Iceberg Watch: Wilkinson Sword

Today I want to start a new series of posts looking at existing brands that have strong potential to grow if they can leverage the digital opportunities and transform themselves into social meeting points. I call this column “Iceberg Watch” because the idea is to look for hidden potential under the current waterline; and to make a few guesses and suggestions how this potential could be activated and realized.

Wilkinson SwordThe first such brand viewed from my crow’s nest is Wilkinson Sword, the manufacturer of razors. If you look at where the brand currently is, their only ambition seems to be to win the Gillette look-alike award. And if you know that Gillette is owned and run by Procter & Gamble, and what P&G’s strengths are, you also know that this is not a comfortable place for a brand to be.

A look back in Wilkinson’s history shows that this is actually a brand with a juicy story to tell. Which is one of the vital elements for every social brand strategy. The roots of Wilkinson go back to the late 18th century, when the company was started as a sword maker. In the early 1800s, Wilkinson became supplier to the British crown for swords, bayonets and firearms. In 1971, Wilkinson launched the first razor system with disposable blades.

However, after going through an endless chain of acquisitions by big fish that got eaten by even bigger fish, Wilkinson has ended up as global
brand twin to Schick, the US rooted brand with a heritage in electric shaving. To run two brands on one strategy may sound like a clever idea to finance guys. But it means either of them had to shed their “peculiarities”, in other words: get rid of what made them interesting and different.

Wilkinson’s Opportunity

Shaving with an edge. The associative network into which a brand with a bladesmith’s heritage can tap incorporates everything from a sharper cut and trendy facial hairstyles to irreverent attitudes and rites of bold masculinity. Rich material for a vibrant brand personality and differentiating proposition, particularly against the clean-faced conformity of Gillette’s Mr. Mainstream.

Wilkinson could become the antidote of daddy’s white collar grooming and address the young new entrants in the market who are just turning from boys to men. It could be the Pepsi to Gillette’s Coke.

… And Their Digital Chance

Competing with Gillette for their mainstream customers with mainstream marketing, advertising in mainstream media would make Wilkinson’s disadvantage even more obvious. In the old days, there was not much of an alternative. Today, they’re galore. Most of them are digital. Particularly when targeting the young, mainstream media isn’t even an option any more.

With its juicy brand story, and a young audience that’s still more excited than tired with the daily bathroom ritual, there’s a good chance for Wilkinson to engage their customers in a sustainable conversation. In a business that is all about repeat purchases, this is a route worth taking a closer look at if you’re not No. 1.

Wilkinson’s Threat

For retailers, the shaving category is a pain in the rear. With a number of different razor generations to stock for Gillette alone, and considerable shoplifting risk for the small but high-priced blades packs, the No. 2 position in this market is in constant jeopardy. Does it turn fast enough to earn its shelfspace? Can we reduce the number of listed items?

Which means for Wilkinson, a change in strategy might well be more than just an opportunity to consider: a matter of survival.

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