DTC 2.0: Navigating The Marketing Ecosystem in 2020

When tracing the origin of the disruptive direct-to-consumer brand, Apple can be viewed as the first.

They were a scrappy consumer-consumer-focused start-up and its flagship product, the Macintosh, was designed to overthrow International Business Machines Corp. While the product boasted a stripped back design with a minimalistic interface, Apple’s most critical tool was its simple-yet-effective advertising.

Today, the current DTC landscape is flourishing. These start-ups seek to disrupt the status quo or establish a niche of its own. They are single in purpose and offer a calm oasis amid the chaos of commerce. Think: a toothbrush subscription service, your favorite meal-kit, or an everyday supplement delivered right to your door. These products are positioned as affordable luxuries, not necessarily for their quality, but because they offer a sense of elevation thanks to strong brand values.

The new generation of DTC possess values that move away from profit and place an emphasis on the consumer. Values are simple and uniform, allowing these brands to foster unique communities built around brand values. However, over the last few years, the marketplace has become saturated with DTC brands that while claiming to be unique in product, often follow an identikit formula.

The internet has democratized the tools required to start and scale a business. That coupled with an abundance of venture capital, the prospects of low competition, and the once-low CPMs of social media platforms, has allowed a slew of DTC brands to emerge. Many of these brands even follow the same conventions"san serif typeface, a pastel color pallet, and scalable logos that can easily be adapted to a variety of media. Given the crowded nature of the marketplace, the attention that these brands once enjoyed from its "simple and uniform values" is no longer effective.

How do DTC brands navigate the current marketing landscape? While there are many factors that define a DTC brand, one the strongest identifiers is the ability to have one-on-one relationships with consumers. Today, more than ever consumers want to trust the brands they choose. In a 2019 study from Edelman, 75% of consumers said that they valued trust more than trendiness. More importantly, 66% percent stated that they would rather stick to a brand of its choosing rather than switching to a competitor. The only way for DTC brands to effectively scale is gain consumer trust and nurture it to create loyalty and extend the customer lifecycle.

Gaining this trust is much easier to accomplish while you are a smaller business, but as you scale, maintaining this trust and authenticity is no easy task. Where most brands fail is its attempt to scale the intimacy and community they foster during its early years. While this may seem like a Catch 22, there is a simple way to navigate the complicated world of direct-to-consumer marketing.

The answer is in the data. Where most DTC brands fail is in its ability to leverage data gathered from one-on-one interactions to better inform its content strategy. Intimate encounters with customers combined with simple web analytics tools provide a valuable glean at data that would be otherwise invisible in a traditional retail experience. Brands can best capitalize on this data by using it to create personalized content that sets them apart from its competitors.

When a brand puts its trust into its community with a content experience powered by a consumer-centric approach, the community reciprocates that trust. Gone are the days of traditional sales-focused blog posts and vibrant eye-catching social media posts. Modern consumers don’t want to be plagued with incessant branding, instead they want value.

While traditional content exemplifies brand value, experiential content focuses on educating and entertaining consumers. Instead of an influence, it seeks to be a partner that the consumer can trust. When brands leverage an experiential content strategy, it humanizes customers and allows customers to see that you are solving real pain points.

Just as Apple disrupted the consumer electronics industry with their simple and empathetic messaging, the next generation of direct-to-consumer brands must find a way to stand-out in an oversaturated marketplace that pleads transparency and authenticity. A once-innovative framework is now exhausted and brand’s must be agile to adapt. Consumers don’t just want a brand that looks good, they want a brand that is good and can prove it.

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