How D2C Brands Are Defining The Future of Retail

By Salvatore Ciolfi August 11, 2020

The How D2C Brands Are Defining The Future of Retail, the latest in BrainStation’s Digital Leadership Event Series, took place on August 6th, and thousands tuned in to learn more about how some of the world’s leading D2C brands are defining the future of retail with new marketing, design, and data strategies. 

You can watch the full panel discussion here:

Direct-to-consumer (D2C) companies have exploded over the past decade, setting new standards for user experience with innovative retail and marketing strategies. In the process, they’ve disrupted entire industries and forced traditional retailers to play catch-up.

Let’s take a closer look at how some leading D2C brands started and how their approach to marketing is helping them grow. 

Focusing on Personalization and Personal Connections 

Beekeeper’s Naturals is an innovative wellness company that develops nutraceutical products from plant-based ingredients. The company grew out of the personal experiences of Founder and CEO Carly Stein, and that has helped it differentiate itself from others natural and organic products in the health and wellness category.

“I started this company because I have chronic tonsillitis, coupled with an allergic reaction to basically every over-the-counter medication. I can’t take antibiotics … I was chronically ill, and I couldn’t find solutions in the natural aisle. I found there was a real disconnect between natural ingredients and efficacy plant-based formulas, and that’s what Beekeeper’s Naturals is all about,” said Stein.

The company’s initial marketing strategy involved seeking out others facing the same challenges and connecting with those struggling with similar medical obstacles. Stein and her team would attend conferences on Celiac’s Disease, find those with allergies and compromised immune systems, and engage with people in chat rooms. 

“How that’s evolved over time is that we basically found these very early evangelists, found the demographic that needed the product that we had, connected with them and have found different ways to work with them,” she said, adding that many “early evangelists” now work with the company on Instagram and as affiliates. 

CEO Rami Helali of Kotn, a fast-growing Canadian clothing retailer that sells ethically made products, followed a similar approach when first starting out. While Beekeeper’s Naturals targeted specific conferences, Kotn took to the press with a highly personalized approach. 

“One of the insights that I had early on was we needed others to tell our story, others with legitimacy…and for us, that was people in the press,” he said explaining that the company contacted a list of over two thousand editors. 

“I wrote a personalized email to every single one of these editors…and, you know, I sent thousands of these and got probably like six responses. And out of those six responses, probably got two articles.” 

“It’s very much putting yourself in that uncomfortable position to get that first push, because often one of the hardest things to do is go from not-existing to existing…it requires doing things that don’t scale,” Helali said.

Embracing Omnichannel Marketing

Many leading D2C brands started digital first, but digital-first doesn’t mean digital-only — D2C  brands often find value interacting with their customers in real life to create a cohesive omnichannel experience crucial. Helali emphasized the importance of understanding each of your channels and prioritizing what works for your brand.

“You may be doing 10 things, but find one or two things that really resonate with the customer,” he says, adding that it’s important to understand what each channel is supposed to do for your marketing stack and sticking to channels that work for your brand.

“I think there’s a danger in just saying, oh, new channel, new channel, new channel, and not mastering one single channel at a time and understanding your unit economics and how that works for your business,” he said, explaining that building a consistent and transparent brand story comes down to three essential pillars: “understanding your customer, understanding the channel, and understanding what message resonates with what channel is really important to get that cohesive feel across all those channels.” 

Siobahn Sweeney, a Sales Leader at Shopify Retail, believes that embracing an omnichannel approach can help create a seamless shopping experience, which can make a lasting brand impression.  

“When I think about delivering a really seamless shopping experience, I think about wanting to provide something that’s unique depending on where that customer is interacting with my band, and yet consistent. So, I think it’s really important for brands to embrace this whole idea of omnichannel. It’s about creating a single customer experience across your brand in all those channels and touch points along the way.”

Taking Advantage of the Data 

A data-centric approach to retailing and marketing is one of the fundamental shifts over the last few years – and in particular the last few months – and D2C brands have been on the forefront of this movement. 

“We measure everything from how a specific customer group acts over time to how products do in-store vs. online,” said Helali. “All decisions stem from data and then putting the processes in place so that you’re interpreting that data correctly and taking the actions that are required.”

This granular use of data is how many D2C brands have managed to reach and understand their audience on a deeper level than brands before – and there are many resources available to newly founded brands. Shopify, for example, empowers merchants to use data with their own set of analytics tools.

“When it comes to our merchants that work with us, we have quite a robust amount of data that we are able to share with them from a reporting perspective,” said Sweeney, adding that Shopify uses data in-house as well. 

“We use data to inform our marketing strategy the exact same way that we do our product team,” she said.

Stein added that those leading a D2C brand will benefit from thinking adopting a data-driven approach early on, as major retailers look for these numbers when stocking their stores.

“When you are moving into the retail environment as a D2C brand, more and more retail stores care about this data, they are very aware of your metrics on every social platform, and it feeds into your pitch in a big way. So capturing that data and having that structure early on allows you to move into different directions in a really seamless way.“

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