I remember that when Gillette came out with their double-bladed razor, I started joking about how it wouldn’t stop until razors had five blades. At the time, that seemed absurd, but sure enough, now we can buy razors with five blades.
Now, while this may seem ridiculous, it’s actually a pretty smart response to a potentially disruptive innovation.
The introduction of the double-bladed razor was actually how Gillette responded to the introduction of disposable razors. The value proposition of disposables was: the quality of the shave is almost as good as you get with real razors, but we’re a lot cheaper.
For Gillette, this is similar to the situation that Swiss watchmakers faced with the introduction of quartz watches. The main difference is that quartz watches were both cheaper and more accurate than mechanical watches. In the case of razors, disposables were cheaper, but not better.
Gillette faced a choice. They could embrace the new technology and start making disposables themselves. Or they could double down on their existing business model.
They chose the latter. They had a quality advantage, and they have continued to invest in stretching that advantage. Instead of trying to shore up their weakness (price), Gillette put all of their energy into building their advantage.
This is what Youngme Moon recommends doing in her excellent book Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd.
Doubling down on the current strategy doesn’t always work. There are at least two conditions that need to be met:
- You must have a clear advantage in at least one feature that customers care about.
- You must be have a value proposition that is built around this advantage.
The Swiss watchmakers had built their value propositions around accuracy. When quartz watches were introduced, this disappeared. A huge number of watchmakers that had been around for centuries went out of business. The ones that made it through built on the advantages that they still had: prestige and craftsmanship.
Gillette had a clear advantage in performance. And they’ve been able to build on that. The result has been that even in the face of a potentially disruptive innovation, they’ve managed to keep a better than 70% market share in razors.
That’s why we’re probably not too far away from razors with 8 blades. This time, I guess I’m not joking…