Three Marketing Lessons Gleaned from Digitally Native, Direct-to-Consumer Brands

September 16, 2022
Digitally native brands “speak social” better than anyone else. This week on the blog, we take a close look at what these brands are doing right — and how every brand can apply the same winning principles to advance their business strategy

According to data reported in a 2021 McKinsey analysis, digitally native direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands grew at triple the rate of overall ecommerce between 2018 and 2020. And while some recent commentary reminds us of the DTC model’s vulnerabilities, the fact remains that digitally native innovators offer a wealth of inspiration in branding best practices for today’s marketplace.

Whether you’re elevating a traditional retail brand or launching your own DTC startup, we offer three points of wisdom gleaned from the best:

1. Every brand is a lifestyle brand.

Once upon a time, achieving the status of “lifestyle brand” was seen as the holy grail of consumer marketing. Today, it’s become the threshold for entry. In fact, most contemporary digitally native DTC brands tend to focus their marketing in ways that that connect digitally savvy consumers to their unique brand values, identity and cultural attributes instead of their products.  What you stand for has become just as important as what you sell.

Social feeds reign as brands’ primary point of consumer contact. Product ads and culturally resonant lifestyle content scroll by in a riotous hodge-podge of impressions, all punctuated by consumer chatter over which a brand has very little control. Successful brands know how to navigate these dynamics by balancing product-centric ads with creative, culturally attuned branded content, all while responding to online consumer feedback publicly in real time.

A good example is coffee alternative MUD\WTR’s “Trends with Benefits” blog and podcast, which covers topics ranging from sleep quality to psychedelics to spiritual wellness — all promoted through social media alongside product ads. Or, Proven skincare’s intelligent but playful mix of skincare education, life wisdom and escapist memes.

Taking on the role of brand-plus-lifestyle publisher is a challenge, no doubt. But one with big potential payoffs. Instagram claims that campaigns serving a robust mix of traditional ads and branded content are 90% more likely to drive cost-effective action than either tactic applied individually.

If you’re still thinking of traditional product ads as “real marketing” and branded lifestyle content as a “nice-to-have” in your mix, it’s time to reconsider.

2. Personalization is an experience — not a product attribute.

Visit virtually any DTC brand website and you’ll be greeted by a quiz to personalize your experience and capture content about you. From groceries to hair care to pet food, consumers no longer have to browse and choose from what’s available, but instead can curate precisely what they desire and have it served up in moments.

But what if intensive personalization is beyond the scope of your product assortment or fulfillment capabilities? Not a problem. Consider a brand like Marea Wellness Elixir, which offers only one formula yet still draws consumers in with a symptom quiz. In this case, the quiz result doesn’t identify best-fit products, but rather showcases the single product’s benefits in relation to the user’s specific health concerns. While the context is different, the brand impact is the same: having been invited to express their needs and received a tailored, personally response, the shopper feels recognized and validated.

The lesson here is that there are countless ways to ride the personalization wave even if product personalization isn’t part of your business model. Quizzes are one example. Customized emails based on site browsing behavior is another. High-touch loyalty rewards for best buyers is yet a third, and the list goes on.

Stay competitive by inventing creative micro-moments of personalization, and invest in the technology and expertise to execute them efficiently. 3. Brand discipline pays off.

A strong brand is built on both strategy (a clear target and core value proposition) and creative attributes like consistent personality and visual tone. While these features of brand rigor are hardly new, they take on special urgency in the crowded and chaotic digital landscape. Not surprisingly, successful digitally native DTC brands excel in thumb-stopping social creative that sets a distinctive mood and can command attention in a fraction of a second.

Brand rigor is also the secret behind the power of the niche position. Many DTC success stories began with a narrow-but-compelling proposition; the commitment to do just one thing better than anyone else. Consider the early days of Dollar Shave Club (a cheaper, better shave for style-conscious men), Thinx (a revolution in period care for progressive women) and MM LaFleur (effortless style for busy female executives). Today as maturing brands, all three of these pioneers have leveraged their success into adjacent categories and consumer targets. But their early breakthrough depended on the discipline of single-minded strategic focus and creative differentiation.

It’s tempting to throw a multitude of messages and creative approaches into the world and see what sticks (and test-and-learn certainly has its place). But digital experimentation works best as a companion to, not a substitute for, a solid strategic and creative brand foundation.

At Wilks Communications Group, we combine of-the-moment social marketing expertise with decades of experience in communications, branding, advertising and media relations. If you’re curious about fresh ways to elevate your social presence and consumer experience, let’s connect.


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