NDA Viewpoints: Why DTC brands can’t afford to overlook an offline presence

New Digital Age is running a series of articles looking at the future of DTC brands, talking to experts in the market on how the sector will evolve and the lessons to be learnt from its success.

By Lisa Desforges, Strategy Director, B&B studio

It’s a common misconception that a direct-to-consumer model is cheaper and easier than launching straight into retail. What many entrepreneurs don’t understand is that cutting out the middleman doesn’t mean you can skimp on the details – especially when it comes to brand development. 

The DTC sector has seen rapid growth in recent years. Once dominated by FMCG brands – think Dollar Shave Club, Dirty Lemon and Glossier – it’s now a much more diverse market. In fact, many of the brands pushing the sector forward sit outside the more traditional F&B and personal care categories. 

The brands that find opportunity here are those that take their time to get under the skin of the consumer, gaining unique insights into what their target audience wants and why, then adapting to meet these needs. 

They build emotional connections, understanding that the interaction between brand and consumer is not a purely commercial transaction. 

Mattress brand Casper is a great example. Yes, the company sells mattresses, but its brand is about relaxation, comfort, sleep and a work/life balance. Its messaging goes beyond the product to show how the brand fits into the consumer’s life beyond a functional purpose. In short, they show a level of humanity. 

A seamless blend of digital and tangible

All DTC brands are inherently category challengers and consumer champions, and they’re mostly all good examples of simplicity and clarity in action. But that’s not enough to mark them out as a compelling and desirable brand. 

The most progressive DTC brands are quickly realising that whilst the sector is driven and enabled by technology, it’s the seamless blend of digital and tangible that delivers a real standout brand. Digital marketing still has a strong role to play, of course, but offline is now more important than ever. 

Consideration of product delivery and packaging, printed communication and physical spaces is setting the more future-focused DTC brands apart from the competition, enabling them to create the memorable brand experiences that build long-lasting consumer relationships.

Meet consumers on their terms

These relationships are the most valuable part of any DTC brand’s development. The direct channels of communication between brand and consumer not only provide access to a wealth of very targeted data to guide future brand development, but enables any DTC brand to build meaningful, long-lasting relationships with their consumers. 

Not only does this mean repeat business, it offers the opportunity to benefit from genuine brand evangelists and the power of word-of-mouth marketing. 

So, how to make – and grow – these vital connections? Traditionally the first contact for a DTC brand was online, which makes sense for a digitally led business model.  

But today, the more enlightened brands are going old school, looking to offline communications and meeting consumers on their own terms. A strong example of this is men’s wellness and personal care brand Hims, which launched with posters in men’s locker rooms – not online ads. 

It’s easy to think that digital platform needs solely online ads but to gain the greatest exposure with a core target audience – and demonstrate an innate understanding of that consumer profile – think creatively about your market’s habits and routines. How can you build connections in their world? 

Where’s the added value?

Once you’ve made initial contact, it’s time to develop the relationship. The tangible aspects of a DTC brand are just as important as straight to retail but are often overlooked as the supporting tech takes centre stage. 

Each product will be placed in the hands of a paying customer, so the packaging and printed materials still have a strong role to play in telling the brand story. Be creative. Could the packaging be kept and reused for another purpose? Should you be including stickers or other printed materials in the secondary packaging? What are your sustainability credentials? 

The most forward-thinking – and ultimately successful – DTC brands understand that their consumers are their best brand ambassadors. They do everything in their power to get to know them, creating meaningful relationships across all brand touchpoints, learning from feedback and creating new ways to market the brand within their communities. 

In essence, they understand that whilst DTC is powered by digital, it’s the tangible aspects of the brand that deliver real standout and set them on the course to success. 

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