You’re probably familiar with B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-consumer) brands, but what do you know about D2C (direct-to-consumer) brands? Confused by all these acronyms yet? Let’s break it down:
B2B and B2C are the two traditional business models, but a few years back, a new challenger entered the field: D2C brands. Direct-to-consumer brands avoid the middlemen that drive up costs (retail shops, transport fees, and other ‘hidden’ costs) by selling directly to the consumer in digitally native environments (think websites, apps & social media). Many D2C brands fall into the category of ‘disruptors’ or ‘challenger’ brands, but some, like Glossier, are more or less straightforward brands that are just keen to do things in their own way without the constraints of the traditional merchandising model.
Advocates of the D2C approach point to their flexibility, the nimble way they can operate due to their relatively small scale, and the cost savings that are passed along to the consumers, while detractors focus on the challenge of getting a brand’s name out there without the deep pockets of a brick-and-mortar retailer. Of course, the D2C model isn’t right for every business, but there’s something for every brand to learn from the unique model that these businesses have embraced.
Solve the problems people don’t know they have
No matter your industry, there’s probably a problem staring you in the face that your users have just… accepted. The nimble nature of D2C brands mean they can solve those problems, setting themselves apart and often becoming cult favourites in the process. For Away, a D2C luggage maker, that means adding a charger to their carry-on suitcases to avoid the dreaded ‘dead-battery-in-the-airport’ situation. For female shaving gurus Billie, the challenge was to get rid of the pink tax women pay, as well as removing the shame and stigma that surround women’s shaving ads (they were the first—and remain the only—brand to ever showcase body hair on women in their ads).
Put your money into the things that matter
D2C brands need all the help they can get to gain customers, especially at the beginning. And while the temptation can be to pour money into cool packaging, clever ads and other window-dressing, the truth is that the best way to reach your customers is by making a product that works. (Don’t get us wrong—you need good packaging too, but the key to long-lasting success is a product that does what it’s supposed to).
The Ordinary line of skincare is a great example of this: their packaging is minimal to the point of boring, their website is difficult to navigate and you need a chemistry degree to figure out what their products do, but their skincare works. And despite having created a product line so complex that users have to go to other publications to read up on how to use it, they’ve become an online sensation with celebs like Kim Kardashian, Holly Willoughby and more. How? Their products work, and they’re cheap as chips. By passing along the savings that come with being a D2C pioneer brand, The Ordinary keeps the barrier to entry low so people are willing to trial their brand. Then when they find out how well it works, they’re hooked!
Be prepared to work for it
This one goes without saying, but if you’re a new brand, you need to convince your customers to try your product for the first time. Doubly so if your product is not sold in brick-and-mortar shops and even more if your product is a ‘new’ product that your target audience might not have tried before (think Rockets of Awesome’s kid’s clothing subscriptions or hims’s male-targeted high-end toiletries). You’re asking your customers to leave their comfort zone and try a product (or a brand) they’ve never tried before—often in a way that is new and unfamiliar.
Warby Parker, the holy grail of D2C companies, tackled this challenge in a unique way when they got started back in 2010. They sell glasses, but who wants to buy a pair of prescription glasses online where you can’t try them on? To make it worth it for their target audience, they had to set themselves apart from the competition—and they managed to do so by implementing their now-famous ‘try 5 for free’ programme. They send you frames, you decide which ones you like, send the rest back and you’re good to go! It’s free, simple and takes out the hassle of going to a shop, plus the company donates a pair of glasses for every pair that’s purchased, so customers can be confident they’re doing something good while they shop.
D2C brands need a great product and a reason for their target audience to switch from their current brand. This is something all brands should take to heart: whether it’s because your product is better, easier, or cheaper, you need to make sure you’re set apart from the competition and your audience understands why.
New brands, new products, new marketing strategies and new methods of selling are all tactics that D2C companies have harnessed to propel their brands forward. Traditional businesses have all of these same tactics at their fingertips, though—and often deeper pockets besides. So if you’re tired of the same old results from the same old strategies, take a page out of the D2C manual and get to work!