Over the last few years, DTC (direct-to-consumer) brands have gotten lots of well-deserved attention from consumers as well as in the marketing world. Essentially, the business model involves cutting out the middleman (third-party retailers) and selling a product or service directly to customers.

Disruptive DTC brands like Warby Parker, Away, Casper, Dollar Shave Club, Smile Direct Club, Glossier, and Outdoor Voices have seen massive success. So, what are their marketing methods, and why do they work? Both legacy brands and startups can take a page from the direct-to-consumer book. Check out these five valuable digital marketing lessons from DTC brands.

1. It’s all about brand awareness

For DTC businesses, the first step in a digital marketing plan is to build brand awareness. It has less to do with selling products right off the bat but more so about capturing people’s attention—particularly those who might end up purchasing something later on. 

How are DTC companies building brand awareness? Typically, they start by running memorable and compelling online ads. (Average ad spend by DTC brands was up 50% in 2019.) Think of it as building trust with your target audience. The more familiar consumers are with your business, the more legitimate and trustworthy you’ll appear. Dollar Shave Club’s refreshingly funny first video promotion has been viewed over 26 million times. The DTC razor subscription company continues to run similar ads with simple, comedic themes.

Keep in mind that brand awareness isn’t something you build up and then forget about. You’ve got to stay on top of it to continue fostering new and existing customer loyalty. Whether you’re running a large-scale corporation or a DTC startup, building and maintaining brand awareness is crucial.

2. Social media is the name of the game

A major component of developing and maintaining brand awareness is a strong social media game. Social channels allow companies to build followings, engage with their most dedicated customers, and catch the attention of curious parties. For example, many DTC companies have specific on-brand aesthetics for their Instagram feeds. This garnishes attention and draws users to the page.

Not only that, but 60% of consumers make purchases through social media links. The top direct-to-consumer brands definitely aren’t shy about spending money on social media ads, either. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube are all excellent advertising platforms, and they offer some of the most fine-tuned targeted marketing. DTC companies know exactly who their audiences are, and they produce their social media content accordingly.

3. Take risks and lead through innovation

The success of the top DTC companies can’t be attributed to luck. Each brand began with a thorough understanding of the market and curated its consumer outreach to meet demands. That being said, they became industry leaders partly by taking risks and driving innovation.

Most direct-to-consumer companies are run by entrepreneurs, who are inherently innovative and bold. (Think of the daring and disruptive ideas pitched on Shark Tank.) Generally speaking, DTC brands have somewhat flexible product design and supply-chain processes. Compared to legacy companies, they can bring new products to market exceptionally quickly.

With such a fast-paced business structure, it’s crucial for DTC brands to stay on top of their communication strategies. As mentioned above, this involves a focus on brand awareness and content marketing through social media.

4. Make it personal

One thing that thriving DTC businesses understand is that even in the digital sphere, people want experiences. When you scroll through social media, there’s a good chance that most of the sponsored posts you see are relevant to your lifestyle. You don’t have to be a content marketing pro to know that these are targeted ads. 

However, consumers tend to respond positively to sponsored posts. On top of that, they’ve also begun to expect these personal experiences. Of course, the digital marketing goal for your company is to drive conversions. But the first step to clicks, sales, and sign-ups is often to ignite an emotional response through personalized content. 

This could involve relatable, branded storytelling, a short quiz that generates product or service recommendations from your brand, or the opportunity to test products at home before buying them. Prescription eyeglasses startup Warby Parker allows its customers to try on frames at home. The DTC company also has an AR (augmented reality) feature on its mobile app that shows customers how different eyeglass styles will look on them.

5. Embrace user-generated content

Another popular DTC marketing technique is to embrace user-generated content (UGC). With active social media pages—especially Instagram—and widely used hashtags, many direct-to-consumer companies can utilize the posts from their customers. In many instances, customers are more than happy to see their posts shared on a brand’s page. They get a free shoutout, and the company gets free marketing.

Outdoor Voices, a trendy athleisure startup, is big on marketing through UGC. In addition to frequently reposting user content, the DTC company invites some customers to be ambassadors. Brand ambassadors for Outdoor Voices get complimentary apparel in exchange for posting photos of themselves wearing it.

UGC is a budget-friendly content marketing technique. It encourages consumers to buy and share products, which sparks engagement. Embracing user-generated content can be as simple as including a call-to-action on a blog post urging readers to share photos of your products with a specified hashtag.

How to use DTC digital marketing strategies to grow your brand

Direct-to-consumer companies have seen wild success, which almost no one saw coming. While the most successful brands hone in on specific tactics, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to digital marketing. Your best bet is to partner with a digital marketing agency.

When you collaborate with an agency, a dedicated team of experts will work with you to determine which digital strategies are best for your KPIs—including some of these DTC approaches.Mad Fish Digital provides marketing services to clients in Portland, the beautiful Pacific Northwest as well as throughout the United States. Get in touch with us to find out how we can boost your brand.