.   The Discovery Commerce model(s) are certainly going to continue to evolve, but with that May 2013 Cravebox demise we can plainly see that there is still work to be done.

One simple question seems to be, “How many people does it take, coupled with what optimal flow of sample product unit volume required, to have and maintain a subscription base that is healthy enough and sustainable upon which to build a company?”

This topic remains fascinating to this old marketing research guy so, I’ll keep a close watch on it.  Frankly, I don’t think we’ve even come close to settling the debate yet. The final business model clarity is still not in focus and it is of significant interest that we’re already seeing some shakeout and rapid evolution within this emerging marketplace.   I specifically use emerging because if we deal in “actual time” versus “internet time” that these days seems to drive too many choices, Discovery Commerce in any mainstream way is really still quite new.

The truth is that the entire way we market introductions of or simply generate awareness for branded products MUST and is slowly evolving with this Discovery Commerce segment just one unique and growing approach. The trick, so far seems to be that having a subscription base stay interested and viable as an ongoing business one must offer value beyond “just” what’s in the box.   This ‘value bank’ can, and in my mind must, have continual deposits made through constant, even ruthless focus on relevancy to one’s audience, valuable (to the subscriber)  & frequently refreshed content, “unbiased” information & reviews all coupled with a palpable sense of that still accurate, though a bit tired word – curation.

So, what do you folks think?


Categorised as: Marketing, Sampling