DTC Marketing 101: A Guide to Direct-to-Consumer Marketing Strategies

DTC Marketing

Table of Contents

We’ve all been there. You’re on Amazon at 2 AM trying to buy a lighter. But all you see is 15,000 matches.

The retail experience is over-saturated, messy, and expensive for those trying to grow a business. Whether you’re an Amazon seller or paying a slotting fee at Safeway, your unique value proposition gets lost in the noise.

A good DTC marketing strategy helps you cut through the clutter, attract customers, and directly influence buying decisions. Direct-to-consumer marketing does this by eliminating the middleman and allowing customers to see the real you.

What Is DTC Marketing?

DTC marketing is “direct-to-consumer marketing.” This means that you share your brand message and products directly with customers without borrowing the pre-established audience of a retailer.

You attract and engage customers — virtually, physically, or both. You own the customer experience and have more control over it. How does this compare to B2C Marketing?

B2C Vs. DTC Marketing

B2C marketing sells something through someone else (e.g., a retailer) versus DTC (direct-to-consumer marketing), which is selling directly.

B to C means “Business to Consumer”. This seems like a broad, catch-all term, but it’s not as straightforward as it looks.

In most B2C marketing, you rely on “a middleman” to reach your desired audience. This go-between helps you sell to customers that already visit that store. But it comes at a cost.

In the physical world, B2C is shelf space in stores like Walmart, Costco, Safeway, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Best Buy, or Home Depot. Even farmers at your local farmer’s market use a B2C business model. They pay the market’s organizers for a booth.

In each case, someone with a product is benefiting from the traffic someone else is generating. You pay for access to their traffic.

Online, B2C is creating a listing in an online marketplace that brings your products up in a search — usually with hundreds or thousands selling the same thing.

Think Amazon, Walmart Marketplace, or for those who remember ancient history — eBay. These also include websites for big box retailers.

On the other hand, DTC is Direct-to-Consumer. You remove the middle person from the equation and reach customers directly. 

And there are some excellent reasons it may be time to kick someone else’s storefront – or at least, relying solely on that storefront – to the curb.

Let’s look at them side-by-side.

 DTC Business ModelB2C Business Model
How Do Sales Happen?Your websiteSomeone else’s website 
Audience?Your audienceTheir audience
Loyalty?Can be earnedNot likely
What Do Customers See?Your products, message, and branding You and all your competitors more or less look the same.
Branding?Owned channels, positioning, full control over the messageBright product packages, just another “online seller” that may not be a “real” business
How do You Compete?Quality, service, reputation, digital presence, demanding a premium, etc.Be the lowest price, pay for better placement 
Margins?HighLow
Data Collection and Usage?First-party customer data, full view of customer journey, sales cycle, ability to optimizeLimited. The retailer or marketplace chooses what they share
Marketing?Complete control over DTC funnels to influence decision-making.Limited options to advertise
Startup / Market Entry Costs and Risk?HigherLower
ROI and Growth Potential?Very highSlim margins make you wonder if it’s worth it.

It’s clear! Both have some pros and cons.

B2C serves a purpose. We can’t deny it does help a company test the waters without substantial risk. We’re not saying you shouldn’t be on Amazon or try to get your products on Walmart shelves. We’re saying you can’t only be doing this.

Therein lies the reason online marketplaces are oversaturated with such slim margins. Because entry is such a low risk, it becomes too easy for resellers and side hustlers to muddy the waters of search results so that real businesses like yours can’t stand out.

If you want to grow a viable, sustainable business, your goal should be to grow beyond B2C and become a DTC company that engages in direct-to-consumer marketing.

Only then can you take control of your destiny.

The Benefits of DTC Marketing

In the olden days, being a DTC company was much harder. Either you had to spend a lot to compete on traditional media (TV, radio) or use selling methods most people despise, like door-to-door and cold-calling. 

This is no longer the world we live in. Now, you can reach customers in your local community or worldwide through the Internet. 

With that said, direct-to-consumer marketing isn’t as easy as becoming a Walmart online seller. But 3 BIG growth-driving benefits may convince you it’s worth choosing to own your brand and customer experience with DTC.

1. Full Control Over Brand Image

DTC marketing lets you tell your story how you want to say to it. Connect with the audience you want, the way you want. 

It’s easier to communicate your brand’s unique value proposition (UVP) when people aren’t immediately comparing your product to others in their Amazon search or on a Walmart end cap. They see you, the real you.

2. Higher Profit Margins

Do you get that sinking feeling when Amazon raises its fees again? You’re one big return away from just breaking even this month. This is the world many B2C companies live in.

Slim margins can make you feel like you’re making money, but it’s impossible to generate the cash flow to grow your business. 

You try to make it up in volume. But it’s hard to find time to sleep when you’re taking orders 24/7 to pad a retailer’s pockets.

DTC marketing gives you the potential to achieve the kinds of margins that have the Sharks circling in the Tank.

Because you market your own products, you’re not bleeding listing percentages and slotting fees. 

3. First-Party Data

DTC marketing gives you a full view of how customers experience your brand and product.

From the moment they become aware of you, you can view, measure, and optimize how they perceive and react to your DTC brand online.

If you can measure it, you can influence it — increasing sales, positive reviews, and profits.

Online DTC marketing gives you access to this valuable data on:

  • Your website
  • Email subscriptions
  • Social media
  • Online ads
  • Sales attribution
  • How people interact across multiple platforms
  • Surveys
  • Feedback
  • Customer service
  • Reviews

Use this data to map out how people find you. What makes them click to learn more? How can you convince them to buy now?

Learn who your most valuable customer base is so you can more precisely target them to increase profit margins even more.

Proven Direct to Consumer Marketing Strategy Trends & Tips 

1. Own Your Brand Image

Having a consistent and impactful DTC brand image across platforms can increase revenues by 23%.

A strong brand sticks to your target customers like flypaper — hopefully without the flies.

People remember you. They recognize you when they see you. Now, use DTC marketing strategies across channels to reach and engage them. 

Build the trust and brand love that allows you to turn happy customers into brand ambassadors so you can charge a premium for your product.

But to have this, you have to know who you are so you can lean into a particular brand archetype. This is how you choose to relate to customers.

You may want your brand to be seen as a jester, hero, outlaw, creator, or sage. Just slip into that robe and run with that image. Become it.

Your brand persona is reflected in your:

  • Color
  • Voice
  • Logo
  • Packaging
  • Fonts
  • Messaging. 89% of consumers say they feel more loyal to companies when they share their values.
  • Brand partnership and influencer choices. 
  • How and where you market and advertise
  • The experience you build around your products.
  • Customer service. 73% say they love a brand because it has a customer service department that cares.

Harness the Power of DTC Marketing

2. Increase Your Owned Media

In DTC marketing, you don’t have the luxury of tapping directly into a retailer’s existing audience—for which you pay outrageous fees.

You will build your own. To do this, you’ll need owned channels.

Owned Media are channels or platforms online where you can speak directly to your customer base because they are attracted to the content and experience you provide here. These include:

  • Your website
  • Your blog
  • Social media profiles
  • Review profiles like Yelp and Google
  • Email lists

More or less, this is where people see the true you—with some channels offering more freedom of expression than others. But they each give you the ability to build a following that is YOUR AUDIENCE.

This is opposed to unowned media and channels like Google Ads, Amazon, a retail store, or a news story where someone else has complete control over your message and visibility.

DTC owned media channels create cross-links to strengthen your brand presence as the same people engage with you on multiple platforms.

Plus, it’s easier to maintain contact with your customer no matter what.

So, even if Twitter or Facebook were to go the way of Google+, you still have Instagram and your email list to reconnect with your target audience because you diversified your online presence and created a multi-channel brand experience.

3. Create Data-Driven Buyer Personas

If you’re going to create DTC marketing messages that resonate, you have to know who you’re talking to.

And we all have a “type”, are we right? Some customers get what your company is trying to do and be. They share your values. They love you, Man.

That’s why no Direct to Consumer Marketing Strategy is complete without data-driven buyer personas. A buyer persona (also called a customer persona) is a composite representation of this ideal customer. 

In your direct to consumer marketing strategy you speak as if you’re talking directly to this fictional person.

And since you’re collecting first-party data when using a DTC business model, you can build personas that accurately reflect your audience.

This isn’t a guessing game!

This data can reveal not only the demographics your products appeal to. You gain insight into what drives buying decisions and what factors make someone your ideal customer.

This allows you to not only increase sales. You can lower customer acquisition costs because you’re hitting the bull’s eye more often.

4. Map Out the Buyer’s Journey

It’s easy to think of a customer’s journey as a straight line. They click the ad. They buy. But the truth is, that’s not how eCommerce works.

The modern customer journey involves many touchpoints across a mix of organic and paid channels.

People consume content. They educate themselves. They consider options before buying.

This is especially true if your product isn’t the online equivalent of a candy bar in the grocery store checkout line.

Finding the right luxury car cover to protect your most prized possession is not an impulse buy. Most people have to think about their purchases.

It’s no joke that many consumers favorite pastime is putting items in their cart and then leaving. So, we know people can look like they intend to buy. But they leave us hanging when we go in for the high five.

So, in DTC marketing, you’ll collect first-party data to understand how customers move through this journey. With this insight, you can re-engage and re-direct them as needed toward completing the sale.

If you can measure it, you can influence it to drive growth. That leads us to the DTC marketing funnel.

5. Build a DTC Marketing Funnel Around the Buyer’s Journey

A DTC marketing funnel brings order to what could otherwise be a chaotic buyer’s journey. 

It makes conversions predictable. As you collect more first-party data, you see a pattern emerge.

DTC marketing funnels can vary. But ultimately, they lead the right people down a path from strangers, to leads, to paying customers.

Stage of the Customer Journey / DTC FunnelYour DTC FunnelHow You Measure It
AwarenessYour content gets the person’s attention. It connects with their problem, need, or goal. The prospective customer engages with it.% of people who see it (impressions) that engage with content
Consideration With attention earned, you need to engage them in the solutions.Encourage them to follow and subscribe in exchange for something of value that leads them further into the funnel (discount, comparison guide, etc.)Video watch timePages per sessionDownloads, discountCode usageSign up for email or SMS
Decision-makingThis content encourages them to take the final step. It includes social proof and testimonials to solidify trust.Sales Revenue, Marketing ROI
Harness the Power of DTC Marketing

6. DTC Email Marketing

DTC email marketing is part of many DTC Marketing Funnels for a reason. It’s highly effective, with a potential 36:1 ROI—the highest ROI of any digital marketing method.

DTC email marketing strategy involves building a permission-based list of people who would like to receive regular content from you in their inboxes.

After creating and sending email content to your subscribers, you’ll analyze your first-party data to determine how people respond to your emails.

Common DTC email marketing metrics include:

  • Email Open rate
  • Click-through rate
  • Unsubscribe rate

Within your strategy, engage your email subscribers with a mix of several types of emails:

  • Content announcements. These preview content and may encourage them to click on your website to read a blog, watch a video, etc.
  • Product updates. People who are already customers are more likely to try your new products and spend more money on subsequent purchases, so make sure they know when you add a new SKU. Entice them with an exclusive, early access offer.
  • Digital magazine or newsletter. Create some content that people can consume right there in their inbox, with a mix of links to website content and offers. 
  • Invitations to Special Events. Let them know about Facebook live events, Twitter Q&A, webinar, in-store event, or Flash Sale.
  • Dedicated send. These emails go only to a selected group of recipients, usually because they performed a specified action. In DTC, a dedicated send could include sending a special offer to customers who you haven’t heard from in over 6 months. Bring them back into the fold.
  • Co-marketing emails. When two non-competing companies collaborate and share that collaboration with each other’s audience.
  • Social media send emails. Emails you send to group members from the social media platform like LinkedIn.
  • Confirmation emails. Order, shipping, in-stock again, and similar updates.
  • Form submission kickback emails. Thank you emails when people fill out a form.
  • Welcome emails. These have some of the highest open rates. Make good use of them with a reason to buy now and CTA that leads people deeper into your DTC marketing funnel.

Each of the types of email can serve this purpose. Analyzing email data will help you determine the right mix to meet your marketing goals.

Plus…

Email automation tools allow you to create a batch of emails in advance to achieve perfect timing. These either go out on a schedule or when a customer performs a particular action—such as abandoning their cart.

Email segmentation is a more advanced form of automation that allows you to segment your subscriber list based on shared demographic, behaviors, etc. 

Skyrocket your email open rates with these tips.

7. DTC Marketing Paid Ads

Paid ads serve a function within direct to consumer business model at various places in the funnel.

Online paid ads may include a mix of social media ads, display ads, search ads, and video ads on sites like YouTube.

DTC Marketing Paid Ads

Wherever your target audience is in the funnel, you can use paid ads to move people to the next stage.

There are 3 basic types of DTC ads.

  1. Product ads encourage people to click to learn about or buy a product. Depending on the ad platform you target is based on demographics, search terms, or types of content/websites people view.
  2. Retargeting ads (or reminder ads) remind people that they visited your website or social media. They invite them to come back and finish what they started. You can personalize these ads to show what the person was looking at/doing when they left. This sounds a little creepy. But most people like these reminder ads.
  3. Help-seeking ads help people find a community where they can get the answers they seek. These are common in the medical/mental health industry. But regardless of industry, building supportive communities on social media is yet another strategy many DTC companies choose to embrace.

Use DTC marketing paid ads to deliver special offers and instill a sense of urgency to make the sale now. Stay on potential customers’ short-list while they’re considering what and where to buy.

DTC Marketing Paid Ads

8. Work with Micro-Influencers

Influencer marketing ensures unparalleled exposure to your brand.

Brands have probably partnered with influencers to reach their target audience and make sales since the Stone Age. 

It’s still just as effective today. But you no longer have to pay multi-millions for one celebrity to attend your special event.

Micro-influencers typically have between 10,000 and 100,000 followers on social media (depending on the platform). These highly engaged followers trust the micro-influencer even when they know they’re being paid to promote something.

During a micro-influencer campaign, partner with several at one time. This way, you can reach more people quickly to get people talking. And you’re likely to have some overlap in their audiences, so the same person sees that several people they follow are recommending a product. 

That’s repetition that can quickly turn into sales—as is many.

A marketing campaign like this can quickly drive awareness, and DTC sales—even if you’re currently an unknown brand.

But get ready for the Oprah Effect. Prepare to have a lot of orders to fill during and after the campaign.

If you’re DTC SaaS marketing, this may just mean having sales and tech support standing by.

But if you sell physical products, you’ll want to ensure your supply chain is solid and you have some inventory in the warehouse to fill these orders.

Don’t let sudden success catch you off-guard.

9. Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing is a powerful strategy for DTC model because it turns your brand into a magnet online. As a “magnet”, you draw in your ideal customers.

Attract Customers, Grow Your Business!

That’s because you’re in the places they hang out. And you create the kind of content they’re looking for.

Inbound marketing is a comprehensive strategy that incorporates many of the DTC strategies we’ve been discussing, including:

  • Building a social media presence across multiple platforms
  • Search engine optimization to make your website visible when people are looking for what you sell and to provide a delightful website experience while they browse and buy
  • Email marketing for lead nurturing and remarketing
  • Content marketing in when you research and create helpful content to move your ideal customer through your DTC funnel.
  • CRM platform (Customer Relationship Management ) to manage contacts. Advanced CRMs can deliver personalized experiences supported by automation.

Hubspot is a SaaS platform that has developed a suite of tools that help companies manage their inbound marketing on one platform in one place. SevenAtoms is a HubSpot partner.

Harness the Power of DTC Marketing

10. Landing Pages

Landing pages are conversion-rate-optimized pages you create within your DTC funnels. They’re simple, clear, straightforward, and designed to meet a single goal.

For example, when someone clicks a DTC Marketing Paid Ad, it goes straight to a landing page that shows the interested person everything they need to see to make a decision as quickly as possible. 

The primary components and characteristics of an effective landing page include the following:

  • Consistent branding
  • Alignment with the campaign that lands the person on this page
  • Unique Value Proposition (UVP)
  • Short and to the point
  • No navigation bar
  • Social proof (testimonials, well-known clients, influencer partnerships)
  • A clear call to action
  • Conversion rate optimization, including A/B testing, heat maps, and other analytics data.

See what a compelling landing page looks like.

11. Social Commerce /Social Selling

Social commerce is selling products directly from your social media profile.

This is where the lines can blur between B2C and DTC. But here’s why social commerce is more DTC than B2C.

Your social media platform is “owned media”. As long as you don’t break social media rules, you have a lot of control over how you present your brand. You maintain control of the product and messaging.

Plus, because your social selling fees are much lower than retail, your margins are comparable to DTC.

Your products do not appear alongside all your competitors as they do on retailer websites. You can set up a storefront on Facebook Marketplace or Instagram Marketplace and build a community around your store. 

It’s important to note that creating a store on Facebook doesn’t equal instant visibility any more than creating a website does. Your marketing strategy will still use DTC funnels to drive customers to your profile and social store.

Final Thoughts

Selling through a retailer or online platform like Amazon can be a good place to start for many businesses. But with lack of access to customer data, low margins, and inability to brand, it’s easy to get lost in the void…working hard while the platform makes the real money.

You must think outside the “big box stores” and marketplaces to attract customers and grow your business. Don’t just sell products. Become a brand that people remember and want to engage with. Own your message by reaching customers directly. 

Elevate your DTC marketing and maximize your ROI with our innovative AdWords Management Services. SevenAtoms has been honored by Google as a Premier Google Ads partner, a distinction reserved for a select few.

Harness the Power of DTC Marketing

Author Bio

Andy Beohar

Andy Beohar

Andy Beohar is VP of SevenAtoms, a Google and HubSpot certified agency in San Francisco. Andy develops and manages ROI-positive inbound and paid marketing campaigns for B2B & Tech companies. Connect with Andy on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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