Benjamin Grace, Bulldog: How to triumph against the market Goliaths

How can small and medium sized companies make an impact in a market dominated by large multinationals?

It is every young marketer’s dream to build a brand from scratch. When I joined the two founders of men’s skincare company Bulldog in 2007 prior to the brand’s launch in Sainsbury’s, we had the fantastic opportunity to do exactly that.

Today, Bulldog products are available in over 14,000 stores worldwide and can be found across the UK, Europe, America, Australia and Asia. And it is growing, unlike most of the UK men’s skincare market.

When we look at our journey, it can be tempting to think that we now have everything figured out. In truth, we are learning every day and optimising our brand on an ongoing basis. Indeed, this is one of our biggest strengths as an organisation.

Entering a category dominated by competitor products owned by multinationals such as Procter & Gamble and Unilever is always going to be tough for a start-up. Any new player with serious ambitions has to think about building a brand as much more than just a badging exercise.

The journey has to begin with a clear set of values, and this was one of the things that initially attracted me to Bulldog. I’m pleased that amidst all the changes and challenges that growing our business has triggered, Bulldog’s philosophy on using quality natural ingredients, certifying with Cruelty Free International, and using UK manufacturing partners is still strong.

We also knew that we needed to find a way of competing with the likes of Gillette and L’Oréal that didn’t rely solely on marketing budgets. For Bulldog, the answer was differentiation. We saw every touchpoint from the brand name, products, packaging and communications as an opportunity to deliver this in a clever and consistent manner.

Aside from a great brand concept and product, the two key factors in building a successful brand from scratch are patience and bravery.

Both these traits are evident in some of our earliest marketing activity. In 2009, we co-created online comedy series David Mitchell’s Soapbox. Although this was initially a slow burn, the comedy shorts went on to deliver more than 20 million cumulative online views. No other men’s skincare brand could appropriate comedy as a territory with any credibility, and David’s witty, intelligent and quintessentially British sense of humour was the perfect fit for Bulldog. Our role in pioneering this form of branded content was recognised with awards from both Marketing Week and Apple.

However, being different for the sake of it doesn’t work by itself. You also need to be relevant and engaging. We have found that combining our values-based foundation with our Bulldog personality has allowed us to develop a clear proposition that consumers understand and like. Our promise is to deliver purpose-built skincare for men using natural ingredients that really work, and we sum our brand up as ‘man’s best friend’.

That’s not to say that we had the brand perfected from day one. The reality is that no matter how much time you spend interrogating your brand prior to launch, until your products hit the shelves you will never know how your brand will be perceived or how best to communicate key messaging. It is only after you have launched and begin to receive real consumer feedback that you can get a sense for this. At this point the learning curve takes on a whole new trajectory.

A good case in point has been our packaging. We knew our packs had to disrupt the category on shelf and I think we have always achieved this. But early in our lifecycle the launch of a new sensitive line coupled with consumer feedback telling us that our packs “were barking a little too loudly” triggered the need for design developments. Making these changes quickly and decisively was important. We have always viewed our shelf as our advertising billboard and optimising this space has been critical to the brand.

Managing changes like this are, of course, a challenge for any organisation, as is ensuring brand consistency, particularly as a brand grows internationally. At Bulldog we are very focused on this and work closely with all our partners – domestic and international – to ensure a consistent brand approach at every opportunity.

Bulldog now has national distribution in the UK and in many markets overseas. The brand feels as if it has reached a tipping point and the next few years should be a tremendous ride.

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