Direct-to-consumer marketing has seen growth in the past decade because of a shift in consumer desires. Learn how direct-to-consumer brands appeal to their (very choosy) customers, as well as the lessons you can learn from their tactics—even if you aren’t D2C.
What is a Direct-to-Consumer Brand?
Direct-to-consumer—often shortened as D2C or DTC—means that a product goes straight from the manufacturer to the customer, not through a middleman (such as a department store, grocery store, or online seller like Amazon or Etsy). This allows a brand to have complete control over a product throughout its entire lifecycle: they make the product, dictate how and where it’s sold, and get it to the customer themselves.
Some examples of direct-to-consumer brands include:
- Casper, which which delivers a mattress straight to your home
- Glossier, a makeup brand that can’t be bought in department stores
- Flaviar, a subscription for samples of high-end spirits
- Blue Apron, a service that delivers meal recipes and ingredients
The internet—and an increase of accessibility in general—has helped direct-to-consumer brands flourish. Before, manufacturers were beholden to retailers to get their goods to the public. Now, however, it’s easier than ever for products to go straight to consumers, saving time, money, and hassle.
What is Direct-to-Consumer Marketing?
The difference between direct-to-consumer marketing and traditional, business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing primarily comes down to control.
Imagine that you’ve made a product and you’ve negotiated with Walmart to sell it. Walmart will now control how your product is advertised—if they decide to advertise it at all. They decide where it’s placed in their aisles, including which competitors’ products they display yours next to, and which stores to stock it in.
Worst of all (in our opinion, at least), you have little to no access to data regarding how and why your product is selling. This means that you won’t have a clear idea of why people bought your product over the one next to it. Was it the TV commercial for Walmart it briefly appeared in? The YouTube pre-roll ads you produced on your own? A clearance sale you didn’t have control over? How about word of mouth? You can’t know for sure. If you don’t know the problem, you can’t begin to fix it—but in this case, there’s not much you can do to fix it, because Walmart is standing in the way between you and your customer.
When you market your product directly to the consumer, on the other hand, you have control over how and where your product is advertised. You also have access to the data that tells you what’s getting your product sold and what’s not. By eliminating the middleman, you can begin to create a direct relationship between brand and consumer.
“Direct to consumer marketing allows suppliers to provide an end-to-end brand experience because they retain control over the entire process,” explains Meredith Wood of Fundera. “The company is responsible for making a winning product, attracting and marketing it effectively to customers, delivering the product or service, and owning customer communication and experience. This direct interaction with consumers from start to finish means that suppliers can collect customer data and address issues that arise without messages being warped by an intermediary retailer.”
Modern consumers love personalization and a smooth, streamlined shopping experience, both of which are best provided by direct-to-consumer brands. And for marketers, it’s an ideal relationship, too. “The benefits of D2C marketing are clear: through this direct relationship, these companies are creating strong relationships with their consumers, understanding them better, and reaching a more specific, appropriate audience,” points out Caroline Forsey, manager of HubSpot’s marketing blog.
How to Use Direct-to-Consumer Marketing Tactics (Even if You’re Not a D2C Brand)
When several brands offer the convenience, transparency, and quality that consumers are now used to, the difference between them becomes customer experience. Therefore, everything you do must be focused on your specific customer; if not, they’re just going to go somewhere else to find an experience that caters to them. That’s why it’s important to think like a D2C marketer: they have a lock on reaching the ideal customer through the perfect channels to tell the exact story they’ll react to, ultimately building loyalty through content and excellent customer service.
Here are four direct-to-consumer marketing tactics you can use to impress your customers and keep them coming back for more—whether you’re a D2C brand or not.
1. Forge a Connection
Customers have come to expect being able to communicate with the companies they love. The internet has provided quick, convenient ways for consumers to access help, get valuable information, or even just enjoy a funny Tweet from their favorite brands.
“For the first time, it [is] possible for customers to make demands of companies as individuals—and to have those demands fulfilled,” says Randall Rothenberg, CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). “This individual connectedness between companies and consumers—an impossibility just 25 years ago—is now an assumed right. Today, J.D. Power says two-thirds of consumers expect direct connectivity to companies.” That direct connectivity is natural for direct-to-consumer brands because there’s no middleman: no retailer or seller to get in the way.
Even further than just easy communication, customers want to form relationships with the brands they love. It helps them feel good about what they purchase, and they feel more comfortable advocating for the brands they support. To foster a relationship with your customers, it’s imperative to create an experience that they can’t get anywhere else—which brings us to D2C marketing tactic #2.
2. Make it Personal
The modern consumer has come to expect brands to provide convenience in the form of personalization—for example, customized recommendations and allowing browser cookies to remember information about them to make shopping easier. According to the 2020 Brand Disruption Report by the IAB, 51% of consumers surveyed are more likely to make a purchase when a brand personalizes content. Additionally, 49% said they would become loyal to the brand and 46% said they would recommend the brand to someone else.
Edward Dennis of Core DNA says direct-to-consumer marketing “allows you to cater to your target customers the way you know they want to be treated.”
“Whether this means providing them with top-quality, engaging content, treating them to more personalized services, or doing something else entirely, going D2C can allow you to become more connected and engaged with your end-users than ever before,” he explains.
So how do direct-to-consumer brands achieve this personalization? It’s easier for them to obtain their customers’ data because the relationship is more direct. (“The data is better because every transaction and interaction is captured,” says Rothenberg.) Then, direct brands can use this data to further personalize a customer’s experience—including product recommendations, digital ad retargeting, and even customer service—to cultivate loyalty and keep them coming back for more.
If you’re not a D2C brand, getting that data might be a little tougher…but it’s by no means impossible. That’s where an experienced advertising agency like Kirkpatrick Creative comes in. We measure the data of everything we do to ensure our clients get the best possible performance at the most effective price. It’s what we call advertising engineered to work—and in our opinion, it’s impossible to achieve advertising that works without data.
3. Tell a Story
The nature of direct-to-consumer products means that they’re typically sold online—meaning the customer doesn’t get to touch, feel, or try the product. This means that the advertising has to be even more compelling, with breathtaking visuals and plenty of info so customers know exactly what they’re getting—and why they can’t live without it.
Even if you’re not a D2C brand, you should tell (and show!) customers the story of how your product will make their life better. “The ideal place to begin this story is by looking at what your differentiator is,” suggests Scott Ginsberg, Head of Content at Metric Digital. “Here’s one question we challenge our retail clients to ask: Who is the kind of person that, if they had this product, and you took it away from them, would feel some sort of pain? You have to put yourself in the shoes of someone whose life would be improved by your product.”
One way to do this is through native ads: sponsored posts that appear on websites like BuzzFeed or on influencers’ pages. These appear like regular articles that casual browsers are used to, save for a notice that the post is sponsored. The beauty of native ads is that they can be used to speak directly to the exact audience you want to reach. For example, direct brands that provide makeup subscriptions benefit from sponsoring posts on beauty influencers’ blogs, Instagram accounts, or YouTube channels because that’s what their followers have come to expect: quality, relatable content about buzzworthy products.
“The average individual is exposed to over 10,000 messages a day. The modern consumer has become savvier at tuning your brand’s message out,” says marketing agency Parker White. “Native ads are a direct response to this clutter, and when done right, your messages…go from pushing content onto your consumers to pulling them in.”
4. Branding is Key
We say it often: successful branding is far more than a visually-pleasing logo and a snappy slogan. From a direct-to-consumer marketing standpoint, the core of your brand should be the experience it provides the customer—at every single interaction. Enveloping the customer in a shopping experience that they enjoy is the key to creating trust and loyalty, no matter if you’re D2C, B2C, or something else.
“Ensure that your brand’s personality shines through in everything you do,” Dennis recommends. “One of the main benefits of D2C marketing is that you have a direct line of communication with your customers—meaning your brand’s voice won’t be ‘hidden’ behind that of your retailers’.”
So how do you unite effective branding with a great customer experience if you’re not a D2C brand? Consider storytelling and content as extensions of your brand identity. User-generated content—whether it’s organic or from a paid influencer—is a great way to achieve this. When it comes to convincing the modern customer that you’re great, it’s not enough to have five-star reviews anymore: you must show prospective buyers that people like them enjoy having you in their lives.
How to Implement Direct-to-Consumer Marketing for Your Brand
You don’t have to be a direct-to-consumer brand to recognize that the marketing strategies they use are incredibly effective at building customer loyalty. The question is whether your brand is able to harness those strategies for your success. Luckily, hiring an advertising agency is the perfect middle ground between relying on a retailer and shouldering the marketing burden yourself.
Not every company can be 100% independent in their journey of getting their product or service to the consumer—and that’s why we’re here to help. At Kirkpatrick Creative, telling your unique, customer-centric branding story is what we do. We know how to collect the data you need to target your ideal audience and reach them at the right time with the right message. Plus, we’ll tell you what’s working, what’s not, and how to improve.
For success in the modern age, your brand must be prepared to deploy marketing with a content- and data-driven focus on the customer that’s designed to create loyalty. Ready to see what advertising engineered to work can do for your brand? Contact Kirkpatrick Creative today and let’s get started!