How to Build Brand Awareness & Thought Leadership

In 2010, Michael Dubin used to work at Time Inc., doing improv comedy on the side. By 2017, he’d built a billion-dollar brand.

How Dubin pulled it off is the stuff of marketing legend. His company, Dollar Shave Club, rose from obscurity in 2012 after he created a YouTube video called “Our Blades Are F***ing Great.” The video only cost a few thousand dollars to produce, but it caught mainstream attention. It established Dollar Shave Club as a funny, irreverent, bold, and most importantly, helpful brand.

Brands love to talk about going viral; Dubin actually did it. He created a single piece of content, and suddenly, millions of people knew about his business. Better yet, that awareness led to revenue. Within two days, Dollar Shave Club had more than 12,000 orders. (The response was so overwhelming that it crashed the company website) The company’s annual revenue rose millions year after year. And in 2017, Unilever bought it for $1 billion.

That’s quite the fairy tale, right? Well, Dollar Shave Club’s origin story is a little more complex than it seems at first glance.

The brand’s success was about more than just going viral or getting lucky. Like other companies that have mastered content marketing, Dollar Shave Club had a clear mission, audience research, a unique voice, and high-quality storytelling.

Content marketers in all industries can learn from these examples. You don’t need an unlimited budget or a team of 80 to drive business results (although more resources is always nice.) But what you do need is an understanding of the different components that’ll set your company up for content marketing success.

A model for success

A brand is just the sum of all interactions someone has with a company. Every purchase, TV commercial, customer service call, and tweet contributes to the relationship, whether good or bad. Over the past decade, content marketing has become one of the primary ways brands build those relationships. If you want to drive awareness, trust, and loyalty, great storytelling is much more effective than intrusive ads or overt promotion.

Engaging the right audience starts with a basic question: How are you going to help someone?

As Joe Lazauskas, our director of content strategy, writes:

“The easiest way to build those relationships is to genuinely help people. If you’re B2B, help people get better at their job and move up in their careers. If you’re B2C, help them enjoy personal passions (travel, fitness, wellness, food, sports, etc.) more. If you help someone master their little corner of the universe a little bit better, they’ll trust you.”

Marketers think they have to be perfect at this from the very beginning, but building a brand takes time. If you do things right, you’ll start to see progress.

Just ask Michael Dubin. Dollar Shave Club didn’t happen overnight. “The beginning of the story is about solving a problem for guys,” he told Fortune magazine in 2015.

With that simple sentence, Dubin clearly articulated the blueprint for meaningful content marketing. First, he started with a problem—razors are too expensive and inaccessible. He locked in on a specific audience—guys, specifically people old enough to shave who wanted simplicity over luxury. Then, he found a way to reach them and solve that problem—a subscription service that brought them razors for one dollar per month. That foundation established why the brand existed, which would serve every video, blog post, and marketing asset to follow.

You see, the billion-dollar deal had little to do with Dollar Shave Club’s products. Dubin actually bought razors pre-made from a wholesaler named Dorco. What Unilever really wanted was access to the relationships Dollar Shave Club had fostered through content.

The brand invested heavily after the success of the YouTube video. It started sending customers a monthly print magazine called The Bathroom Minutes with their razors. There was a popular Father’s Day video series. Then came Mel Magazine, a digital publication that specializes in ambitious, longform stories on topics off the beaten path. It’s the only place you can read about people who refuse to drink water or watch documentaries about former Harvard graduates who become medieval fighters.

At the time of the sale in 2017, Dubin had more than 3 million subscribers coming back for more every month.

Building this type of content program is so difficult because it requires the perfect combination of strategy, talent, process, and tools. Contently developed our own Content Maturity Model to show what the different phases of success look like:


Based on all the market research we’ve compiled over the last decade, too many brands are still stuck in content chaos. They may publish a blog sporadically or create marketing assets they hope will drive business results. We know this approach doesn’t work long term. A Contently study found that 98 percent of senior marketers believe that having and following a content strategy is crucial, but only 55 percent actually have a documented strategy.

What’s causing this disconnect? Why is 65 percent of content either unusable or unfindable, according to SiriusDecisions? And why are 75 percent of B2B organizations without a formalized content process?

To help marketers right the ship, we’ve releasing a series of five playbooks over the next few months. They’ll cover:

  • Brand Awareness & Thought Leadership
  • Lead Generation
  • Scale & Alignment
  • Sales Enablement
  • Retention

For each e-book, we spoke with some of the most insightful content marketers out there to uncover their biggest tips and pain points. By the end of the series, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about building your brand, setting up effective internal processes, and proving the value of content marketing throughout your organization.

Whether you work in B2B or B2C, the goal of these playbooks is to get you out of content chaos and on the path to content mastery. Let’s get started.

This is an excerpt from The Content Marketer’s Playbook: Brand Awareness & Thought Leadership. Click here to read the entire first e-book.

Image by Andrea Ucini

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