D2C Retailers, Listen Up: You Need More Than a Sales Boost to Become a Lifestyle
As D2C brands enter the market, it’s instinctive to rely heavily on third-party social and e-commerce marketing platforms like Amazon, Instagram, and Facebook for easy access to millions of ready-to-shop consumers. The instant gratification of sales driven by these platforms often starts out encouraging, but ultimately becomes intoxicating. As brands mature into a viable, growing business, they become acutely aware of the challenges that come with growth in a saturated, hyper-competitive market — most notably the underlying paradox that the convenience of these major platforms carries a cost that is often more than growing brands can afford.
After the fact, savvy brands recognize that they have been solving for conversions (sales) not actual customers (sustainable business), all while these third-party platforms are taking ownership of the direct customer relationship and data away from the brands. Without even realizing it, brands get stuck in a perpetual state of acquisition and constantly rising costs as a result.
In today’s crowded digital marketplace, brands must understand the barriers of working with walled gardens to properly assess if the risk matches the reward. As D2C retailers increasingly recognize the importance of building lasting relationships directly with customers, they must deliver strategies that cut through the noise and prioritize long-term growth.
Walled Gardens = Disparate Sources and Disconnected Experiences
From siloed data streams and broken measurement to disconnected customer experiences, the wrong walled-garden approach can have a negative impact on a business’ bottom line.
When retailers become reliant on any one platform — such as third-party e-commerce marketing — to drive sales, customer interactions happen in isolation. This creates an incomplete view of the customer by only illustrating how they engage on one platform, leaving brands without a consistent source of experience data across all digital touchpoints, like email, onsite campaigns, online ads, etc. Think about how much time and energy you put into ad creative and copy. With the wrong walled gardens approach, you’ll have no idea what’s actually resonating and working, potentially rendering your efforts useless.
This disjointed view limits the information brands get back about their customers, making it impossible to track true campaign success from start to finish and making customer data disparate, if not irrelevant.
Without the ability to review customer insights holistically across the marketing mix, retailers cannot measure the progress of their efforts over time or determine which components of their marketing strategy need to be optimized for better results. Consequently, they cannot improve or deliver the shopping experiences that their customers expect and can, therefore, easily be replaced by another competitor.
Brand Recognition and Owning the Customer Journey
Think about the last product you bought on Amazon. Do you remember what the brand was? Did you explore the brand’s other products or get a real sense for the company and its values? Did you feel any sort of connection to the brand or product? Odds are ... probably not. Walled gardens facilitate quick transactions rather than nurture customer longevity. Consumers either remember simply buying the product online or give the credit to the third party itself (e.g. “I got it on Amazon”). Retailers looking to create a lasting brand name cannot sustain or grow their business in walled gardens alone.
Keep in mind that these channels have contracts with thousands of other retail brands, too; some of which they own. In Q4 alone, Amazon owned or had licensing rights with 450 exclusive brands — making competition even fiercer than it already is. Walled gardens take data insights from your own customer interactions to optimize the platform for their own benefit, or, even worse, the benefit of the highest-bidding competitor.
For a small retailer, there’s no ability to differentiate within these “pay to play” environments, where products are not compared on the excellence of the customer’s experience or a brand’s ability to nurture and reward customers for their loyalty. Besides initial discovery or occasionally distribution, there is little advantage for smaller retailers to leverage these platforms.
Take ThirdLove, a bra retailer that has established itself as an advocate for the everyday woman of all shapes and sizes. ThirdLove advertises on social channels like Facebook and Instagram for discovery to share their brand values and connect with women on a personal level. They also invest in engaging content across different forms of media both online and offline, like video and TV, and partner with influencers who truly embody the brand’s values and mission. Regardless of the channel, their message is consistent and genuine, and once the consumer is engaged and interested in learning more about the product, they are directed to ThirdLove’s website to ensure that the shopping experience continues to be nurturing and aligned to the brand’s promise for authenticity across each individual customer. They successfully create a lifestyle around their brand, making them much more than just a lingerie retailer.
Another example is luggage retailer Away, which avoids advertising via third-party e-commerce platforms like Amazon. Instead, it focuses on understanding its target market’s lifestyle and using those insights to engage potential customers via branded content they will find meaningful. For example, Here Magazine, an online hub created by Away, features travel stories, tips, and destination guides that customers can subscribe to.
Invest in Lifetime Value, Not a One-Time Purchase
There are many ways to invest in better customer experiences, but you need to know what experience you’re aiming for first.
Not sure where to start? First, build an overarching brand vision that’s authentic and learn to think like your target customer. Consumers don't want to be manipulated and can smell an imposter from a mile away. So it’s important to be genuine and demonstrate that same commitment across branding, products, and marketing activities. Perhaps philanthropy is a strong part of your narrative — weave that into each of your initiatives and keep your brand voice heard.
Ask yourself what kind of experiences you’d want as a consumer and be willing to tap into new technologies — digital shopping assistants, visualizations powered by augmented reality — to advertise and engage potential customers in a unique way. Look for technology platforms that unify all your data so you can personalize and manage your relationships from start to finish in one place. Think beyond online, too. Loyalty programs, unique packaging, referral programs, free shipping, surprise and delight rewards are all ways to differentiate your brand’s customer experience and set up your business for long-term success. There are plenty of options out there, so a/b test what works best for your business before you fall victim to a one-sided approach.
By creating connected customer experiences, you’ll build both loyalty and lifestyle around your brand and keep buyers engaged for the long-haul.