How to Launch a Successful DTC Brand
The appeal of the direct-to-consumer (DTC) model for new consumer products is clear: the barrier to entry is lower, it’s a great way to test your product, and you can start small with a limited product line and pivot relatively easily based on customer feedback.
But there are pitfalls too. How do DTC brands win trust and build loyalty in a crowded market when the competition is so intense?
Product – At the risk of stating the obvious, everything revolves around your product—it simply must live up to its promise. If it doesn’t, it makes no difference how great your logo is or how alluring your website may be. The success of Brooklinen stems from the fact that their bedding exceeds expectations. They offer genuinely high-quality sheets at a reasonable price point. That’s a prerequisite for any DTC brand.
Web experience – In the absence of a physical store, your brand’s e-commerce experience must be flawless. Your website is an opportunity to convey your brand values and tell your story. Beyond being simply a streamlined, easy-to-use site experience, the imagery and the copywriting must support the brand and drive sales. A good example is Care, a new DTC skincare brand, which offers an elegant shopping experience that showcases the products through beautiful photography and refined, thoughtful interactions. As the website and social platforms were the primary drivers of exposure and sales, they needed to be consistent in tone and message.
From the copy on your homepage to the tone of voice of customer communications, nailing the brand messaging is essential.
Communication – From the copy on your homepage to the tone of voice of customer communications, nailing the brand messaging is essential. The messaging and story must be reinforced across all channels. Communicate your values in a way that engages and inspires your customers and builds loyalty. Fashion retailer Everlane met this challenge by setting a high bar in terms of product and manufacturing transparency—pulling back the curtain and revealing every step of the process has been its primary differentiator, and many DTC brands have followed suit.
Packaging – You only need to glance at the number of unboxing videos on YouTube to understand the importance of the big reveal. The packaging is a key moment in the customer journey and provides ample brand messaging and cross-selling opportunities. The details matter: the outer shipping box, product cartons and even the wrapping tissue all work together to communicate the brand values. Companies like Lumi have not only simplified the supply chain, they’ve also ensured the packaging can live up to the brand promise. With sustainability principles in mind, brands like Brooklinen wrap their sheets in branded linen totes that have customers doing the marketing for them, building awareness simply walking down the street. Fishers Island Lemonade initially launched as a DTC product early in the days of the now trendy canned cocktail space, and had to educate customers on this new type of product. With the ultimate goal of a national presence in retail stores, the packaging we designed also needed to capture attention on a crowded shelf, and ended up resulting in an iconic brand that was able to land in stores around the country without the retailer even taking a sip.
Customer service – The customer journey doesn’t end when the package arrives. As the number of DTC brands proliferates, the significance of service grows. It’s more than a differentiator at this point, consumers expect streamlined and effortless interactions, and the brands that stand out are the ones that consistently delight customers with effortless communication streams as well as quick response times. When things break down and complaints reach the public arena of Twitter, the best brands resolve issues quickly and openly, continuing to deliver on every brand promise made.
As the website and social platforms were the primary drivers of exposure and sales, they needed to be consistent in tone and message.
Delivery & Returns – Quick delivery and a straightforward and generous returns process is hugely effective at building trust and loyalty. Customers expect a seamless experience and easy, free returns convey your company’s trust that the product will exceed expectations. Simple messaging that notifies your customers at every stage of the process is essential. Amazon announced Flex, a new program to initiate on-demand, same-day delivery for Prime customers—and it’s easy to imagine how that will ultimately become the new standard. And companies such as Happy Returns or Returnly, keep customers satisfied by making the returns process quick and easy.
Looking ahead, we see the DTC model being the standard, adopted by more and more companies as more consumers relax further into the culture of online retailing. This can only mean that expectations will grow, and to survive, brands must keep pace with (or, better yet, exceed) these rising expectations.