If you’re not already working the direct-to-consumer (DTC) angle, you should be. And you don’t need to dance, wave a machete, or drop “F” bombs to be successful (but more on that in a minute).
Complex times often call for simple solutions, and DTC brands “cater to people’s desire for simplicity,” says Caroline Forsey of Hubspot. Noting that analysis-paralysis “is a real thing,” she writes that DTC companies “eliminate the hassle of researching, browsing, and choosing from hundreds of options, making shopping practically effortless.”
By selling cheap razors, for example. That’s the road Dollar Shave Club took to achieving DTC holy grail status. Pushing the marketing envelope, the subscription service’s YouTube video launch featured dance routines, a shaving baby, a guy in a bear suit, and “Mike” (Dollar Shave founder Michael Dubin) wielding a machete and asking questions like, “Are the blades any good? No, our blades are f**ing great.” The minute-and-a-half-long spot, released in 2012, went “supernova-viral” within 72 hours of being posted, and received 4.75 million views in just three months.
As Hubspot’s Caroline Forsey notes, the video doesn’t land like an ad. Instead, it comes off “like a funny video your brother’s goofy friend made in his garage — which probably explains why so many people sent it to friends and shared it on social media.”
Views are great, but subscriptions are even better, and in the case of Dollar Shave, it’s apparent those video shares paid off. Why? Because in addition to being clever, the company clearly understood its target market (because being clever is never enough). In the first two days after its launch, Dollar Shave saw 12,000 subscribers jumping on the no-middleman, cheap-razor bandwagon. By the end of the year, the company had logged $6 million in sales, and $250 million in 2016, when Unilever purchased it for $1 billion.
And while not every company eyeing DTC marketing can hope to achieve the viral fame Dollar Shave enjoyed straight out of the gate (though, hey… goals), plenty of other companies — makeup company Glossier, eyewear company Warby Parker, clothing retailer Bonobos, and pet products company Chewy, among many others — are proof positive that the DTC market can be a lucrative one, especially given the many ways to connect with consumers. Back in 2012, when Dollar Shave launched, YouTube was, as Dubin says in Inc., “the only place to go if you wanted any hope of going viral.” Today, of course, companies have many more platforms across which to flog their wares, including social media, podcasts, and other online channels.
Research conducted before the pandemic from Epsilon-Conversant, a marketing services agency, found that 80% of CMOs believed DTCs were impacting their markets — everything from toothpaste to mattresses to pet food. It also found that 82% of marketers are losing sleep fretting about DTCs’ popularity with digitally native Gen Z and millennials.
While COVID-19 initially put a crimp in consumer buying behaviour, Adweek reports that consumers have since become more open to trying new brands for products they see as comparable. One study estimates that 81% of consumers intend to purchase from a DTC brand by 2023. As for the other side of the register, changing shopping habits have provided brands with an opportunity to explore customer substitution behaviour — and avoid too much of a revenue hit by taking advantage of it.
Which means that every brand stands to gain from a DTC approach — even those that haven’t traditionally sold directly to consumers, or marketed to them at all. The benefit of adopting DTC tactics isn’t just about boosting revenue through direct sales (thought that’s a bonus); it’s also that DTC strategies allow brands to better understand consumer behavior, build customer profiles, and inform future business decisions.
To gain a foothold in industries long dominated by legacy companies that controlled supply chains and were flush with fat advertising budgets, DTC brands have forged direct connections with consumers, often via shared values or causes — as, for example, in the case of Glossier, which has a cult following on social media beauty sites. Capitalising on that following, the company has provided grants to Black-owned businesses and contributed generously to organisations fighting racial injustice — efforts that have further expanded its reach and burnished its brand.
Building a connection with your customer base doesn’t require advocacy or donations, of course. The first task of any DTC company (any company, actually) in search of a following is to provide a customised, accessible, and seamless customer experience. And that comes from understanding your target market — which in turn is the first step in driving sales, cementing loyal customers, and creating advocates for your brand.
“Given the volatility of today’s world, now is a good reminder for direct-to-consumer brands to double down on what they do best,” writes Andrew Caravella in Adapt, a publication from social media management and optimisation platform Sprout Social. “What makes these brands so successful is their ability to build one-to-one, authentic relationships with their customers and foster communities online.” He adds that companies looking to hang on to customers and drive long-term growth, “should take a page out of the direct-to-consumer marketing playbook and prioritise connections — now.”
Fail to connect with or please, and an estimated 68% of people won’t return to your site. Indeed, Caravella warns that unless you know how to connect with your customers, “there’s a good chance they will shift their Likes and loyalties to another brand that does.”
Search plays an integral part in drawing consumers to your website and into your purchase funnel — all of which paints a better, more textured picture of your customer, and provides data and insights that help your brand build that coveted one-on-one, authentic relationship. It’s a picture that also drives sales, since as Sprout notes, when people feel connected to a brand, 57% will increase their spending with that brand and 76% will buy from that brand over a competitor.
As we’ve noted before, DTCs have thrived by zeroing in on two key segments of the customer journey: online research via search engine, and research directly on a brand’s website. That’s why evaluating how people search on your website — the questions they ask, what they click on, and how that journey plays out — can yield incredibly valuable information, particularly in the DTC world, where consumers must rely in great part on the information you provide. Which is also why it’s imperative that your brand information be up to date and easily accessible (that includes everything from shipping costs to your return policy) not only on your website, but also across third-party sites such as Yelp and Google My Business. Should anything change, you can instantly be on it.
And that’s half the beauty of operating as a DTC brand. As Econsultancy, a marketing consulting firm in London, puts it, DTC brands are focused, nimble and agile, giving them the ability to more easily react to a change of circumstances — “a winning formula for any brand when no one quite knows what will come next.”