New DTC toolkit   //   January 11, 2024

‘Paid marketing just isn’t working’: Jolie CEO Ryan Babenzien on how to market a shower head as a wellness product in the post-DTC era

Subscribe: Apple PodcastsStitcherGoogle PlaySpotify

Jolie launched with the thesis that it could convince people that a shower head is a wellness product.

The bet seems to have worked. The company, which says it is profitable, is about three years old and brought in more than $25 million in revenue in 2023. Co-founder and CEO Ryan Babenzien credits two things with its success: an ardent fan base that evangelized the brand and a growing omnichannel strategy.

Babenzien joined the Modern Retail Podcast this week and spoke about Jolie’s growth and future business strategy.

Jolie makes a filtered shower head. As Babenzien described it, this is “step zero” of everyone’s skin care routine. “The one constant… is your shower,” he said. “You may change your shampoo every week, but you still shower.”

With that, Jolie has taken great pains to market itself as something beyond a product you would buy at the hardware store. Some of the brand’s first store accounts were in untraditional spots. This was by design — find retail environments that cater to people looking for better wellness products. For example, Jolie is available at Erewhon as well as “That was sort of step one, let’s show up where the customer with an interest in this stuff will show,” said Babenzien. “It’s pretty simple, not a lot of complexity, common sense. And from there, we can start to scale out.”

Once the customers found Jolie, the company made user-generated content a big part of its marketing play. “People influence people,” Babenzien said. With that, the company has amassed nearly 20,000 pieces of unique UGC over the last few years.

The idea was to use this free content as a way to offset expensive digital marketing. “Paid marketing has not performed well for over a decade. And yet the entire industry is still spending the majority of their marketing budget on paid,” Babenzien said. “It just isn’t working, guys.”

With that the focus is on more growth, but keeping profitability in mind. While the company has focused on beauty and wellness destinations, that doesn’t mean Jolie won’t be sold in some more traditional environments.

“We see us showing up in Home Depot one day and Costco,” Babenzien said. “Even though we’re a beauty wellness tool, we’re just going to be positioned slightly different in Home Depot.”

Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

Rethinking the shower head proposition
“The utility of a shower head, historically, is just to push out water. That’s what it does. We believe that all shower heads ultimately will be filtering, over some period of time, because it’s necessary now to filter the water — not just spray it out. The timing of us coming into the market is out of need. Like, that’s just luck, we happen to be hitting the market when it really is a need. But we call it step zero. Beauty trends come and go. There are new products in the beauty industry every single day. They call it the wet business — whether it’s lotion or serum or hair or skin or SPF. And they come and go. And you might even try them and use them for six months, and then try the next one. And that’s generally how the beauty industry works. The one constant in all of that is your shower. You may change your shampoo every week, but you still shower. So we call it step zero. We think it’s the most critical part of whatever your routine is, whether you have a one-step routine or a 10-step routine.”

Jolie’s focus on UGC
“There’s no silver bullet. There’s no one thing that we can attribute to this sort of success. But [UGC] is a really important part of our success. And we believe that people influence people. Paid marketing has not performed well for over a decade. And yet the entire industry is still spending the majority of their marketing budget on paid. It just isn’t working, guys. So we wanted to approach the market differently and rely on people. The way we do that is [by] getting them to share their story with the use of Jolie, whether that’s at the dinner table in real life, which we certainly cannot measure, or just out shopping with their friends, or them sharing it on Instagram or Tiktok or whatever their preferred channel is. In two years, we’re now approaching 20,000 pieces of unique UGC. In my 20-year career, I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Why wholesale is key
“From the beginning, we were always going to be an omnichannel business. I personally don’t know of any purely digital consumer brands that are profitable. So I think we all know that it’s clear to have other points of distribution other than direct to support the business. And that was our approach.”