If you have ever suggested to a man in your life that he go see a doctor about some minor — but possibly important — issue, you’re likely familiar with the parade of excuses: “It’s nothing”, “I’m busy”, “Leave me alone, you’re not my mother!” (Yeah, even if you are).
Statistically speaking, almost half of men miss their annual checkups with a general practitioner (GP) — and they even ignore their dentists. And when it comes to “private issues” — around their mental or sexual health — an even higher number refuse to seek professional help.
When doing initial research for his product, Andrew Dudum found that less than 10% of 20 to 40-year-old men had a GP they trusted to call with questions about issues like hair loss or sexual wellness.
Both Dudum and his friends often turned to Google, instead of a licensed professional, for medical advice. More times than not, they ended up buying either over-priced products made for women or some sort of mysterious “snake oil”.
So, Dudum decided to break the pattern and launched Hims — an online platform that helps men get accurate advice and affordable prescriptions for many “hush-hush” health concerns such as hair loss, erectile dysfunction, and anxiety, among others.
In just five years, Hims shot up to a $1.6 billion valuation and went public at the beginning of 2021. The latest investor figures suggest that Hims is still growing fast. In Q3 2021, the company revenue was $74.2 million and member subscriptions count hit 551,000.
So, how did Hims use mental health marketing to sway public opinion around “unsexy” issues and reach a cult brand status with a somewhat skeptical target audience? This brand deep dive provides the gist.
Turning Shame into Acclaim: The Hims Success Story
Before Andrew Dudum founded Hims in 2017, he had already launched several startups and was serving as a partner at Atomic — a VC firm that also doubles as a startup incubator.
As Dudum recounted in an intervew with Fast Company, the product idea itself came to him during a family dinner. His sister cornered him in between courses and demanded to know why he was not taking better care of himself. To fix all the appalling issues identified — “ashy skin color, wrinkles, and pimples” — Dudum’s sister bought him $300 worth of cosmetic products, mainly from women’s brands.
Post-encounter, Dudum took away two main things. First, not everyone has a blunt (yet caring) close family member or friend to stage health interventions. Second, few men are willing to spend that much on skincare.
Like every proper Millennial, Dudum decided to do some googling. He found that most male-focused retailers focused on grooming products over healthcare. At the same time, many men complained that getting an appointment with a dermatologist or urologist took ages.
So, with the support of Atomic, Dudum decided to build his product — a platform selling direct-to-consumer (D2C) pharmacy products for hair loss, penile issues, and skin concerns.
Hims website circa 2017. Source: Web Archive.
Sporting a minimalistic design, affordable pricing, and cheeky slogans with emojis — Hims was quickly dubbed “Glossier for Dudes”.
But the direct tone of voice, simple language, and “light” design were intentional: Hims wanted its target audience to feel at ease and understood. In a Vox interview, Dudum explained:
“We just need to talk to guys like they want to be spoken to, which is, like, super blunt and super directly. We’re not bullshitting them, we’re not selling them snake oil. We’re selling them stuff that works, it’s really good cost, and it’s doctor-approved. All you have to do is use it.”
And this brand storyhit the mark — sales trickled in and VC funding followed. In just one year, Hims raised $97 million in three rounds of funding.
But there was a problem: Hims was marketing prescription products to a reluctant and somewhat distrusting audience.
To show that all the products they offer are legit, the brand doubled down on the “scientific” aspect of their service. Hims recruited a Medical Advisory Board featuring a roaster of licensed medical professionals who acted both as consultants and brand advocates. They also upgraded their self-questionnaire to include a short online consultation with a medical professional for any prescription products.
Over time, the Hims team expanded from selling ED and hair loss treatments to offering a broader spectrum of “primary care” products and services. Technologically, they’ve upgraded into a proper telehealth platform. You can schedule a virtual doctor appointment in several taps, fill in an intake form, and receive personalized medical advice from a provider.
In three years, Hims’ annual revenue grew by 128% — reaching $130 million in 2020. The number of virtual patient consultations topped 2 million in mid-2020. And in late 2018, Dudum also launched Hers — a female-oriented subsidiary with a similar value prop. But that’s a story for another day.
As of 2022, Hims operates in all 50 states and in the UK (in a limited capacity). The team also launched a teletherapy app (another high-growth market!) and is focused on growing its subscriber base.
If wellness and online healthcare are the two niches you are sizing up, here are several brand growth lessons to take from Hims.
Three Brand Lessons From Hims
Brands are shaped both by internal expertise and external factors like market conditions, pre-existing consumer sentiment, and competitive landscape.
Hims was launched during the “golden era” of D2C startups. In 2017, soon-to-be unicorns like Warby Parker, Glossier, and Casper among others were the new consumer obsessions and investor darlings.
Their niche, online health+self care, was also picking up speed until it boomed in 2020-21 — which was a not-so-lucky, but convenient concurrence.
Finally, the Hims team was smart about their product sourcing and pricing. They managed to source generic versions of popular prescription drugs from pharma manufacturers for a fraction of retail prices.
The challenge for Hims, however, was building rapport with their target audiences. Nudging men to give a fuss about their health wasn’t easy. Here’s how Hims turned uncomfortable conversions into a vibrant, fun, and compelling brand narrative.
1. Build Your Brand Around Your Targets
When Dudum decided to launch, Hims he already knew who he was marketing to — guys from his friend group, who’d rather read WebMD and buy woo-woo stuff than visit the actual doctor.
That sounds like a large niche for an audience — but the choice was intentional.
Hims wasn’t there just for frat boys or tech nerds, straight or queer folks. Their goal was to speak to every guy who may struggle with uncomfortable health issues. For that reason, they settled on the somewhat “vague”, but modern-looking brand aesthetics.
Together with their design partner, Gin Lane, Hims translated their brand vision into a sleek visual identity, consistent across multiple formats and mediums:
Source: Gin Lane
Every element of the designed UX was aimed at creating a friendly destination where:
Conversations on sensitive topics are normalized
The language is clear, relatable, and understandable
Users can discover extra content and get educated
Hims’ look was simple, fresh, and effective. In the first week, the brand raked in $1 million in sales — and that was their smallest week ever.
The Takeaway: Invest in consumer research early on. Don’t get caught up with demographics data alone — think about physiographic factors, too. How do your targets prefer to be talked to? What goals do they want to accomplish? What things do they lack to live their best lives?
Collect brand monitoring data to understand what language and messaging will best land with your audience and prompt them to action.
2. Ditch the Industry Standards
A lot of brand marketers believe that choosing a safe route of a “best practice” — be it pink color packing for women or a 4-step payment checkout form — primes you for a good start.
But more times than not, the “sameness” gets you nowhere.
Yes, consumers have certain mental anchors that help you market things to them. Many tech companies use blue as their dominant brand color because it’s universally appealing. Or offer three-tier pricing because it boosts conversion.
When it comes to branding, however, the overuse of some visual aesthetics eventually plays against those who adopt them.
Consumers are already wondering why coffee shops, hotels, and coworking spaces from Singapore to LA have the same “AirSpace” look of raw wood tables, exposed brick, and hanging Edison bulbs.
Similarly, people are questioning why lifestyle startups are obsessed with sans serif fonts. Or why the Big Tech loves Corporate Memphis design so much.
From the get-go, the Hims team was adamant about using “traditional” branding. No “macho language”, forest green or dark blue colors, or “a man sitting on a leather couch, smoking a cigar” type of vibes.
As Hilary Coles, the Brand Lead at Hims, explained in an interview, they chose muted tones and minimalistic universal packaging that anyone would feel proud to place on a bathroom shelf — regardless of their position on the gender spectrum or personal aesthetic preferences.
And because this “neutrality” was a bit too similar to other lifestyle startups, to spruce things up, Hims doubled down on clever marketing creatives — plastering its cheeky visuals and minimalistic slogans as OOH ads all across the US:
Source: Gin Lane
Using tongue-in-cheek humor is a great tactic other startups like Dollar Shave Club used to successfully activate and engage male audiences.
But some overly cocky and sassy ads did raise issues with consumers and regulators. For example, after a filed complaint, Hims was banned from running this Facebook ad in the UK.
Source: Swipe File
The Takeaway: Being bold, instead of bland, with your brand marketing can increase brand awareness. But you need to understand where the “border” is in borderline offensive. Especially, when it comes to a topic as sensitive as someone’s health.
Making off-hand remarks about a personal struggle — anxiety, ED, or hair loss — can leave some of your targets feeling offended. At the same time, miraculous promises and overly-confident medical advice can tank your credibility and lead to regulatory action.
So, if you’re marketing in a sensitive industry like healthcare, ensure that your collateral ticks both consumer preference and regulatory checkboxes.
3. Use Partners to Grow
The common struggle of D2C brands is scaling the business.
Customer acquisition costs (CAC) for owned channels can add up fast. So partnerships often become the next stepping stone on the growth journey.
The common options are:
Co-branding deals and collabs with D2C players in adjacent industries
Exclusive retail or wholesaler partnerships
Teaming up with another D2C for cross-promotion is a particularly common tactic. For example, Gravity Products, a startup specializing in weighted blankets, ran collabs with a popular online mattress brand, Purple, and a mediation app, Calm. The results were impressive — 20% of Gravity Products’ revenue for that year came through partners.
Hims appears to be riding a partnership train, too. In 2021, the company signed distribution deals with Target, Revolve, and UO to get in front of new audiences and expand their retail footprint (and boost profits).
Interestingly, they also partnered with Uber Eats, allowing consumers in select US cities to order same-day door-to-door delivery. That’s a smart alternative to building a bunch of retail locations to get the same instant experience. Plus, with ongoing bottlenecks in last-mile deliveries (courtesy of surged eCommerce sales and ongoing supply chain disruptions), Hims probably wants to position “extra fast shipping” as another brand strength for their subscription customers.
Finally, the team is no stranger to recruiting celebrity ambassadors. In 2021, they had Alex Rodriguez (also an investor in the company) promoting the new line of male make-up. That’s a cool choice for showing that there’s no shame in using make-up as a straight, mainly, middle-aged man.
Additionally, Hims enlisted NFL star Rob Gronkowski to talk about men’s health issues for its Superbowl ad. Again, the personality choice and the narrative he presented were fully on-beat with Hims branding.
The Takeaway: With current sales numbers, Hims has the budget to broker major partnerships across the board. But smaller brands too can (and should) get on this bandwagon as the benefits are well worth it.
The key to an effective brand partnership is choosing a company that cultivates similar brand values and brand associations to yours.
Hims found a vacant niche and took it by storm. Dudum’s personal experience with other startups, Atomic support, and favorable marketing conditions played a major part in the brand’s rapid success. But so did deep audience research and product development efforts — backed by customer data.
Hims nailed the type of narrative male consumers wanted to hear around sensitive health issues — an honest, no-nonsense conversation. And they’ve been successfully amplifying their initial idea of “taking care of yourself” via a growing collection of convenient online services.
Dudum also believes that “80% of the $4 trillion healthcare market will move toward a delivery service that ‘looks like Hims & Hers’ in the next five to 10 years”. So it will be interesting to see what Hims does next and how other brands will capitalize on digitally-led healthcare.
And if you want to learn more about the consumers who are supporting Hims, you can check out our Hims Brand Bite.