D2C marketing can be one of the best ways to reach your customers – cutting out the middleman and allowing you to amass a community of loyal fans.
Brands like Dollar Shave Club, Casper and Glossier have succeeded in building hugely successful businesses by adopting a direct to consumer business model.
Bypassing wholesalers and retailers to sell straight to the end customer means D2C brands enjoy complete control over their growth, price, brand, sales velocity, and customers. With more favourable margins, they can also earn more. But selling direct is not without its challenges; it can be harder to get noticed online, with no shop shelves to display products on and no passing trade.
If you’re thinking of launching a D2C channel, or already selling directly and want to ‘hack’ your growth, we’ve analysed the tactics of some of the most successful brands. Read on for 5 D2C marketing strategies you can steal to win new customers and get ahead of the competition.
Glossier’s D2C marketing strategy – A seamless customer journey
D2C beauty brand Glossier – now a $1+ billion unicorn – started life as a beauty blog in 2010. This meant Glossier already had a customer base of thousands before it had launched a single product.
Nurturing this online community has always been at the heart of the Glossier brand. And they’ve focused on creating a seamless customer journey, taking fans from social media to product purchase as if by the wave of a pale pink wand.
“The connection between blogs, vlogs, YouTube channels, product pages, Instagram posts, and in-store touchpoints is crucial,” says Benoit Soucaret, Creative Director at LiveArea.
“For instance, it’s no good having an influencer tutorial video trending online if consumers can’t easily find the product, check it suits their skin tone, complete the look with other products, and buy easily on their mobile device.”
It’s something that Glossier has nailed, with a website designed specifically for mobile users, a simple three-step checkout process, free shipping incentives and discounted product bundles to let customers trial new products and looks.
Soucaret adds: “Glossier’s website and social channels show what each product will look like on all complexions. And it deploys user-generated content by pulling images from social channels of real people wearing products in real life.
“The site’s reviews system helps users find reviews that are most relevant to them: filtering by age, skin type and gender for each product. And it shows the negative reviews from its visitors, giving a sense of transparency and trust.”
By connecting every touchpoint and making sure that their brand is coherent throughout all stages of the customer journey, Glossier show how you can monetize an audience without alienating them.
Glossier isn’t without their troubles, though – some ex-employees are criticising the brand’s ability to nurture and take care of their internal culture, specifically black workers.
Ugly Drink’s D2C marketing strategy – Customer collaboration
Ugly Drinks is a D2C brand that has made the notoriously difficult leap from the UK to the US. The brand’s straight-talking, no BS approach to marketing has played a big role in helping them achieve cut-through, but their willingness to collaborate with customers has also been integral.
Orla Weir, Global Head of DTC and Brand, says Ugly have capitalised on their D2C platform, great supply chain and “nimble” design partners to pull off marketing stunts that otherwise would not have been possible.
“We’ve launched a fun limited edition campaign where we drop new flavours every single month. And they’re always kind of crazy flavours and in small quantities – this month it’s marshmallow. We get people to vote on different flavours and that dictates what our upcoming ones are,” she says.
“That’s given us this hold in the US to be the ‘fun flavoured sparkling water,’ with a community of people that can engage with it and make decisions with the brand. And that’s maybe become our US differentiator and hopefully will be something we bring to the UK in future.”
By letting your customers play an active role in your product development, you can not only guarantee that additions to your range will be well-received but also foster a sense of community around your brand (it’s something that Glossier also does).
Harry’s D2C marketing strategy – Promoting a purpose
Harry’s sets out to be different from other men’s care brand by “embracing the messiness of masculinity”.
One way they try to do this is by talking about issues that don’t get talked about as much as they should and championing social causes that challenge outdated stereotypes. Even the Mammoth logo on the pack calls attention to the brand’s message that extinct perceptions of masculinity need to be abolished.
Harry’s promotes its purpose through projects like “Project 84” – a campaign that Harry’s worked on with the charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). It involved a collection of 84 sculptures standing on a skyscraper in London, each representing a man who takes his own life every week in the UK.
The brand’s latest initiative – launched during lockdown – raises funds to provide mental health support for those feeling the strain of isolation. #8foramate sees people encouraged to shave or re-style their lockdown beard, post a picture on social media, donate £8 to CALM and nominate five friends to do the same.
Having a clear brand purpose can give your direct to consumer marketing an edge, offering people something they can buy into beyond just products, and keep them coming back for more.
Blue Apron’s D2C marketing strategy – Sustainability at the heart of brand messaging
The meal kit delivery sector is a competitive one so Blue Apron have sought to differentiate themselves by plugging their environmentally-friendly credentials.
The brand teamed up with creative agency Droga5 for a campaign called “Building a better food system from scratch.” It aims to position the service as one that’s better for the environment, helping to tackle criticism that’s been levelled at meal kit providers about packaging waste.
The idea is that because Blue Apron’s chefs work with farmers to plan recipes, they can selectively grow better quality crops. These are delivered straight to subscribers’ kitchens, cutting out weeks spent in transit or sitting on supermarket shelves.
“We wanted to communicate how our unique business model allows us to deliver higher quality ingredients at a better value, while positively impacting the environment,” says Matt Salzberg, Co-founder & CEO of Blue Apron.
Blue Apron’s other sustainable initiatives include cutting packaging by 50% and giving users the option to return their packaging for free if they don’t want to deal with recycling the box and its contents themselves.
By promoting themselves as a greener alternative to the established food system, Blue Apron is a great example of what can be done with effective D2C marketing.
BarkBox’s D2C marketing strategy – Personalisation
Many D2C companies start small – and that’s a good thing. When you’re small it’s easier to provide a personalised service that makes customers feel special (even four-legged ones). Pet care brand BarkBox have tried to maintain their customer-first approach despite now boasting 1 million subscribers.
Personalisation has been a hallmark of the company, with around 120,000 different BarkBox varieties sent out monthly. And the company’s Happy Team aims to talk to as many customers as possible – usually around one-third of its customers each month.
While the company has built technology to scale the personalisation process, Co-founder Henrik Werdelin says his best advice is to do things that don’t scale.
“Companies often want to create big systems to solve problems by mass, but customers are unique,” Customer Experience Futurist Blake Morgan tells Forbes. “The best solutions happen when a company and its employees have empathy and think of what’s best for each individual customer.
“Most brands can do something manually for a long time before coming up with a scalable solution. BARK even answers its customer emails individually to gain insight and build strong customer relationships.”
Taking the time to not only listen to customers but go above and beyond to meet their needs is a truly winning D2C marketing strategy.
Inspired by these D2C marketing examples? Check out our latest report on using data to create standout marketing campaigns…