MOW. A bold, new grooming brand is born.
And here’s the story of how it came to be.
April 2016: The Reckoning
One version of the MOW branding story starts at a consumer testing facility in Fort Lee, New Jersey in April 2016.
Nine men stand on the far side of a two-way mirror holding an ingenious little gadget — a prototype that represents over 10,000 hours of engineering know-how and 8 international patents. They apply the device to their two-day-old stubble, rubbing their faces and carefully judging the results. They’re impressed.
And even more telling: when they sit down for questions with the moderator, many of the men in the focus group continue to hold the device, unconsciously palming it and stroking it like a smooth slab of granite in their hands. The razor’s form factor isn’t just appealing; there’s something almost talismanic in the way it’s held. Whatever innate Spidey-sense I have for branding is most definitely a-tingle right now.
The impetus for the focus groups is to refine the product, and the Product Lead is on hand to get real-world feedback from the men recruited for the panel. But I manage to sneak in a few branding and messaging questions as well.
“The shaving device you just used has been developed under the codename Hybrid Razor,” the moderator asks each participant. “What do you make of that name?”
The answers come back haltingly — someone mentions car batteries, someone else solar power, the rest give a bemused shrug. The best we get is, “Hybrid is a cool word.”
We had some serious branding issues to address.
The MOW story also begins in 2011 just north of Tel Aviv with serial inventor Tsafrir Ben-Ari. He had been tinkering around with a novel concept: a shaving device that shears facial hair using two opposing blades. The positioning of the two blades — a small cylindrical rotating blade inside the device and a sharp single blade that snaps on to the outside of the unit — was an innovative coup.
The idea behind the device is that the internal rotating blade lifts the hair, which is sliced flat when it meets the external blade that sits right at the skin’s surface. The external blade can be replaced regularly, ensuring a clean, close shave. That shearing process formed the crux of several patents which followed once the idea took flight.
This skin-level flat shearing process also proved less likely to irritate sensitive skin and cause ingrown hairs. (Traditional razors cut hair at a sharp angle; that hair then retracts under the surface of the skin, poised to cause painful sores under the epidermis when it grows back, curling beneath the surface. On the plus side, there’s a YouTube community for that.)
At first, the original name — Hybrid — seemed like a natural for an electric-powered device with a replaceable blade: a merging of the two dominant forms of shaving. We had accustomed ourselves to the Hybrid name, but clearly, there was a reckoning to be had here. That word had been co-opted by other usages and its literal meaning for the average consumer had been lost.
We debated the idea and scope of going through a rebrand. Even though the device was still in its infancy (our product engineers were good ways away from perfecting it and readying it for mass production), we had to move beyond codename phase. “Hybrid” had been an easy way to contextualize this half-electric, half-manual razor with investors and advisers up until now.
But the true indication that we needed a new name came from one focus group participant, who hit the nail on the head: “Don’t tell me your product is the best of both worlds. Tell me that this device is in a class all by itself. Then I’ll buy it.”
Summer 2016: A Clean Slate
My MOW story starts in early 2016. Through my connections to entrepreneurship in Israel, I was introduced to the company. My father had partnered with Tsafrir Ben-Ari on a toothbrush prototype back in his days at Colgate-Palmolive, and this project represented an opportunity to work in tandem with him. Their efforts around fundraising were picking up steam, and what began as a short project producing content for a demonstration video quickly expanded into building investor decks, a communication strategy, and ultimately, devising a new brand.
I had some experience in the personal care category. But my background was primarily in digital and content strategy for media/technology companies, starting with my work as a consultant and producer at Razorfish, then at companies like HBO and Viacom, and more recently advising companies on my own. What attracted me about this project was the same thing that drove most of the work I’d done throughout my career: storytelling.
Here was a wonderful little gadget — a piece of technology that had the potential to revolutionize the grooming world. But it needed a vivid and compelling narrative if it was going to break through with consumers.
The shaving storyline has been essentially the same for several decades now. No major innovations have been offered to consumers in nearly a century, since Jacob Schick introduced the electric razor (which followed King Gillette and the disposable razor blade by about thirty years). What has changed are societal attitudes toward shaving, especially among younger men, who have retreated from the daily shave habit in the last decade or so.
That said, we found that men were still eager to hear about innovation in the space. In our initial focus groups, we witnessed consumers responding positively when we had their undivided attention and explained the inner workings of the device. In fact, the majority of participants handed over their personal information unsolicited, asking for updates and an opportunity to buy it as soon as it was commercially available. How could we adapt our story from those one-on-one demos into a tight, persuasive narrative about a new way to shave?
With the product nearing the prototype phase, this device was in urgent need of a name, a personality, and a brand story.
So in the summer of 2016, the Hybrid name was swept into the dustbin, and we embarked on a clean-slate branding project. Before we could begin the process of selecting a new name for the device, however, we had to take several steps back and build the foundation of what the new brand would be.
We spoke to several branding firms, and a number of folks really impressed us, in particular: Melissa Cunningham at Narrative, and Odine Bonthrone and her team at Velo. At a friend’s urging, I reached out to Emily Oberman, a partner at Pentagram. Pentagram seemed a long shot for us — a bare-bones startup on a tight budget — but Emily and her team immediately took to the challenge we were facing. And because of Pentagram’s unique structure in which each of their partners oversees a portfolio of projects that range in size and scope, Emily was eager and able to take on the project.
Early on, in our initial get-to-know-you meetings with Pentagram, we set down the gauntlet. We all felt like this product had the potential to loom larger than just a grooming implement; we wanted our work to transcend the category of shaving. The design, size, and ingenuity of the device signaled the kind of attachment people form around the idea of a product, not just the product itself. Positioned correctly, this brand could become a mark of distinction for our target audience.
We set the bar higher, aiming to create an identity brand — an iconic badge of style that loyal fans could metaphorically pin to their chest and connect with on a fundamental level.
Winter 2016: A Third Way
Now that we had jettisoned the concept of a “hybrid,” we were freed up to think of the product in an entirely new light.
The first step was to look at the competition. The shaving industry has historically been dominated by a handful of players, even with recent direct-to-consumer entrants into the market. Three brands — Bic, Schick and Gillette — own nearly 90% of the category. And more to the point, this $30B global category hasn’t seen any true product innovation in decades (and no, I don’t count the proliferation of blades and gel reservoirs and lubrication strips as ground-breaking). Even recent insurgent brands like Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club have only disrupted the market on price and distribution.
This device offers real innovation — a category-buster that proposes a new approach to shaving that is neither manual or electric by traditional definitions. It represents a third way.
We looked at brands that we admired — specifically ones that entered a category with a promise to reinvent a product or service and reorient consumer expectations. Brand such as Nest, Invisalign, Dyson, Airbnb, and Tesla all delivered true innovation that superseded the products that come before them. What were the commonalities between those brands? How did they express the inherent transformative power of their offering?
Another critical dynamic at work in our analysis was around convenience. Technology has reconceived how we judge our consumer choices. Theorists have proposed the term “i-generation” for the cohort following millennials, but this is not a generational phenomenon; as a society, we’ve taken the old “have it your way” slogan and turned into a cultural ethos. We have all succumbed to the many efficiencies offered by technology. Since the rise of the smartphone, we have gradually re-ordered our world around a utopia of personal convenience.
Technology allows life’s daily drudgery to take a backseat to our personal wants, and compromise has become a dirty word these days. I don’t want to arrive home to a cold kitchen in the winter or a sweltering bedroom in the summer. Along comes Nest and the remote-controllable intuitive thermostat. I shouldn’t have to arrange my social life around my favorite TV show’s airtime; in fact, I’ll watch it on my phone riding home in the back of my Lyft. The entire dining and food category has been upended by meal kit, delivery, and on-demand grocery services catering to niche personal preferences. Modern technology offers the promise to live my life on my own terms. My life first; all those other obligations are just tasks waiting to be optimized.
But not so for shaving. Shaving remains a chore for men and women which can take 15 minutes or more out of our regular daily routines. We’re beholden to that can of shaving cream, the 5-bladed razor, the balms and creams, and our various rituals around the process. It’s a rare person who will say that they enjoy their morning shave. We just endure it.
And travel? Packing FAA-approved-travel sized bottles into our carry-ons is an undertaking fraught with hazards, inconvenience, and frustration.
The solution for many younger men is to skip shaving — some altogether and others opting for 2–3 days of stubble — rather than being subjugated to its daily drudgery.
We envisioned our device offering a way out from under the menial toil of shaving. A compact little gadget that can be taken on the go, delivering a quick and comfortable shave. I can throw it in my gym bag or stow it in my desk at the office. If I want to leave town for the weekend, it’s at the ready. If I need a touch-up before going out, it’s close at hand.
So now it was time to test some of these theories with the folks that mattered: our primary target, the 18–35 A- and B-county shaver. Our feeling was that once someone moved beyond that demo, their shaving habits were pretty well ingrained. Plus, amongst men, a clear generational divide separated these groups when it came to their views on personal grooming.
After over 40 focus group participants had filed in and out of a Pentagram conference room over the course of a very long day, we looked for common threads and “consumer tensions” in the discussion. Todd Goldstein from the Pentagram team teased out several conflicting dynamics.
The pervasive sentiment was one of wariness and skepticism: you got the sense that these men felt that they’d been fed a lifetime of lies when it came to shaving. Jargon and boastful claims were not going to dissuade them from their ingrained belief that, as one panelist named Antonio put it, “I will always have pain if I want to get the closest shave possible.”
(In a separate consumer research study, we partnered with the Wharton Business School and IDC program, which yielded a similar result. After sorting through a variety of concepts, consumers scored all shaving brands low on “believability,” openly admitting that they had little faith that their enduring skin problems could actually be solved.)
We specifically looked for people for our focus groups who complained of irritation and bumps resulting from shaving. In the room, however, few men spoke of skin sensitivity as the issue. They had all devised intricate systems to avoid skin irritation — one different from the next — whether it was a steaming-hot towel prep, or a protocol of creams, or a variety of razors for different parts of the face. And as a result, their complaint had shifted to one of time. “I don’t have skin problems, but that’s because I spend 20 minutes or more on my process each day.” Their sensitive skin problem had been diverted into a time management problem.
We had recently brought on a CEO — Phil Masiello, the founder of 800razors.com, which he sold in 2016. His take was straightforward (and I’m paraphrasing a bit here): No one likes to shave. It’s time-consuming, it’s expensive, it’s uncomfortable (or downright painful). And the category is primed for a product that offers true innovation.
The desire for a “third way” was palpable. How would we tell a story that could inspire consumers to reshape their habits and expectations around shaving?
Spring 2017: A Personality — and a Name — Emerges
Now the real work could begin. We would seek out the sweet spot where three critical realms overlapped: the unique selling points of our device, the white space in the category, and the pressing needs of our consumers.
I had asked my friend and brand strategy guru, Liz Bagot, to advise through this process. And one comment she offered at this point stuck with me. This was not a problem/solution brand.
Communicating the unique merits of our device would surely be a part of our messaging, yes, but ultimately we needed to connect this brand to broader themes that transcended its functional benefits. Our story had to delve into emotion, not just speak to reason.
After several worksessions with Pentagram, we hammered out the brand’s five key attributes:
- Innovative: a technology- and design-forward mindset
- Efficient: a swift and effective tool
- Diligent: clinically tested and trusted
- Responsive: an understanding and loyal companion
- Original: a cool little gadget like no other
The brand’s personality was beginning to emerge. It distilled both function and sentiment into a complementary set of qualities. The language, the tone, and the POV that we would ingrain in our messaging was coming into focus.
These attributes are our foundation, ensuring that we speak with a consistent and recognizable voice. (A year later, we regularly go back to these adjectives, comparing them against a variety of brand executions.)
And our Brand Manifesto followed, along with our Mission Statement:
We’re re-thinking shaving from the skin up: We spoke to shavers around the world about their routines, their hair and skin types, their ideal shave; our team took notes, developed prototypes, and spent thousands of hours testing and developing the kind of shave we’ve always wanted but had never been given.
The result is a remarkably new way to shave, and arguably the first true shaving innovation in a generation. It’s more effective than an electric, easier on sensitive faces than a manual, quicker than both, and small enough to fit in your pocket. While others are adding blades and gel reservoirs and flex-balls, we’ve developed new technology that provides a clean, simple shave for all.
Because it’s the 21st century, and you should start shaving like it.
Okay, so we all felt that our narrative was in good shape at this point. But it was time to get down to it. What were we going to call this thing?
We girded ourselves in preparation for our task — attempting to clear trademark in two categories across both North America and the EU. This would require no small amount of patience and perseverance.
Because our name needed to be ownable in both the razor and skin care categories, we slogged our way through 5 rounds and about 20 “finalists” which inevitably ran aground on one issue or another during our comprehensive clearance searches. Several weeks into this process, we started feeling a bit demoralized. Names were getting lobbed in from all quarters, each dissolving into a seemingly random sequence of letters after we stared at them long enough. At one point, we asked for a round of names that were explicitly nonsense words. We were beginning to suspect that every word in the English language had been filed for grooming trademark.
We reconsidered some of our compromised contenders; a couple of names that we’d formed strong attachments to — one that cleared North American trademark but ran into issues with a Turkish knife manufacturer, or another that conflicted with a mom-and-pop skin care line from rural Michigan. Did we want to take a measured risk with a name that might face category or geographical limitations down the road? This did not feel like the sure-footed and impactful brand introduction we had imagined.
Pentagram wanted to give it one more shot. They took a couple weeks and, sure enough, came back to us with a name that excited the team more than any previous candidates. They went back to the invention itself, the inspiration that Tsafrir drew from in his initial design: the classic lawnmower, which shears grass with two opposing blades — a rotating internal cylinder and an external, stationary cutter.
Clean, Concise. Declarative. And as an added bonus, an ambigram — a word that can be read the same whether right-side up or upside-down.
Fall 2017: A Logo is Born
Full disclosure, MOW took a while to sink in for me. There’s a brashness and boldness to the name that I had to adjust to. I reached out to Jeremy Faro, friend and naming-expert-nonpareil, who had been instrumental in advising throughout this entire branding process. He reassured me with several examples of brand names that originally might have had dissonant connotations (who in their right mind would want to fly on an airline whose name means inexperienced and naive?), and gave a vote of confidence to the edginess — pun intended, I assume — of MOW.
After several fails in the clearance process, I was also tamping down expectations about any potential name, fearing that our lawyer would return with yet another rejection. In August 2017, we put the name through a full trademark search and application, and lo and behold, it cleared! Just recently, we got word that the trademark was granted after a multi-month review process.
And now the name feels almost pre-destined. It’s puckish, without being cutesy. It’s assertive, without being overbearing. And it embraces the kind of honesty that underpins the whole notion of the brand.
The logo development process yielded a number of interesting takes on those three letters. The designers, of course, had a field day with the up/down/vertical/horizontal possibilities of the name. As we winnowed our options down, this version of logo gained prominence:
The subtle cues embedded in this mark are powerful: the forward lean of the letters imparting vigor and innovation and momentum; the notched “O” evoking a machine-like precision; the sliced legs of the M and arms of the W, positioned like raised whiskers about to be sheared. Referring back to our brand attributes — innovation, efficiency, diligence, originality — all those qualities feel present in this logo.
And aesthetically, it nicely sets itself apart from the competitors in the space.
The most thrilling moments in life are the ones filled with a sense of endless possibility: the split-second when the lights dim in the theater, the night before Christmas, the erupting cheers as the national anthem crescendos and the game is about to begin. When Pentagram made its final presentation — with the name and the logo and the positioning and the story laid out before us — MOW was steeped in all the potential and promise we had hoped for at the start of this journey. We were ready to make our case to the world.
So here, in fact, is where the MOW story begins. It is now officially birthed in the public domain, a brand ready to be realized and imbued with all the qualities we’ve woven into it — not to mention all of the beliefs and opinions that consumers will bring to the product as it heads to market in 2019. Our waiting list is growing each day at www.mowshave.com,
Knowing that we have a long runway until launch, our social media strategy is unfolding methodically, and focused on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/mowshaving/) for now. Into the fall, the product team will be making their final adjustments to the device before it is readied for mass production, and we’ll be soliciting input and testing custom designs with our followers.
Each week, tweaks to the device are still being assessed by small testing groups, with engineers adapting to feedback on the speed, closeness, and comfort of our shave. But the premise of MOW remains the same: we’re convinced that there’s a technologically better way to build a razor that will deliver a quick, face-friendly shave for all.
We can’t wait for everyone — no matter what skin type, ethnicity, age, or gender — to take our device for a spin and experience first-hand a new era in shaving.
To find out more about MOW, check us at: https://www.mowshaving.com/
While you’re here, join the MOW community and be the first try out the MOW razor in advance of our 2019 launch.