by Erika Jolly Brookes
Ever since Dollar Shave Club’s first video went viral in 2012, the ecommerce world has been fascinated by the rise in DTC (Direct to consumer) retailers and marketing. We’ve watched companies like Casper and Warby Parker rise to fame as the industry celebrates their ability to out-market their substantial, entrenched competitors, but as the Wall Street Journal reported, there have also been plenty of hopeful DTC businesses that ended up having only brief moments in the sun.
So what’s the secret to success for ecommerce businesses that want to sell directly to buyers, and keep them coming back? There is no fairy dust or secret sauce for DTC success, and while some companies make it look simple, making it happen is by no means a breeze. That said, for every DTC media darling and viral marketing stunt, there are hundreds of smaller independent brands that are also thriving. We work with a lot of these brands and all of them seem to have found their sweet spots by combining a unique brand or product, great customer experience and a value proposition that sets them apart from the competition.
Focus on a Quality
Recent studies show that quality is a more important factor than price for most consumers. Every great ecommerce company starts here. What is your idea? Who will buy it? How will it get made and how will you ensure the end product is something you are proud of?
One thing we have seen with a lot of online merchants experiencing notable growth is focus. Take HammockGear.com, for example. Founder, Adam Hurst, had recently taken up hammock camping and noticed, in a crowded outdoor lifestyle and camping space, that there weren’t many quality products available for the growing number of enthusiasts now opting to sleep outside suspended above the ground. Hurst taught himself to sew and create camping hammocks for himself, and before he knew it a business was born. The Columbus-based brand is now thriving but remains focused on offering quality hammocks and accessories for this niche hobby. Sometimes the best option is to stay focused on delivering the best version of what you are good at rather than diversifying to the point where quality begins to take a hit.
Master the Pricing Balancing Act
Pricing is a critical factor in business planning and competition. It’s also one of the first things potential new customers will look at because they haven’t yet tried your products or become loyal fans due to great customer service.
There are a lot of variables that can impact value perception and price on a daily basis, including contending with large competitors who often drop prices to gain market share. This is where product quality and your branded experience are imperative. Getting into a pricing war with a big box retailer or marketplace competitor would be futile, and consumers are willing to pay a little more for a product they consider to be high quality. You may have to test out different price points to find the perfect balance, but pricing based on your product and your target market versus what your competition is doing is probably the safer bet.
Meet Customer Expectations for Experience
Customer expectations for an enjoyable, easy experience when engaging with a brand are higher than ever. DTC retailers are able to streamline the purchase process by maintaining control and eliminating middlemen throughout the supply chain, but that also means customer satisfaction falls squarely on your shoulders. Nailing the customer service function and making returns hassle-free are also great ways to leave your customers pleased and willing to engage again, but a critical component that most successful DTC companies have figured out is marketing.
Especially for a first-time store owner or first-time marketer, this complex world can be paralyzing. Start with your customer: where are they spending their time? For most DTC merchants the answer to that question is online. Dig deeper. What social networks are most popular for your demographic? What appeals to them? Spend some time analyzing your potential competitors as well. How are they interacting with potential customers? Are their strategies successful? What can you replicate?
Declan & Crew is an excellent example of a company that is reaping the benefits of understanding its customers. The company learned that its’ target market of young mothers are very social, like exclusive deals and enjoy the pampered feeling of being a VIP. Designing marketing campaigns tailored to these behaviors and preferences has allowed the business to thrive in an extremely competitive world of fashion.
While getting to know your competition and customers at this level may seem like a daunting task, it pays off in the end with a marketing strategy designed to appeal to the right target and build brand recognition. There are also many tools available for SMB and large merchants alike that can help with wrangling the data and distilling helpful insights to help design campaigns that perform.
While there are a number of variables to perfect the formula for DTC success, focusing on advancement in these three areas will certainly put you on the right path. The ongoing theme in all of this continues to be the customer. Start there and it is difficult to make a bad decision!
Erika Jolly Brookes is chief marketing officer for Springbot, an ecommerce marketing platform, where she leads lead all aspects of marketing. Erika can be found actively engaging on a wide-range of topics including digital marketing and ecommerce on Twitter @ebrookes. A strategic technology-marketing veteran, Erika has held numerous executive-level marketing positions with leading technology companies like Oracle, Vitrue, MindSpring, Earthlink and Rackspace. To learn more about Springbot, please visit twitter.com/springbot and www.springbot.com