It's vital to connect with customers to keep them informed about your products or services and encourage repeat business, especially in this digital age, where shoppers can find an alternative brand with just a few clicks of the mouse.
One way to connect with customers effectively is through direct-to-consumer marketing – a strategy that's growing in popularity among many businesses today. Read on to learn what direct-to-consumer marketing involves, the five main channels used for this approach, and a stack of tips to help your DTC campaigns succeed.
What is a direct-to-consumer marketing strategy?
Direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing is where you promote and sell products directly to consumers instead of using an intermediary such as a wholesaler, distributor or retail store (sometimes all three).
The traditional retail model relies on a lengthier supply chain, meaning it takes longer for products to reach customers. Whereas a DTC brand cuts out third parties, allowing them to sell quickly, have complete control over product development, branding and marketing, and be in a better position to influence customer relationships. Another reason the DTC approach is popular with businesses of all sizes is that no commission is paid to intermediaries – making the bottom line more lucrative.
DTC marketing uses channels that connect directly to the end-user or consumer. Typically, these are digital channels. Here are the five channels most commonly used...
Five channels often used for DTC marketing
Adopting a DTC business model allows for an omnichannel marketing strategy where the customer experience is seamless and consistent across several touchpoints. Most DTC brands combine a few of the following options as part of their marketing efforts:
1. Text marketing
SMS marketing is a truly mobile-focused marketing strategy, delivering short and impactful messages straight into customers' hands. Here's how it works:
Step 1 – collect subscribers and gain their consent for SMS marketing (consent is a legal requirement). Familiarise yourself with text marketing laws and regulations, which vary by country or region. For example, the TCPA covers SMS marketing to subscribers based in the United States.
Step 3 – use your SMS provider's reporting options to analyse performance and inform future text campaigns.
Text message campaigns are only a sentence or two in length. Yet, you can use them for various communications, including special offers and promotions, back-in-stock notifications, reminders, review requests (for customer feedback) and other exclusive content. Adding a link to a landing page where recipients can learn more is easy.
As a DTC marketing method, SMS is one of the best for grabbing attention – this channel boasts 98% open rates, which is higher than email. Engagement rates are also high; for best results, time your text campaigns to go out when your audience is most active (not late at night or early in the morning).
SMS is also highly accessible. Everyone with a mobile phone can send or receive texts (even people with basic cell phones). No WiFi is needed for transmission, as SMS is sent via mobile phone networks. Most texts are delivered within a few minutes, even if subscribers are based halfway around the world. This makes SMS ideal for time-sensitive marketing – flash sales, etc.
2. Email marketing
Email has been around for decades, but it's still very current as a DTC marketing method. With email, you can send long-form promotional content to customers, create beautiful, eye-catching designs and easily add media like images and videos. It's an excellent option for embedding your brand in the minds of consumers.
Like SMS, you'll need to collect subscribers and be mindful of the relevant email marketing laws. Once you've built your list, you can import it into an email platform like Mailchimp and begin creating and sending a range of campaigns. Consider an email series to keep customers interested in your offering, starting with a welcome email for every new subscriber.
Follow these tips for success:
Use personalisation – address recipients by name, include the details of their order, and recommend products you think they'll like based on their buying history.
Add a catchy subject line – emails can go ignored or end up towards the bottom of the inbox as this is a saturated channel. However, a well-written email subject line should capture the attention of subscribers.
- Test, test, test – carry out A/B testing on your campaigns regularly. Even the slightest tweak to wording in your subject line or a change of imagery in the email body content can make a real difference to open and response rates.
3. Social media marketing
Social media marketing – using social apps like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to promote your brand and products – is very effective for reaching your target audience in a personal and informal way.
Unlike SMS and email, where your message is delivered directly to subscribers, social media marketing is more understated. Followers can see your recent content in their feed as they scroll through, or they can head over to your profile to see every post published.
It's easy to post high-quality content on social channels, such as videos, stories, photos, infographics and text-based messages. However, you might need to prepare different posts for the various platforms. For example, your Facebook fans may not appreciate the same content as your Twitter followers.
The great thing about using social media for DTC marketing is that your content is easily shareable (provided it's interesting, valuable or witty). If you manage to go viral, your brand will benefit from massive exposure, and you'll gather lots more followers organically. You can also boost the reach of individual posts with each platform's paid-for advertising solutions.
4. Influencer marketing
Influencer marketing involves partnering with online influencers on social apps like TikTok, Instagram and YouTube to create sponsored content promoting your products. Influencers have a large following of like-minded people who trust their opinions. So, if an influencer wholeheartedly recommends your product, you could see an uptick in online sales.
However, finding the right influencer is paramount for this DTC marketing method. It must be someone whose opinion matters to your target audience, and their values must align with your brand's. This is important to ensure your product is exposed to the right people.
Influencers typically provide detailed product reviews and demonstrations, but they can also do a quick product mention too, which may be appealing if your budget is tight. Influencer marketing can be expensive if you choose a popular figure with millions of followers. However, plenty of 'everyday' influencers have a solid following – and often, smaller influencers can appear more sincere.
When choosing influencers to work with, be sure to:
Check that the influencer's followers are organic (not paid for and possibly fake).
Fully understand the influencer's personality and typical content to ensure it matches your brand's.
Carefully negotiate contracts and compensation.
Nurture relationships for ongoing and future campaigns.
5. Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising
PPC marketing is where you pay to list your website on search engine result pages for specific keywords. You pay for each click on your advert (effectively the link to your website). PPC is also available as an advertising option on social media platforms.
PPC ads can be image-based, call-only, text-based, shopping ads (where the product image and price are displayed), or responsive, where the ad format changes dynamically. The screenshot below shows some of the different types of sponsored ads on Google which appear for the keyword phrase 'birthday card'.
With search engine PPC marketing, you must identify high-value keywords and target specific audiences to get the best results. You'll waste much money if your ads aren't heavily targeted.
It's also vital to write attractive, convincing ad copy and, if using visuals, make sure they're creative, eye-catching and relate to what you've written. Measure the performance of your ads consistently through metrics like click-through rates and return on ad spend (ROAS).
Through proper optimisation and testing, you should get your advert to appear on the first page of search engine results. This can be very effective for DTC marketing, as your website or landing page will appear when visitors are actively searching for products or businesses like yours.
Tips for running successful DTC marketing campaigns
Follow our best practices and top tips to get the most out of your DTC marketing campaigns…
Develop brand identity and awareness
Before you even start promoting direct to consumers, define the mission of your business, who your products are for and where your brand is headed. You'll need to build your brand and a following to encourage consumer trust.
Knowing and understanding your target audience is crucial so you can adopt the right strategies to attract new customers and reconnect with existing ones. Always craft clear, concise messages that speak directly to your audience and align with your brand voice. Conveying the right message to the right people will give you maximum ROI.
Foster brand loyalty
Successful direct-to-consumer businesses utilise open lines of communication to offer a personal approach and make customers feel valued. This helps build customer loyalty and enhance the overall experience, which can result in repeat purchases.
DTC channels like SMS, email and social media are ideal for promoting loyalty programmes. You can reward VIP customers with points, promos and special offers or encourage signups to referral schemes or memberships.
Personalise your campaigns
Always write appropriate copy for the DTC marketing channels you use. For example, with text marketing copy, there's an art to getting the length, tone and wording just right. Add personalisation wherever possible to ensure your message resonates with your audience.
Customer insights are essential for personalisation. Collect data from various sources such as website interactions or past purchase history and use it to personalise the marketing material for each subscriber/customer.
Going back to understanding your target audience, consider creating buyer personas for better messaging and targeting – this can help you attract your ideal customers. With the subscribers you have already, segment them into groups for highly targeted campaigns, e.g. regular customers, inactive customers, new subscribers who haven't yet made a purchase, etc. Use automation tools to create campaign flows that send automatically based on actions subscribers take (this saves time and improves efficiency).
Finally, don't go overboard with personalisation. You may have some very detailed customer insights, but that doesn't mean you should use every little snippet of information you know about subscribers. Too much personalisation can come across as a bit 'creepy'. Always stay within the limits of local and global privacy regulations.
Measure, analyse, and optimise
Set appropriate marketing objectives for every campaign and identify KPIs so you can effectively measure performance against those goals. KPIs might include:
Customer lifetime value (LTV); the total revenue expected from a single buyer throughout their entire customer journey.
Average order value (AOV).
Net promotor score (NPS); used to measure the customer experience.
Customer acquisition cost (CAC).
Monthly recurring revenue (MRR); the amount of predicted revenue earned monthly.
Use various reporting mechanisms to measure performance, such as website analytics, SMS and email delivery and open reports, social media engagement, influencer video impressions and comments, etc.
Feed your campaign analysis into your data-driven marketing efforts, which should also include customer surveys and the results of A/B testing. This will help inform key messaging decisions, improve your overall marketing strategy, and ultimately enhance the customer experience.
DTC marketing: key takeaways
As a DTC brand, there are many digital marketing channels to tap into to attract customers directly and effectively. Consider using SMS, email, social media, PPC and influencer marketing to help create an omnichannel experience for customers, followers and website visitors.
Before you embark on DTC marketing, ensure the foundations of your brand have been built. This helps build trust and loyalty. Use data insights to personalise your campaigns and always measure performance so you can see what's working (and what's not).