Written by Malavika Sharma on Digilah (Tech Thought Leadership)
About 15 years ago, the early disciples of Direct-To-Consumer [DTC] brands, began spreading the word – DTC as a business model was about lower prices, higher margins, and one-to-one customer relationships. Fast forward to today, the DTC landscape is crowded with brands jostling for consumer mindspace. With customer acquisition costs rising and Apple’s iOS ATT update resulting in a reduced ability for facebook and email marketers to track, understand user behavior, target audiences and measure performance accurately – there hasn’t been a more important time than now to leverage and build a powerful marketing technology stack that puts customers at the front and center of a DTC brand’s strategy and mission in order to survive.
Successful DTC brands today focus on building a deep understanding of their customer, strengthen their offerings, educate, entertain, and remind their customers with a single goal to convert visitors to buyers and grow customer lifetime value.
Technology has been at the forefront of a DTC entrepreneurs arsenal influencing daily decisions from understanding a customer’s first order, to building a content strategy leveraging analytics and research, gaining a better understanding of on-site visitor behavior in the storefront, or targeting audiences that are most likely to convert.
Below are ten powerful ways DTC brands leverage technology to scale to 8 figures and beyond profitably.
Let’s dive in.
- Building a content first strategy with powerful SEO for brand discoverability
Building a search engine optimized site that is discoverable with high quality content that educates your customers across the customer journey is a good starting point. Additionally, customer journey mapping, with creating a content strategy as a fundamental foundation to communicate with your customer personas and on-site conversion rate optimization yields a flywheel for continuous growth. As we know it a brand without content is faceless, it has no way to get repeat business, grow a customer base and compete against companies with similar products. A real brand has a strong email list of subscribers, authority in their niche and a community of raving fans who consume their content and buy their products again and again. The world’s best DTC brands leverage content to tell their stories to customers and address “why” they exist to serve the customer. Organic content costs less than paid for each marginal visitor – its upfront investment is offset by reduced customer acquisition cost (CAC), more loyalty and a much longer ROI window.
From product pages, blogs to social media the best DTC brands leverage content marketing to build engagement and trust with the brand. Below are ways in which successful DTC brands leverage different technology platforms and applications to provide a full funnel experience by embracing content as a primary pillar.
- Top of Funnel Content: focuses on educating the audience, entertaining, engaging the customer and addressing a specific pain point or need they are looking to address. Creative assets for paid social such as images, sales videos, testimonials, UGC can be created via technology platforms such as Canva, Snappa, Adobe Spark, Visme, Vimeo and Wistia are great to build rich experiences on the website and creative assets such as carousels, videos, collection ad formats besides create Instagram stories, Instagram reels that particularly work well for DTC brands. UGC platforms Cohley and Pixlee help brands connect with customers and engage them with authentic conversations inviting them to discover the brand. Building on-site personalized quizzes can further improve time on site and grow engagement with your customer.
- Middle of Funnel Content: focuses on helping educate, informing and building trust with the customer. The focus here is to solve for why your product or service would help fulfill the customer’s needs. Building social proof by integrating platforms like Trustpilot, Yotpo are great. Brands integrate chat via Paloma, ManyChat and MobileMonkey that help DTC brands engage, inform and retain visitors on the website – channels such as Instagram and facebook messenger accelerate customer experience and brand credibility.
- Bottom Of Funnel Content: this is where the rubber hits the road. Ensuring your store has product optimized pages with a goal to ensure a frictionless path to conversion with one click upsells, a seamless add to cart experience, a secure check-out with a post-purchase cross sell opportunity to grow average order value (AOV), conversion rates (CR) and customer lifetime value (CLV) are big rocks that aid conversion optimisation. Landing Pages that are AMP optimized for quick mobile downloads and desktop optimized separately are important to ensure a rich customer experience and reduce bounce rates, load times and improve conversions. Ensuring message match between ads, content and product offer pages is key not only to ensure a high-quality score when running facebook and google ads but also is key to increase conversion rates and lower cart abandonment. By adopting technology software such Unbounce and InstaPage to launch custom landing pages in a drag and drop environment DTC brands are able to drastically improve customer experience, drive customer retention and prevent a leaky bucket. Apps such as Zipify and Candy Rack are two of the top-rated apps on the Shopify app store that allow you to easily create upsell and cross-sell offers.
Nik Sharma, CEO of Sharma Brands states, “If you invest in SEO today, you will reap its ROI over 12 years”. For some brands, relevant search volume will allow them to scale to tens of thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of qualified shoppers per month through search engine optimization (SEO).
To do that requires a combination of three factors.
One, optimizing your collection and product pages for high-buying-intent keywords. Two, optimizing those same pages for technical considerations – correct H tags, alt image tags, and load speed. Three, producing additional content for non-buying-intent keywords. By leveraging SEMRUSH, BackLinko and Ahrefs a seamless search engine optimised storefront with organic traffic can be built, growing the stores brand authority while driving conversions.
2. Ensuring a healthy channel mix while building traffic
Once a DTC brand builds a great product that solves a specific need or pain-point of the customer, saves time, money or solves a problem – then the next ideal step is a laser focus on building traffic. Traffic = store visitors. As John Mac Donald, President & Founder of The Good, a conversion rate optimization firm states, “Visitors come to your store only for two reasons – to research your products and understand if it solves their problem or need and to purchase as quickly and effortlessly as possible. Your job as an ecommerce marketer is to get them what they came for with the least friction”.
As an young DTC brand, a focus on growing organic traffic, improving on-site conversion rate through conversion rate optimization and establishing a retention strategy via email and SMS marketing to grow your short-term LTV (60-day LTV) will deliver profitability in order to better prepare you to scale in the future.
Early DTC brands that have seen success aim to push revenue via organic traffic to 20%+ and email marketing to 25% to build for profitability.
Once brands hit 15M+ and are a maturing DTC brand, direct organic traffic should contribute to at least 40% of total traffic. As DTC brands build sizeable organic traffic and continue to grow with a goal to deeply understanding their customer personas, they grow higher quality traffic to drive to their storefront and scale business further by a focus on paid advertising via search and social. A focus on full funnel advertising optimized at an SKU and price point level to win profitable sales, building high converting creatives rooted in analytics focused on time tested principles that accelerate the customers journey should be the focus all with one primary goal – get visitors to make a purchase. Further brands build intelligent remarketing campaigns that separate customers, visitors, browsers, and cart abandoners. Search engine marketing (SEM) is leveraged to make sure that the store “owns their real estate”: the top results for branded searches. Google ads versus Facebook ads shouldn’t be pitted against each other; but instead work together to build an omnichannel presence across search, shopping, and social media. A healthy store has a 40-60 organic to paid traffic mix or an ideal 50-50 organic to paid traffic mix.
None of this is possible to track and measure without using the rich machine learning capabilities and algorithms of the big three – facebook, google and amazon ad platforms and pixels or even first party and third-party data technologies.
3. Optimizing for the conversion always! Growing revenue per visitor as a goal.
When DTC brands focus all efforts into cutting down wasteful expenditure testing ads with small budgets first, always testing 6-8 creatives and remarketing to existing customers while prospecting to new potential customers only – they see a lift in conversions and conversion rates besides improved return on ad spend (ROAS). When brands test both ads and funnels leveraging the AIDA model and rapidly iterate creative assets to optimize for the conversion, paid advertising finally pays off and allows brands to rapidly scale, grow new customers and drive repeat purchase rates and average order value.
By accelerating on-site conversion rate optimization actions, focusing on bespoke photography and video asset optimization, site speed and mobile optimized AMP pages for quick load times, brands are able to build profitable ecommerce funnels that reduce friction points to conversion such as your offer, return rates, bad reviews, poor product quality, creative, account optimization goals or an incongruent message or visual between your ad and landing page structure. Testing each element of the ecommerce funnel – ad imagery, headlines, copy, blog copy, video, testimonials, social reviews creates a frictionless path to conversion with a coherent message to the consumer. Further conversion rate optimisation does not end with the purchase – post-purchase retention strategies help further drive engagement, cross-sell and upsells that consistently grow brand loyalty, increase repeat purchase rates reducing average time between orders.
By personalizing the customer journey across touchpoints, focusing on product assortment optimization, directing paid dollars to acquire ideal customers and ensuring message match between the ad and landing page, DTC brands are able to greatly impact conversion rates and volume. Marketing software such as Adobe Spark Post, Canva, no limit creatives allow entrepreneurs and marketers to rapidly test creative performance and build stunning creative assets. Conversion Optimisation Software (CRO) software such as Omniconvert, Optimizely and VWO enables brands to conduct RFM segmentation, cohort analysis and launch customer surveys to better understand customer clusters with varied lifetime value, on-site behavior and intent. This helps every marketer to successfully focus on profitable growth.
With heatmaps, rapid A/B testing and software such as HotJar, Microsoft Clarity, brands are able to optimise on-site product page experiences. Further, auditing customer reviews on your store and on Amazon can play a part in strengthening the product offering and service capability.
DTC brands personalize cart recovery by installing LiveRecover. They recover about 20-25% of abandoned carts at minimum. All these actions are an essential part to conversion rate optimisation for the storefront online.
4. Accelerating LTV with retention programs via email marketing, SMS marketing, informative newsletters, community building programs for your brand
If you aren’t leveraging email and SMS marketing, you are leaving a pile of cash on the table. Nik Sharma, CEO of Sharma Brands says, “Good retention is about coming up with plays that keep your product in the top 15-20 things in a person’s head at any one time”. Simply put – email marketing and SMS marketing are those #1 and #2 retention channels!
No other channel matches the ROI of email marketing. For every $1 spent email generates $38. Well performing email marketing has the potential to drive 20%-30% revenue.
Email is the most important touch point between brand and community. It helps convince people to engage, consider, buy and express, take interest, engage and influence buyers. With customer acquisition costs likely to continue to spiral upwards, investing in email marketing to build a direct relationship with the customer and “own” the relationship is critical.
As Chase Dimond, Co-Founder of Boundless Labs says, “I think email’s important for a lot of reasons. First – with the iOS 14 update and cookies going away, it’s going to be even more important to control your audience and really have predictable revenue.
The goal is to get to a point where you can press send and you know that this campaign is going to drive you X number of clicks and X number of sales and the revenue per recipient is this.
And with Facebook and some of these other channels, those are obviously very effective for what I do. We are dependent on top-of-the-funnel traffic, but they’re going to become a lot less precise, a lot less predictable. So having a channel like email marketing where you own, and you control your destiny is going to be super important”.
Marketing automation platforms such as Klaviyo, Privy, Active Campaign and Sendlane allow marketers to not only establish a one-to-one relationship with the existing and potential customers but leverage deep learning to build segments and communicate with your customers to inform, educate and convert more visitors to customers.
By focusing on a healthy mix of both campaigns and flows. Ensuring your core flows welcome series, cart and browse abandonment and post purchase series are always activated. Building a cadence of list hygiene and cleaning to ensure healthy engagement rates – email marketing can become a highly profitable channel.
Merchandising emails with top-sellers and bundled offers to drive repeat purchases help grow a DTC brands average order value (AOV).
Post purchase emails are critical to keep customers engaged, thanking customers for purchases made and launching cross-sell and up-sell opportunities over time grow AOV. Educating your customers about how to use your products leveraging newsletters, build social proof and valuable feedback. Email Marketing helps shore up organic traffic through a continuous stream of existing customers visiting your site to explore new products, engage with your blog and feel part of a community.
With the iOS 15 ATT updates, we will see a potential impact on opens leading to our inability to accurately understand revenue, IP based activity, ability to serve dynamic content, list segmentation, build automated triggers and logic, launch list hygiene and offboard unengaged subscribers. Ensuring UTM tracking is accurate and consistent to enable last click reporting through Google Analytics would be key. Collecting historical data to adequately read without open data would help create a baseline to benchmark against. Updating segments to utilise recent creation, clicks, purchases and site sessions to build segments of engaged contacts. Auditing all automated flows for use of opens and identify any elements of the program reliant on Geo-IP. Implementing batched re-engagement series for pre-iOS 15 list hygiene would go a long way in making informed and intelligent decisions to boost the health of your email marketing program.
5. Building A Frontline of Defense with Customer Service:
Martech platforms such as Gorgias go a long way in not only reducing churn but also leveraging data to build customer service as not only brand advocates and grow one-on-one relationships with the customer. Customer service is a brand’s frontline of defence. Customers are the first to know when something is wrong, broken, or if anything can be done better. By identifying the needs, concerns, and issues of the customer faster than anyone else, brands can also fix or address problems before it gets any bigger and becomes damaging to the company.
It is important to keep the customer happy. If it is their first-time ordering from a brand and they have a less than stellar experience, they are most likely not going to order again. They will not give any of the company’s second products a try, such as the more expensive purchases or subscriptions. That is why customer service helps in not only preventing any bad experiences but building a trusted relationship. By offering simple solutions from a technical standpoint, such as dealing with refunds or providing a shipping label, the customer is excited that the brand provided them with a solution. Tools like Gorgias help drive stellar customer service enabling brands to leverage data to cross sell and up sell products, retain or win back customers and provide exceptional customer experience.
6. Scaling with Facebook Ads Profitably
Why facebook you may ask? With more than 2.9 BN monthly active users worldwide, facebook is the largest social network. Besides the continuing challenges with Apple’s iOS updates, it is estimated that ad spends would continue to rise by 32% on facebook in 2022 per eMarketer. While CPMs have risen by +47% on facebook in the US and +54% YOY for ecommerce brands – there simply put isn’t a single channel replacement for facebook that provides better or similar returns.
Facebook and Instagram are the highest performing, most efficient channels out there why? This is because of the humongous data they are sitting on. Facebook pixels are over 8 million websites on the internet. facebook knows about their users through their conversion tracking algorithm more than anyone else.
On the buy side of the facebook platform it is important to focus on five key areas to leverage the power of the platform profitably.
- Feed the facebook algorithm with a variety of ad creatives, testing every part of the ad while leveraging a consolidated account structure, ensure message match and congruence between ad and landing page
- Set clear prospecting goals only targeting new users to be able to retarget to existing users for scale and profitability
- Build audience exclusions while setting up retargeting for visitors, cart abandoners, engagers, and varied customer segments
- Calculate facebook budgets and CPA targets based on profitability goals
- Eliminate single account ROAS goals while focusing on SKU based goals
Embrace Adobe Spark, Pixlr X, Snappa, Adobe Premier Rush to create outstanding Facebook ads that convert.
7. Always refining the almighty offer to grow AOV and short-term cash multiplier LTV 60 days
Focus on understanding different customer segments and their purchase trends, what they are willing to recommend and what they have returned. If you have excess inventory, BOGO is a great promotional offer to increase customer engagement and generate sales. Free shipping belongs on every customer list. Conversion rates are known to increase when you use free shipping. Free returns set customers minds free and gets them to purchase more. Threshold free shipping can incentivize shoppers to add more items to their cart increasing both AOV and LTV. At all times, merchants must cater for what people really care about – which is almost never a brand or founder story – but something relevant to their needs.
Limited edition and low in stock are great ways to drive urgency besides money back guarantees. Product bundling including starter kits and special edition seasonal items. A membership or subscription program is a powerful way to bring your customers into an exclusive club and generate some guaranteed revenue. If your membership is structured well, you can get your customers to spend more than they would otherwise. Store credits are a great way to get your customers to come back again and incentivise the next purchase.
Bolstering your business with a robust live chat experience, customer service platform such as Gorgias or building a customer review via UGC with Okendo would work wonders for your brand. This would help in driving more traffic by showing reviews in paid and organic marketing channels including Google Ads, Google Search and Google Shopping. The above tactics all go a long way to improve average order value (AOV) and LTV 60 days i.e., a cash multiplier for the brand.
8. Capturing demand through Search Engine Marketing with Google Shopping and Google Ads
If brands want to be wherever their customers are, then this is one of the foundational steps. If someone finds a brand on Facebook or they see the brand on Amazon, one of the next things they’ll do is search for same brand on Google and so as DTC brands, we want to show up there for branded search.
Now you might be asking, if someone is searching for me by name, won’t my organic search do the trick? Because I’m going to probably rank for my own name number one. And the answer is, yes you most likely will rank at the top organically for your own brand name. There are very rare exceptions that you would not. However, there are likely going to be some ads above you.
Branded Search Ads help prevent competitors from poaching a brands customers. Search Ad spend is still growing at 20% per year. Google Shopping makes up 55-60% of all retail paid search clicks per Search Engine Journal. One of the reasons why Google Shopping is so popular is because the return on ad spend (ROAS) is just consistently strong.
Google Tag Manager (GTM) is the holy grail. Once you install the GTM container pixel on your site, you’ll be able to manage all your pixels from the GTM user interface. Launching Google Tag Manager on site, also makes sure you have a much less chance of accidentally breaking your site trying to add pixels. More importantly it will help you track the holy conversion and other key actions such as add to cart, order value, product or item bought, sales revenue and much more.
9. Launching private label brands on Amazon FBA and leveraging Amazon Advertising
Amazon is quickly becoming a destination for direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands looking to expand their reach and increase their sales. Since third-party sellers joined Amazon in 1999, they’ve grown to account for 58% of Amazon sales.
DTC brands that have an already established store can leverage 300 million active customers across 180+ countries via Amazon. It is one of the most efficient ways to reach new customers with 66% of new product searches beginning on Amazon.
Positive Customer Reviews can boost the brands perception and drive organic traffic to their store thereby improving conversions and sales. This means healthier profit margins.
With Facebook ads costs rising post Apple’s iOS ATT rollout by almost +45-55%, Amazon PPC ad costs could be cheaper depending upon the category. DTC Brands could leverage market intelligence platforms such as Jungle Scout and Helium10 to make real time decisions on their Amazon FBA strategy based on their inventory availability, new product launch strategy, gain competitor insights and feedback from customer reviews to continuously iterate the product and improve product features, packaging and after-sales service. Brands could even launch bundled offers to push excess inventory or plan to push sales during peak holiday seasons to maximize both sales volume and profitability
10. Measuring what Matters
Successful DTC ecommerce brands know their growth is tied to a fundamental set of metrics. Visitors, Conversion Rate, Operating Expenditure, Contribution Margin and Customer Lifetime Value are some of the key metrics that when tracked and measured, lead to informed decision making and a profitable DTC commerce business with more cash in the bank. Other key metrics such as Net Promoter Score, Customer Acquisition Cost, Purchase Frequency, Average Order Value, Time to First Response and CLV to CAC ratio are additionally important metrics to track.
A holistic view of these metrics cannot be attained in the absence of technology driven software such as Google Analytics, OmniConvert, Tydo, Ramp, Settle and more.
Successful DTC brands start with a mission to create world class products that best serve the customer to deliver exceptional customer experiences with customer lifetime value as their north star. Some of the world’s best DTC brands such as Glossier, Beardbrand, Lalo, Qalo, and many more power their DTC technology stack leveraging these world class software applications and platforms mentioned in the article above.
Smarte Digital is a boutique ecommerce growth marketing consultancy with a mission to scale DTC brands that are between 2MN-30MN+ profitably.