With a mission to support and empower womankind – and sell premium razors – Billie has seen remarkable growth since its founding in 2017. On the recent episode of "Is This Thing On?" GALE’s Ben James spoke with Billie’s Georgina Gooley to understand the winning recipe behind Billie's growth and evolution into an omnichannel brand.
- (1:00) Identifying the opportunity for a women’s shave brand and in turn, launching Billie
- (7:12) Making both brand and performance marketing work together from the start
- (15:14) Leveraging emerging channels like TikTok to engage with new audiences and drive sales
- (18:04) Fostering a company culture where teams feel empowered to test-and-learn when it comes to creating content
- (22:32) Championing the full spectrum of womankind and putting audience above the product
- (27:04) Expanding into new channels like Amazon and brick-and-mortar and the challenges that come with being an omnichannel brand
We’ve included the full transcript of the conversation below for easy reading, and please make sure to have a listen on Amazon, Apple Podcasts, Audible, iHeart, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, or wherever else you get your podcasts!
Ben James (00:00):
Is This Thing On?
Speaker 2 (00:06):
Welcome to Is This Thing On, a podcast from GALE exploring marketing, life, and random thoughts with business leaders from around the globe. On this episode, GALE chief Innovation Officer, Ben James speaks with co-founder of Billie, Georgina Gooley. Let's join the conversation.
Ben James (00:27):
For people that don't know the Billie story, I think could you tell us a little bit about what Billie is, and first just kind of set it up from a specific view of what you've been building over the last few years, and then maybe after that, we'd get in deeper into some of your background story. So can you tell us a little bit about what Billie is?
Georgina Gooley (00:54):
Yeah, yeah. Well, I guess Billie is a women's shave and body brand, but I can probably take you back a little bit to say how we got to this space and the idea. So back in 2016, I met my co-founder and we felt that there was this really great opportunity to create a women's shave brand. We had seen that there were a couple of men's direct-to-consumer shave brands that were getting traction in the market, but nobody was really focusing on women as an audience. And this was a really interesting opportunity for me because when I looked at the entire shave category, whether it was these legacy brands or these new emerging brands, all of them were really strong male brands and women were really an afterthought in this category. And I think that was reflected in everything from how products were priced for women.
There was a pink tax premium on these razors, how they were thinking about product innovation, and then also how they were portraying women in this category. So women have been sold razors for the last a hundred years. You've never seen a hair of body hair in any of the marketing. Women are essentially shamed for having body hair, and that's a marketing tactic to get people to buy more razors. It worked, but we created Billie because one, we saw that there was this business opportunity that was an overlooked audience and we thought we could go after that. But two, we also wanted to create a razor brand that pretty much celebrated all the different ways women can exist and sort of relieved women of this pressure that were created by gender norms. So we were the first shaving brand to actually show body hair and to say that shaving is a choice and not an expectation.
Ben James (02:57):
One of the things I was hoping to uncover here too is can you talk a little bit about the lead up to 2016? There's a couple of different stories here that I'd love to unpack just a little bit because there is this brand meets performance, overlooked market, overlooked people, marketing traditions, branding versus D2C, D2C now in brick and mortar, all of these different things are the challenges that companies have as well as even out to, "A razor is a razor is a razor," but how do you create a new sort of thing? Can you talk a little bit about your background leading up to 2016? And then after we do that, I'm going to press a little bit into what has the journey been like over the last seven years or so. What was your journey leading up to this and what were your experiences that told you that this was your mission and your goal and what you wanted to do?
Georgina Gooley (04:03):
Yeah, so I started my career in advertising agencies, so starting at DDB in Sydney, Australia where I'm from. And then I moved to BBH in New York. And then from there, I ended up at Wieden and Kennedy in Portland where I was working on the Old Spice account. I think I was a bit spoiled on the Old Spice account because it was such a fun moment in time. They had taken this legacy brand, completely revamped it, made it relevant again to a much younger audience. And I had a really, really great experience. It was a great three years, so good that I think when I moved back to New York in 2016, I just wasn't really jazzed by any of the opportunities out there in the ad agencies. And so I really was looking for something new, something that would excite me.
And it was at that point that I met my co-founder and I felt like I had this really great experience learning how to reinvigorate a legacy brand and how to make it relevant with a much younger audience and what better way to put those skills to a test than to create your own brand and see if you start from scratch, what would you do and what would you create? And to me, that was the ultimate opportunity I think. And I knew that I was bringing in some tools and some knowledge that I'd gathered from working at advertising agencies, but there was a lot more that I had to learn, not just on the business side and operational side, but even within the marketing side. It wasn't just about brand building, it was really now about taking everything that I knew about brand building and then learning all the performance marketing and how do those two things jive together.
Ben James (06:15):
So having been around a lot of brand agency kind of minded things myself, I mean there is always the belief that what we are doing of course is the brand has a business influence. I mean myself as a creative, I think a lot about... I never got into this thinking, I was just making films or something. I always figured, advertising, the goal was to also have the business influence. You read some pretty storied places and then 2016 happens and you're really going, "Okay, brand can actually have a business influence." Can you talk a little bit about the journey between 2016 up to now, even into what was resistance initially and then how quick did it grow? And then for everyone that's listening, can you tell them about what happened with Billie and where it sits today as a business?
Georgina Gooley (07:12):
Yeah, yeah. So my co-founder and I, we met in 2016 and then we built the company for a year and we launched at the end of 2017. And pretty quickly, we were lucky enough to see traction. So I think by day three, we had shipped to all 50 states. And so we knew we were onto something. And I was really excited because I think very early on, you have brand and performance marketing and you're trying to figure out... Both have very important roles, but they do different things and within different timeframes. Performance marketing is really driving that immediate sale. You are chasing sales. And for a startup, that's super important that you can show traction really early on because you need that traction to raise money again so that you can reinvest into the business. And I think what I was sort of noticing back in 2017 was a lot of startups were really focused on performance marketing and they kind of defined brand as their logo.
Their visual ID was the extent of brand building. And obviously coming from my background, I believed that brand had a much bigger role to play than just how you look. It's how you behave and your purpose and all of these things. And so we really wanted to balance, "How can Billie make all the sales it needs in the short term to be able to raise money so that we can stay in business and continue to grow? But how can we at the same time invest time, energy, and money into building a brand that would hopefully capture the hearts of customers and help us grow, even if it's on a sort of slower, longer trajectory, but help us grow as a business?" To me, I was always looking at it. Performance marketing was helping me keep the lights on and live for another day, and brand building was helping me over time get more brand recognition, sort of like the ultimate goal is fame and having that brand recognition and both were super important.
And so we were really lucky that we were growing and we had a few really successful viral campaigns early on. Six months in, we launched a campaign called Project Body Hair. And that was a real game changer for us because that was the first time we were saying, "Shaving is a choice and not an expectation." And we were really celebrating body hair and it sounds counterintuitive for a razor brand to be celebrating body hair, but it was really saying, "If you want to shave, we have a great razor for you. And if you don't, power to you."
And that campaign was on the front page of the bbc.com and it was everywhere. And all of a sudden, that was a moment where I think performance marketing and brands sort of striked together. And we got, all of a sudden, all of this brand awareness and recognition and sales were coming through at the same time. And then from there, we just continued to grow until at the end of 2021. So we were four years old at that point. We were acquired by Edgewell Personal Care. We were completely direct-to-consumer at that point. And then that following year, we went into over 4,000 Walmart stores across the country.
Ben James (11:17):
That's great metrics of success. I mean, I feel like so often we get into this discussion of, "But will it work and did it work?" And here you are in this relative short period of time... I mean, not just relative short period. That was fast. I mean four years from there to there. Incredible. Congratulations.
Georgina Gooley (11:38):
Thank you. It was fast and it felt like a lot at the time, but yeah, in hindsight, it's always nice.
Ben James (11:48):
So now you're sitting inside of Edgewell with that support of things and it's a really interesting moment now if here we are in 2023, moving ahead. I mean, I really like this notion that you're talking about, I really take it as what is really the difference between brand or performance or when do these moments add up in the consumer's mind and who really gets to decide? We've actually been having this discussion a lot. We have this discussion a lot that which one part of this is brand and which part of this is performance?
I've very often found that there's some other measurement party or some other group that actually has the control of saying, "Well, that is brand," or, "That is performance." You're doing things that are in TikTok and you're then also going in in a brick and mortar strategy. Now you have experiences that you're delivering as endcaps in places, you've got this large physical footprint that you're delivering. I mean, are you teasing apart, "That is brand and that is performance," and having to prove that? Or are you seeing the same kind of growth, just trying to make the right decision of where the audience is?
Georgina Gooley (13:09):
Yeah, it's an interesting question. It all comes out of one marketing pool and I think it's important that you don't have brand competing with performance marketing as though they're not married together in an ultimate marketing goal. And I think that's important. There are things, something like an endcap or an in aisle display where you are at the point of purchase and you want that to work really hard so that they pick your product over the one that's sitting next to it. And so at those things I think are more sort of performance based. You can see. When you have an endcap in store and when you don't, you notice the sales difference. That's a little bit more different than brand storytelling where you're hopefully capturing an awareness, but the intent of that content is not to go onto mybillie.com and buy a razor straightaway.
It's more to capture an emotion, make you feel relevant to the consumer. But both are super important. I think you just have to understand what are your business needs, your business growth needs right at this moment, and where can you flex? But to us, you need to be doing all of it if you want to create a brand that lives beyond the next three months. And so for the longevity of brand health, having performance marketing really helps drive the business, but having branded content helps make that performance marketing more efficient over time. It's not as maybe easy to track as performance marketing is.
Ben James (15:11):
Can we talk a bit about TikTok?
Georgina Gooley (15:13):
Ben James (15:14):
Do you view, say, TikTok as a brand or performance channel? Are you aware of or thinking about where TikTok is going? Are you thinking about TikTok or are you thinking about the people more often whenever you're delivering across emerging channels like that?
Georgina Gooley (15:36):
Yeah, so I mean for so long, Facebook and Instagram were sort of the go-to platforms for brand building and for performance marketing. And when TikTok came around, we were really excited and our marketing teams are divided into specialists who... So how are people going to...? "Can we monetize this channel?" And then others are, "How do we grow organically on this channel and really connect with the customer?" So we, I think, would approach most new, emerging channels in the same way. "Have at it. Let's see if we can really find fun ways to connect with a new audience and stay relevant and be funny and be creative on this platform that allows for all of those things."
And then at the same time it's like, "Do people just want to laugh at TikTok content?" Or "Are they actually listening and buying and clicking through?" And so testing both of those things. And I think we're big believers in diversification of media across different channels, so we're not just solely in one channel. And so the more we can optimize media spend and improve conversion and get those sales through a TikTok, we're always pushing more and more into that.
Ben James (17:07):
It's interesting, the way you talked about being structured to do that and then you use the term, "Have at it." It makes me think do you have, "Have at it," budget? Do you have a high tolerance for having at it? Because that's a channel that's moving very fast and there's other places you can be. Perhaps what works for you there, maybe a competitor within the same group, maybe it's a completely different space, actually works for them. Maybe there's not a parity to this, but it strikes me that Billie has this great TikTok content, approach feels very natural to the channel. And I mean, how are you approving that? How do you have the stomach for the approvals of the kinds of stuff that you see come through? Do you have any stories about that?
Georgina Gooley (18:04):
Yeah, I mean, look, we're a small company, so we have the luxury of doing this, but I also think even within our small company, we're about 80 people, you want to try and remove as many layers as possible and empower the people who are deep in these channels, living and breathing social channels, TikToks, they have pride in knowing what's going to trend before it trends. And I think what you want to do is empower that team with two things, one, data so that they can be accountable for what's working and not working. And then two, you want to give them permission to play and experiment and try new things. They will test all sorts of different content types, different subject matter, different audiences. And I'll come across a TikTok and it'll be a dog walking into a woman shaving her pubic hair and I'll be like, "Oh, we went there."
But that was a really great performer for us because it's funny and people like it. And so the team being, "Wouldn't it be funny?" Or, "Don't you think this could work?" Or, "Wouldn't it be great if we did this?" And letting them play, letting them throw a million things at the wall, seeing what sticks. When it sticks, you double down. When it doubles, you iterate. I think it's important to create a culture where people who know their channels, know their stuff, take pride in what they do, are given the leeway to play and experiment and try different things, but then keeping them accountable. You shouldn't just be doing stuff for the sake of doing stuff. If it's not working and if you think it's funny but nobody else on TikTok thinks it's funny, then maybe keep it to your personal account. So I think we really do try and foster that type of environment. And I'm a big believer that that's how you get really great content.
Ben James (20:17):
I love the story of you coming across it and going, "Oh, we went there." And then I think about just all the different places that the brand has to show up and where you're trying to make a conversion into a sale, all the different choices you have to make. Can I ask, one, how do you view content? What is content? And two, how much content do you need now? Do you even have a read of, "We have a certain number of content that we make to do this?"
Georgina Gooley (20:55):
Ben James (20:56):
Or do you view content in a different way?
Georgina Gooley (21:01):
I mean content is everything. I think it's every endcap, it's when you show up on walmart.com, it's every organic Instagram and TikTok. So it's every proper ad campaign if you're running a campaign, all the performance marketing stuff. It's your website, it's your emails. I wouldn't be able to tell you how many pieces of content that we have, but it's a lot all the time. I always like to humanize brands and think of them as people. And I would say Billie is Billie, but in the same way, you might behave a little bit different or dress a bit different if you were meeting your boyfriend's parents versus when you were going out on a Friday night, that's kind of how you have to think about the brand.
You're still you, but you sort of tweak according to the channel and where you're showing up. And so for example, we might do the dog walking in shaving pubic hair on TikTok, but when you're on an endcap in Walmart, you still want to present as Billie so you don't have different brands showing up at different places, but you're the more sort of polished and you can be in Arkansas and it's all okay.
Ben James (22:32):
It's interesting. It actually helps me think about a lead into something I'm curious to know more about. So there's the TikTok video of the dog walking in on the pubic hair situation, and then there's the endcap of Walmart. Walmart has their footprint in all over America, where you have to show up. And then something for people to know that are listening is you gave our daughters a gift, which was you wrote a children's book from the perspective of Billie. And can you tell us a little bit about the context of that and what you're hoping to do with the legacy of Billie? And it strikes me as each of those, TikTok, Walmart, children's book, it's so clear that there's certainly a lot of thought that goes into the context. There must be intention behind the brand, of what you really hope to leave as a legacy of what this is doing as its impact on the world and that feels evident in the story behind how you created and why you wanted to write a children's book.
Georgina Gooley (23:47):
Well, what we wanted Billie to be was really a brand that champions the full spectrum of womankind and more than just selling whatever products we have on our website, it was really about putting our target audience ahead of that. And so that's how we came to this strategy where even though we're a razor brand and we sell razors, we're not going to, say, shame women into having body hair in order to sell those razors. We were going to put the audience ahead of the product. And so with that lens, everything that we do is to try and show all the different ways women can be and sort of explore that sort of vast spectrum and kind of shine a light on women that potentially haven't been in the limelight in media over the history of a hundred years that razors have been sold to women.
And so when it came to specifically body hair, we didn't want to partake in that culture of shaming women for having body hair. And then when we were doing lots of research groups, what we found was there sort of becomes a moment in time when a lot of young kids are like 7, 8, 9, where they become aware of their body hair and that's where the turning point is where they start to feel ashamed by it. And it might be either kids on the playground or what they see their parents doing or whatnot. And so what we wanted to do was to try and speak to young kids before that sets in and say, "Hey, body hair is completely natural, most people have it. It's totally up to you if you want to remove it or whatnot." And so when they go to that point, when either they're becoming a teenager or whatnot and they want to remove body hair, it's a conscious choice versus something that they feel like they have to do.
And even personally, I think I got to the age of 12-13 and I didn't even question whether I should or should not be doing, I just thought I had to do it. And I think looking back, I might have made the same decision, but I wish I sort of stopped and paused and like, "Why do I feel like I have to do it?" And just had that consciousness around it. And so that was the intent with the book, it was to try and make people feel like they had a choice and they didn't have to just blindly follow the way things had been done.
Ben James (26:39):
So are there emerging spaces that you're excited about or do you feel like this experience has set you up for feeling optimistic about business' role in making the world a better place? Is either of those things that you think about much whenever you think about the next steps for Billie?
Georgina Gooley (27:04):
I think brands take up space in the world, and so I think anytime you're taking up space in the world, I think you should have the intent of trying to do that in a positive manner. So I do think there is an obligation for business owners and brand owners to constantly be putting more positive things into the world and not the reverse. And then for Billie, I think we're excited. From a business and brand perspective, I think this year is a really interesting year for us because we're going to see how DTC and a broad retail expansion and Amazon all play. So from a channel perspective, I think it'll be really interesting how a brand in 2023, with all the changes that we've seen in the DTC landscape and whatnot, how a truly omnichannel brand works and how those different channels work together from a business perspective.
And then from a brand perspective, I'm always excited because we feel like we're just scratching the surface of all the fun things that we can do. And if the brand meetings in my calendar are in the week, they're always the highlight. And I always love to put things out there and see what people are gravitating towards. And it can be something as small as an organic TikTok piece of content or a big sort of PR thing that we're doing, but it's always interesting to see what sticks and learn from that. And I feel like doing that gives you a pulse on what's happening in culture as well and what audiences want, and it changes so quickly these days that, to me, I still get a thrill out of it.
Ben James (29:05):
I could go all day talking about the kind of post-D2C and then go into omnichannel world and what are we hoping it would do. What's really exciting is that it sounds like you've really shown a winning formula for actually building up to that and any advice you have for the other kind of D2Cs out there or people who sort of hoped to bet on that approach, how this is a winning formula? How do you even plan for the relentless change that's ahead of us?
Georgina Gooley (29:48):
Yeah, well, I actually think there was a good solid almost 10 years where it seemed like all these DTC brands were following this formula. And I think the marketing landscape of performance marketing has changed with Facebook and iOS 14 and all of that. And so I don't think you can follow the same playbook as you were seeing with the startups from 2012 and 2014 and all of that. So I think it's a really interesting period where you'll have to figure out channel diversification, how to reach your audience. But I do think brand plays a more important role now because I think there was this formula where figure out your category, make a pretty product, pretty logo, dump a bunch of money into Facebook and go. And a lot of brands were having success following that playbook. And I don't think that's the case anymore.
So I think it is a potentially more difficult time to start a DTC brand. But the ones that do, I think will figure out the channel diversification and will have stronger brands for it. So I think it is an interesting time and we'll see. We're going into Amazon this year. I don't know how that impacts direct-to-consumer, how that impacts the retailers. So we'll be able to see how being on all of the platforms and all the channels will impact where we're meeting our audience.
Ben James (31:39):
I'm curious, are you keeping an eye to, "Okay, plans for TikTok is to build fulfillment centers," and then when Amazon announces Amazon Inspire, which then looks a lot like TikTok, I mean, does that make you crazy, trying to keep up? Or are you just, "No, just steady ahead on our values and keep going?"
Georgina Gooley (32:06):
Yeah, I think it's steady ahead and a little bit like, "Let's wait and see how all of this plays out." I think everyone's quick to jump on and try and get their market share where they can, not all of them are going to succeed. And also just how many channels is too many channels, and that sort of becomes a question. And do you want to play a little bit everywhere or do you want to double down on the channels that are working for you? So I think there's a lot going on and there's a lot of noise, and so your ears and eyes open, but one step in front of the other and not get too bogged down with all the swirl around us.
Ben James (32:57):
Right in the zone. I mean, we still have a lot of conversations that are like, "What is brand? What is performance? How much of this, how much of that?"
Georgina Gooley (33:04):
Ben James (33:04):
"Are they different?" With a lot of, "How do we measure? I'm afraid. How do I make those choices?" And so just tuning in to hear a success story of just steady ahead and making the choices that you're making to just meet the people where they are is really helpful.
Georgina Gooley (33:25):
We don't have it worked out, but you just keep trying, keep iterating and we'll get reports back and I'll be like, "I know it says that, but I just don't feel like that's right." And so there's a little bit of having that sort of debate and questioning even measurement studies and things like that. And I think ultimately is your social following going up? Are you selling product? All of that, all of those things are the true measure. I always say, "Nobody looks at an internal deck." So you really want to just prove it out in the market.
Speaker 2 (34:08):
This has been Is This Thing On, the GALE Podcast. For more information about this or any other episode in the series, visit gale.agency/ideas. And to learn about GALE and how we can help you with your marketing efforts, visit www.galepartners.com. On behalf of the entire team at GALE, thanks for listening.