For retailers, reaching an audience is no longer just about creating a popular or useful product. Consumers are looking to support companies that can form an authentic relationship and emotional connection. In a time when social media marketing reigns supreme, established brands are having an increasingly difficult time competing with the 1:1 advantage of smaller DTCs. This is especially true for DTC companies that can fulfill consumers’ needs without relying on a middleman for delivery or sales.

What does it mean to be a direct-to-consumer brand?

You probably see ads for direct-to-consumer companies everywhere – in magazines, on social media, on the subway, or even over the airwaves on your favorite podcast. While this may seem like a new trend, this concept has been around since the early 19th century, in the form of door-to-door salesmen. With the help of the internet, direct-to-consumer companies have moved their business to a digital platform, still operating under the same premise as their on-foot predecessors.

DTC brands specialize in niche products and sell their products and services directly to consumers, skipping the middleman entirely. Today’s DTC brands are quickly gaining recognition due to their unique and revolutionary marketing strategies. These brands have struck a chord with Millennial and Gen-Z consumers with an image that is lifestyle-oriented, personable, and affordable.

What are some direct-to-consumer marketing strategies?

Because of their relatively small scale, direct-to-consumer brands are in a unique position to test new strategies and reimagine the traditional marketing playbook. Although DTC brands cover an infinite range of industries, they leverage similar tactics to find success.  

Create a perfect product: Direct-to-consumer brands are often known for their ability to create a specific product really well. For example, Warby Parker offers affordable eyeglasses, Casper specializes in mattresses, and Allbirds creates eco-friendly sneakers. Perceived value is important when it comes to building a loyal following – internet users indicated they are most loyal to brands that deliver product quality, proving to be well-made (65%), long-lasting (46%), the best available (42%) and fairly-priced (36%). By focusing on a particular niche, DTC brands are able to hone their craft and gain recognition for expertise within a given space. Leveraging practices like social listening, DTC companies can also gather insights from consumers to inform product optimizations and generate greater brand affinity.

Build a relationship: Direct-to-consumer brands have the advantage of creating 1:1 connections at a mass scale, both quickly and cost-effectively. Owning the relationship with their customers from start to finish, DTC brands can leverage first-party shopper data to gain valuable insights into what consumers are buying, when they are reordering, and what other products may be of interest. They can then use insights from member profiles to deliver personalized product recommendations and relevant content. Digitally native DTC brands are also using experiential marketing initiatives to create opportunities for in-person connection. By setting up pop-up shops and storefronts in cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, DTC brands can position themselves as “tastemakers” in their respective industries while also gathering feedback from consumers in the field.

Influencer Marketing

Utilize social media: Although DTC brands are employing some of the most creative minds in marketing, a portion of the heavy lifting has been outsourced to a huge wave of online influencers. According to eMarketer, 41% of DTC shoppers say that celebrities and professional influencers make them more interested in a brand, with nearly one third of total US internet users making a purchase after seeing a post from a social media influencer. For example, beauty industry giant, Glossier, has a NYC-based flagship that they claim to be the ‘most “instagrammable” room in Soho. When consumers pop in and snap a picture in the bubble gum pink store, they are adding to Glossier’s social media ad campaign, even if they don’t buy anything. The tech unicorn also utilizes an army of nearly 1.7 million micro-influencers, seeing 70% of online sales coming from peer-to-peer referrals.

Focus on customer service: An emphasis on quality should also extend into the realm of customer service. Across the board, DTC companies have revolutionized the buying process, providing a seamless shopping experience and offering added perks like free shipping and simple returns. Rather than looking at customer service as a cost center, DTC brands recognize the importance of building long-term relationships with their customers via positive brand interactions. Consider Casper’s ‘bed-in-a-box’ method of mattress distribution. Instead of loading up the biggest car you can find, your new mattress will be delivered directly to your door. Don’t like it? Casper also gives customers 100 days to “sleep on it”, risk-free, with the option to return the mattress if needed.

What does the direct-to-consumer trend mean for marketers?

Whether you identify as a direct-to-consumer brand or not, there are many useful strategies that can be implemented by marketing and thinking like one. Here are our key takeaways for taking a direct-to-consumer marketing approach:

  • Engage with your audience on social media and let them know how much their feedback means to you. If leveraged the right way, your advocates on social media could easily become your greatest asset.
  • How would you rate the quality of your brand’s customer service? If you’re operating at a solid 4 out of 10, you may need to take a look at your current practices and identify opportunities to make your brand’s service more customer-friendly. Positive and negative reviews of a company are often dependent upon customer service.
  • When advertising to your audience, create a story. Shopping, even for the most basic or essential items, is still a personal affair. By creating a narrative that is relatable, you can create an authentic, emotional connection with customers and build brand loyalty.
  • If you’re a traditional retailer looking to replicate the 1:1 consumer connections championed by DTC brands, Fluent can help you to acquire and retain customers with high lifetime value – all on a performance-based pricing model. Get in touch here.