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What is DTC marketing? Tips, strategies, and examples

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While the retail marketing model is still alive and well, there’s no denying that direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing is becoming a more and more attractive option. Direct-to-consumer brands have the opportunity to engage, well, directly with their audience. They also have more control over prices since they don’t have to sell their products to retailers at a deep discount.

In this article, we’ll outline what direct-to-consumer marketing is and why it has grown so dramatically over the last few years. We’ll also go over some of the most effective DTC marketing strategies and take a look at a few brands that have made a name for themselves in the DTC space.

What is direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing?

At its core, direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing incorporates all the ways that a brand markets to their consumers directly, instead of an intermediary retail business doing the marketing for their brand. For example, while retail brands like Amazon or Walmart do promotions for various brands like Sony or Levi’s, DTC brands like Warby Parker will directly advertise their own products to consumers.

While DTC brands have more control over their audience relationships, this also means that they have to manage more of the sales workflow including things like shipping and customer service along with branding and marketing.

Direct-to-consumer companies have to entice leads to buy directly from them, so they need to take a more proactive approach to outreach. For example, DTC brands typically have a strong presence on social media as well as other marketing channels such as email, SMS, and push notifications.

What’s the difference between DTC and B2C marketing?

While business-to-consumer (B2C) companies also have to market to consumers, they typically sell through online and/or physical retail vendors. With that in mind, they don’t have to attract customers to a storefront or website of their own in order to generate sales. The retailer does a lot of the marketing for them.

However, digital marketing practices rarely stagnate for long, and the pandemic has pushed many traditional B2C brands to expand into a DTC approach. More and more companies are starting to rely on B2C marketing to stay afloat in a rapidly evolving market.

DTC marketing strategies

Every DTC brand has a different image and targets a different audience, so it’s impossible to come up with one marketing strategy to match every situation. However, most DTC companies rely on some mix of the following tactics to maximize both outreach and sales.

1. Social media marketing

Social media marketing isn’t limited to DTC businesses, but it’s particularly effective for companies that rely on direct relationships with their buyers. Consistently publishing unique, valuable content will help you interest more social media users and keep them engaged with your brand.

With a strong social media presence, you’ll also be able to pull user-generated content from your followers. For example, you might ask users to post pictures of themselves using your products with a hashtag related to your brand.

In this example, Better Homes and Gardens is running a contest for users who post pictures of their front yard with the hashtag #BHGBestFrontYard. This will help them generate more engagement while tying back into the products they’re selling.

When running a contest, remember to also ask entrants to share the information with their own friends or followers. Giving users an extra entry for sharing your contest on their profile will help you generate that much more word-of-mouth marketing.

2. Personalized emails

As an opt-in channel, email is especially important for direct-to-consumer businesses. Growing your email list is one of the best ways to generate more sales. While it might take some time to turn a new email subscriber into a customer, a well-maintained email list will generate the long-term results you’re looking for.

For example, Omnisend’s automation tools played a key role in helping Kerrits generate 50% more revenue-per-email compared to their former figures. Their new workflow includes a number of automated messages including welcome emails, cart abandonment reminders, seasonal newsletters, order confirmation messages, and follow-ups for re-engagement.

Automated emails take personalization to the next level. Traditionally, personalization in email would be the standard {FirstName} in a subject line or the body. However, automation means that the email is sent only after the shopper completed an action, meaning it’s unique to that shopper at that time. Because this timely email is sent in response to a shopper’s actions, it is much more effective.

In the above example, a shopper browsed their Ice Fil Tech Tight product page but left before buying something. This personalized email reminds them of the product and tries to get them back to shopping, leading to 50% better revenue per email.

3. Influencer marketing

Authenticity is a critical element of branding, but it isn’t always easy to cultivate a strong brand image. Influencer marketing enables direct-to-consumer businesses to leverage the existing reputation of an influencer.

mattel and micro influencers

As a DTC vendor, the most important thing is to find influencers that align with your brand image and can give their audience the right impression. You should also make sure that their audience matches up with the consumers you typically sell to in terms of basic factors like age, gender, and location.

One key benefit of influencer marketing is that you’ll pay for results instead of paying for impressions. If a particular influencer doesn’t generate many conversions, you can simply end the relationship without losing too much money.

4. Custom products

While some direct-to-consumer brands only sell ready-made products, custom products are sometimes the best way to cater to the unique preferences of each buyer. With more customers looking for personalized items, there’s a growing market for custom-made products of all kinds.

Asphalte is a great example of the power of custom products. 

First, they ask their audience about the types of items they’d like to see. From there, they use the feedback to create prototypes, which are used as models for pre-orders. This process gives customers more control over the items they purchase and leads to better audience engagement.

5. Brand personality

Brand personalities are one of the most valuable resources for direct-to-consumer businesses. Your unique brand image is what will stick in a lead’s head and make them think of you the next time they need one of your products.

Of course, a distinctive brand personality has to be developed over time and across multiple channels. Larger teams should consider implementing style guides and standard visuals so that their content appears the same on every platform.

6. Social activism

Along with lower prices and a more convenient experience, a commitment to social causes is another key reason why many younger consumers gravitate toward DTC brands over the retail model.

Warby Parker, for example, donates one pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair that’s purchased. The cost of that donation is built into the price of the glasses, and customers feel that they’re doing something good when they make a purchase.

Successful DTC brands

If you’re interested in moving into the direct-to-consumer space, it’s hard to find better models than Glossier, Everlane, Chubbies, Warby Parker, and Dollar Shave Club. These businesses have found innovative ways to create a unique DTC image and offer consumers a simpler, more personal experience than they’re used to getting from retail vendors.

1. Glossier

Glossier is a direct-to-consumer cosmetics brand that sells skincare, makeup, fragrances, and other products. They primarily sell through their website, although Glossier products are occasionally available at pop-up shops and other physical locations.

After emerging from a beauty blog called Into the Gloss, Glossier founder Emily Weiss started selling products directly to consumers in 2014. She leveraged digital channels, particularly social media and influencer marketing, to connect with an audience of younger women.

The results were evident almost immediately, with Glossier generating an incredible 600% year-over-year growth from 2015 to 2016 after launching in late 2014. Today, Glossier is one of the most recognizable cosmetics brands in the United States.

This is a perfect example of the natural engagement Glossier generates on Instagram and other social media channels. Giving a customer cosmetic tips won’t necessarily lead to an immediate sale, but those positive interactions will lead to better engagement and more interest over time.

2. Everlane

Everlane is a DTC vendor that focuses on clean, minimalist designs and transparency in the supply chain. Their commitment to “radical transparency” leads them to publish detailed information about their production processes.

Furthermore, Everlane has publicly pledged to stop using new plastic, reduce their per-product carbon emissions by 2030, and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. These practices give Everlane more credibility among young consumers and have contributed to a unique brand image.

This simple, minimalist visual demonstrates the impact of Everlane’s radical transparency. Consumers can see exactly where their money is going—details that most retail vendors hide at all costs. Those who want to learn more can easily find that information on the Everlane website.

3. Chubbies

Chubbies is a growing menswear brand that focuses on shorts and swimwear but also sells other articles of clothing including shirts, jackets, and sweatshirts. Their fun, casual style has made them particularly popular among Gen Z and other young consumers.

In this post, Chubbies offers a clear representation of their brand image and invites users to make a contribution of their own. User-generated content is a great way to facilitate two-way communication and get your social media followers even more engaged.

4. Warby Parker

Warby Parker gives consumers access to eyeglasses, sunglasses, blue-light glasses, and other products at affordable prices through a simple buying process. People who might not have made the effort to buy glasses in the conventional way will find Warby Parker to be much more approachable.

The Warby Parker iOS app also differentiates their services from the offerings of their competitors. Users can quickly download it and use the virtual try-on feature to see how they would look in different pairs. The app has an incredibly high average score of 4.9 out of 5 based on roughly 220,000 reviews, indicating that users are extremely satisfied with its functionality.

Warby Parker is also famous for its “buy a pair, give a pair” initiative. Every time someone buys a pair of Warby Parker glasses, another pair is donated to a person in need.

This aligns with the growing trend of corporate responsibility. In fact, 74% of consumers from age 22 to 37 believe that brands should take public positions on social values.

5. Dollar Shave Club

Dollar Shave Club is one of the most well-known brands in the direct-to-consumer marketplace. It’s a perfect illustration of how the DTC model often provides a more efficient experience compared to retail vendors. Instead of having to remember to go to the store and buy a new pack of razor blades every time they run out, customers can simply start a subscription and set up a schedule that works for them.

This approach cuts out the traditional retail vendor. Once customers see how it works, they realize that they’re paying the retailer more money for an experience that’s less convenient.

Dollar Shave Club’s famous YouTube video is one of the best examples of viral marketing in the 21st century. In roughly 90 seconds, they give viewers a taste of their irreverent brand image while explaining the business model and teasing the low prices customers can expect when they open a new subscription.

Conclusion

The direct-to-consumer approach isn’t new, but it has become a more and more viable option over the last ten or twenty years. These are just a few examples of how leading DTC brands are disrupting the traditional retail model.

As a (likely) smaller brand, you should take encouragement that your brand is in the part of its journey where you have more freedom. You have fewer eyes on you, so you are able to experiment much more widely than if you’re an already established brand.

Beyond that, when you try out these different DTC marketing initiatives, don’t expect to be perfect right off the bat. DTC brands can capitalize on imperfections and criticisms in order to appear more human and relatable than traditional retail giants. 

This is also a great way to engage directly with your audience, respond to their comments and concerns, and actually show them how you incorporate their feedback in your products.

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Bernard Meyer
Article by
Bernard Meyer

Bernard is the Director of Content at Omnisend, with a passion for good research, helping ecommerce businesses with their marketing automation needs, and beating absolutely everyone in Mario Kart 64.


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