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  • Writer's pictureKate Talbot

How Direct-to-Consumer Brands Are Transforming The Retail Experience

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

We’re in the midst of the retail apocalypse, with legacy brands closing their brick-and-mortar locations and even filing bankruptcy. With prominent brands like Gap, Toys-R-Us, and Victoria’s Secret unable to thrive, there are macro issues at play that can be attributed to the shift. One of the main factors is the digital disruption.

With this shopping revolution happening, there are new ways for consumers to discover and purchase products. The direct-to-consumer (D2C) marketplace allows digital marketing and e-commerce solutions to shape the new consumer experience. Now you can buy mattresses (Casper, Tuft & Needle), eyeglasses (Warby Parker), luggage (Away), and more, and discover brands through Instagram, podcasts, influencer marketing, and other new avenues.

Through these many touch points and interactions, the modern consumer can develop immense brand affinity for these new players in the market. Brands can achieve this by using data insights to hone in on their target personas and reach them across platforms.

Here are three ways brands have been successful in their D2C marketing efforts—ones you can apply, whether your brand is D2C or not.

Tell customer stories through Facebook and Instagram ads

There’s no better way than the Facebook suite of apps to test out product and marketing messaging. Many early-stage startups and companies use Facebook and Instagram advertising to learn what types of content engage audiences.

By doing so, D2C brands can optimize for success and move consumers through the rest of the purchasing journey. For most D2C brands, this includes using Shopify as a back-end solution for a wide array of sales analytics and to scale online.

“With our Instagram ad strategy, we try to make our imagery look polished and high end but our copy feel personable. Our marketing really represents the product we’re selling, and helps guide customers from Instagram to check-out and through the purchasing journey,” Amanda Thomas of LuvAJ shared. Through strategic messaging and imagery that speaks to her audience and community, Thomas has grown LuvAJ to a global brand worn by Kendall Jenner and Beyoncé.

Podcasting is the new black

With over 660,000 podcasts globally, it is no surprise that D2C brands want to advertise on this new media platform. According to Podcasting Insights, podcast listeners are loyal, affluent, and educated. For brands that want to target this audience, podcast advertising is the perfect opportunity.

Take Blue Apron as an example. Meal kits are a particularly crowded D2C vertical, and Blue Apron was one of the first to advertise widely on podcasts. It’s hard to believe now, but back in 2015, FiveThirtyEight found that over one third of the top 100 podcasts didn’t have advertising. Blue Apron recognized this opportunity and differentiated themselves by promoting their meal kits on Gimlet Media and The No Sleep Podcast, reaching  almost 50 million people ages 13 and up.

From the success of podcast advertising, they even launched their own branded podcast, “Why We Eat What We Eat,” which examined the history of food trends, picky eaters, and potlucks. This emphasis on podcasts illustrates how the medium is here to stay, and a wide range of companies can capture a digital-first audience.

Influencer marketing builds trust and action

A variety of factors has led to the influencer revolution, including the rise of ad-blockers, distrust in legacy brand messaging, and an increase in mobile consumption, especially on Instagram and YouTube. According to Business Insider, billions are being spent annually on influencer marketing. D2C brands invest in influencers as their audiences skew towards digital natives. Influencers perfectly align with new brands because they are always looking to find products and hacks that make life easier, and spread these discoveries to their audiences.

Brian Freeman, CEO of Heartbeat, a nano-influencer marketplace, has this take on the symbiotic relationship between D2C brand and influencers: “Influencers have enabled direct-to-consumer brands to scale word-of-mouth recommendations with authentic messaging to the masses. One of the biggest challenges for D2C brands is keeping up with the constant need for new authentic content for Instagram. Influencers, when managed efficiently, can empower D2C brands with a steady stream of new content to share with messaging that matches the target audience to boot. If you’re a D2C brand not using influencer strategy, you’re definitely in the minority.”

Private Party, a D2C swimsuit line, is in the majority camp. It has used Julia Muniz who has 625,000 followers and LoveSweatFitness with 330,000 followers on their shoppable Instagram account.

“We try to align ourselves with influencers and creatives who have super-engaged audiences,” Pat Monahan, CEO of Private Party, explains. “It’s not necessarily about the number of followers an influencer has but more about the quality and engagement of their followers.” This has allowed for high conversion rates as audiences are enthused to buy after seeing influencers rock the swimsuits.

Retail now has a holistic feel to it. The retail apocalypse has forced surviving legacy brands to change how they look at marketing and partnership strategies. With the combination of online and offline retail, the go-to-market strategy for D2C brands includes a digital-first mindset, leveraging social media, podcasts, and influencers to spread their message. Once successful, they find partnerships with brick-and-mortar retailers or open their own space.

This new world of retail marketing creates a competitive landscape for legacy brands to rise to the occasion and provide new experiences that resonate with consumers.

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