Before the internet, consumers only had two options for buying goods:

  1. Order them and wait for them to be shipped by post.
  2. Buy them from the nearest physical store at retail prices.

Brands need to rely on multiple middlemen for distributing their products and reach a wider set of audience.

Thanks to the evolution of e-commerce, brands got another option: Direct to consumer (DTC). Armed up with consumer data, technology and customer experience, Brands are leveraging DTC to sell their product directly to consumers.

If you want to understand in-depth, what the Direct-to-consumer model is, we'd already written about it here.

Today, We'll be going to focus on Direct-to-consumer marketing (a.k.a DTC Marketing) and discuss creative marketing strategies (+ tactics) used by DTC brands.

Here's what we'll be covering in this post:

  1. Marketing strategies for Early Stage D2C Brands 🚀
  2. Marketing strategies for Growth Stage D2C Brand 📈

Each section would contain real-life case studies of how other brands did it.

Whether you work for a DTC company or not, this post will leave you with tangible marketing practices you can implement for yourself.


What is DTC Marketing 📢 ?

In simple words: When a company markets its product or service directly to its consumers, it's known as direct-to-consumer marketing.

This direct relationship with consumers usually can occur via Websites, Social media, YouTube, Podcasts, marketplaces (such as Amazon, Flipkart) and rarely via mail orders, Billboards and magazine advertisements.

This leaves manufacturers with high profits margins and complete control over the customer experience.

However, It's not as easy as it seems.

Increasing competition pushes plentiful existing D2C players to opt for creating innovative marketing campaigns and growth hacks to reach and sell to the right set of audience.

Let's take a look at marketing strategies and tactics used by these 30 direct-to-consumer brands and discuss what we can learn from their strategies.

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    Marketing strategies for Early Stage D2C Brands 🚀

    Early-stage companies usually have a tested prototype as well as a business plan. However, They may not have deep pockets to invest in their product marketing yet.

    Strategies you will learn in this section 👇

    1. Go Offline 🏬
    2. Create a waitlist
    3. Run Pre-Order Campaign 📦
    4. Give your product for free 🎁
    5. Referral marketing: Invite & earn 🤑

    Let's dive in!

    Go Offline 🏬

    Bangalore based meat and seafood startup Licious organized Tasting Sessions and events at apartment complexes.

    Whereas, cold coffee brew brand, Sleepy owl acquired their first set of the consumer by setting up their stall at the Jindal Global Law School Sports Fest in March 2016, Followed by setting similar kiosks at college fests, events and bazaars.

    Image Source: Linkedin

    Similar strategy was used by Fashion brand Black and gold founders Maxim Sion and Nicolas Maes started their journey by giving Latin American themed parties in which they sold their own bracelets.

    These hand-crafted bracelets quickly became more popular than the parties themselves, helping the two young friends to expand rapidly.

    Why does this strategy work?

    During the initial days, D2C brands want to get brand visibility and real customer feedback within fewer resources available. By conducting physical tasting sessions with their TG helps them accomplish both within the limited effort.

    Gamify Product Waitlist ✋

    Usually Waitlist and pre-order sounds similar to each other, But for some brands there's a slight difference.

    Pre-order is allowing customers to purchase items from you before they are in stock.

    On the other hand, allow customers to sign up for a notification when your product is released.

    So far, We've discussed fashion and food & beverage DTC brands. Now, let's talk about a DTC brand that is no-closer to FMCG.

    Electric vehicle Canoo (launching 2022, Earlier launch scheduled for 2021 in Los Angeles California) designed a gamified waitlist where subscribers can move up the list by earning points for successful referrals and filling out surveys.

    Source: AutoconnectedCar

    When Canoo launches its first subscription EVs, the person with the most points will receive the first subscription of their EV.

    The interesting part is gamification of the waitlist. In case a person didn't earn enough points, he can use "certain referral milestone levels" for winning a branded gear from the company.

    Why does this strategy work?

    The waitlist can provide valuable information to founders as they build their product. This helps the new company build a brand and a loyal customer base.

    Knowing who is interested can assist the brand in understanding its target market.

    Run Pre-Order Campaign 📦

    Homegrown casual sneakers D2C brand, Flathead ran a pre-order email campaign as their launch strategy.

    The team designed a simple sign-up page to collect email ids, posted on Linkedin + Facebook and boosted their post to create a sense of curiosity among their prospective customers. As a result, they got around 3500 email signups, of which 200 ordered eventually.

    If you think that pre-order strategy is valid for fashion & shoes only, then let me show you another example of a organic broth bone DTC brand kettle & fire.

    Founder Justin Mares, did initial research to find out how many people want their product. Justin dug deep into several “superfood/vegan” forums/Reddit comments to observe what questions people are asking, where they buy broth from etc.

    Once he saw demand for this kind of product, he used unbounce to design a basic landing page (see below) and hired a freelancer from fiverr for designing the logo.

    Image Source: Medium.com

    Finally, Justin ran ads on Bing (Yes, you heard it right BING!) spending just $50 and guess what? In just two weeks, Justin got over 20 preorders and made more than $500 from preorders.

    Why does this strategy work?

    Firstly, Pre-order helps the startup to test their idea cheaply before investing in production.

    Secondly, Pre-order helps early stage DTC startups to create a community around a product because of in-built virality in this tactic.

    Give your product for free 🎁

    Luxurious and eco-friendly active-wear brand Girlfriend collective decided to launch with word-of-mouth marketing instead of investing in influencers.

    They directed their entire marketing budget by giving away their gear for free. All customer had to do was to share the website link on Facebook or via email and pay the shipping costs (Remember, a pair costs between $68 and $78 at retail)

    https://www.referralcandy.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/girlfriend-collective-facebook-free-leggings-e1537815959471.png

    Within 24 hours of launch, Girlfriend Collective received 10,000 orders and their website crashed due to high visitor traffic.

    Why does this strategy work?

    Giving product for free does two things:

    1. Brands establish some trust with first time buyers.
    2. People place a higher value on limited-quantity items.

    Ask Customers To Invite and earn🤑

    Based out of Gurugram, Healthkart.com offers health-related products, nutritional supplements, and items for beauty and personal care.

    To grab a huge customer base through social media, Healthkart launched a referral campaign that incentivizes both referrer and referee with an INR 250 worth coupon.

    As a result, In just two months, over 500,000 consumers drove referral sales for Healthkart via Facebook and Twitter.

    Another popular example of using referral as a marketing tool was of male grooming brand, Harry.

    Before launch, Harry gathered over 100,000 email addresses through incentivized referrals. On their two-page website, users enter their email address on the first page to learn more about the company, and on the second page, they are given a unique referral link to share with their friends.

    For 10 referral: User will receive a free razor
    For 25 referral: User will receive a shave set with a premium handle
    And for 50 referral: A year's worth of free shaving equipment

    To enhance the experience, the campaign page included a tracker where users could see the number of friends they had referred to and prizes they had won.

    Why does this strategy work?

    Customers who have been referred by a friend, family member, or colleague have higher lifetime value than other customers. Means, they stick with the brand for longer.

    Unlike traditional marketing channels, brands acquire quality customers at a lower cost (a.k.a customer acquisition cost) by using referral marketing.


    Marketing strategies for Growth Stage D2C Brand 📈

    Businesses in the growth stage already have solid traction and an existing customers base. They are generating recurring revenues and growing steadily, but they may not be profitable.

    Strategies and tactics you will learn in this section 👇

    1. Meme Marketing 😂
    2. Stand-up for a cause🙌
    3. Influencer marketing 🗣️
    4. Advertise on podcast 🎙️
    5. Run engaging contests 💪
    6. Design video campaign
    7. Host offline/online events 🎪
    8. Build a cult online following 🙇‍♂️
    9. Publish an e-book or magazine 📔
    10. One to one marketing (DM's, Chats)1️⃣-1️⃣
    11. Collaboration with community members 🤝

    Meme Marketing 😂

    Humour has an immediate advantage over any other type of content. People can actually digest your brand communication if you give them a good dose of humour in the form of memes.

    A great example of a brand that seems to have cracked meme marketing is BABE wine.

    Source: Instagram Page BABE Wine

    Wine is traditionally boring, hard to understand and often an expensive drink. Targeted towards millennials, BABY wine wants to change this perception by creating funny memes, that connects with their wine community.

    Building a brand built on meme culture, BABE wine kept an ear to the ground on Instagram, which helped shape its product launches and marketing efforts.

    Why does this strategy work?

    Memes have a greater influence on the younger generation audience than Influencers.

    Additionally, memes make people laugh and the content is quick and easy to consume, so people don't have to spend a lot of time on it (Brands can deliver a strong message if they played smartly).

    Stand Up For a Cause 🙌

    Cosmetics and skincare brand Sublime Life initiated #SublimeRecycles Program, which encourages any customer or potential customer to send back an empty bottle of a beauty product (even if it is not sold on their website) to them in exchange for loyalty points (250 Sublime points)

    Further, the brand has collaborated with non-profits to recycle, repurpose, and upcycle plastic in novel ways.

    On similar lines, American shoe brand TOMS came up with a revolutionary concept called "One for One".

    For every pair of TOMS shoes sold, the brand would donate one pair to a child in need.

    What made it even better was that a buyer, typically a young adult looking for an affordable yet stylish pair of shoes, would feel good knowing that his purchase helped a poor child get a much-needed shoe for free.

    Currently, TOMS works with over 100 giving partners in over 70 countries and has impacted over 35 million people.

    Why is this strategy useful?

    Nowadays, Consumers are more loyal to businesses whose values are similar to their own.

    Cause marketing helps brands demonstrate their corporate values to consumers in a way that can be both meaningful and engaging.

    Influencer Marketing 🗣️

    Influencers and celebrities appear to have a significant influence on their perception of a brand.

    A good example would be the Mamaearth.

    Mamaearth collaborates with influencers on social media platforms and pitches to their influencers' niche audiences. Additionally, the brand collaborates with 500 mom bloggers to spread the word on digital platforms.

    In 2019, The brand launched a Mother's Day Campaign on social media, which is a crowdsourced video made remotely about the role of mothers in our lives.

    Source: Mamaearth Instagram

    Over 1K moms and influencers participated remotely in the song about mothers and the special role they play in our lives.

    Wellness brand, Sarva too, created a huge impact with influencer-led storytelling for International Yoga Day on June 21 2019.

    The brand's digital campaign, aimed to highlight real stories of real people and how yoga changed their lives.

    It was lead by celebrity influencers like Malaika Arora, Aishwaryaa Dhanush, Akansha Ranjan Kapoor, Kubbra Sait, Yami Gautam, and others, as well as micro-influencers like fitness enthusiasts

    Through this campaign, the Sarva app downloads increased by over 300% and saw a revenue increase by 4x.

    Why does this strategy work?

    People are more likely to engage with content if it comes from someone with who they already know. A user chooses to follow an influencer because he/she agrees with what the influencer has to say.

    As a result, when that influencer discusses a brand or product, their followers are already primed to listen.

    American ingredient-and-recipe meal kit company, Blue Apron Inc. has served more than 1 million customers till now, with a revenue of around 61 million U.S. dollars in 2020.

    One of the marketing strategies they used to create that kind of growth was advertising on the podcast. They're running ads in a variety of categories, ranging from health podcasts to true crime and everything in between.

    Blue Apron's podcast ads are almost entirely read by the podcast's hosts discussing one of the meals prepared from their box, as well as a time-saving message.

    For example, in this Serial Killers advertisement, the host mentions being preoccupied with driving her children to and from school. Blue Apron's easy 20-minute meals save her time.

    Blue Apron Podcast Ad Transcript

    Now that I'm driving my kids to and from school again

    I'm short on time but with blue apron I can make dinner and as little as 20 minutes with quick and easy recipe options and perfectly proportioned ingredients that are delivered right to my door.

    I don't have to meal plan or grocery shop sounds like back to school is never been easier so much easier the other day.

    I made Mediterranean salmon with sauteed kale and zucchini I made it in under 30 minutes and it was a delicious way to sneak in some vegetables for my kids are three store the other day.

    I made Mexican beef balls with fresh salsa and Cotija cheese it was just the right amount of spicy and this month you can take advantage of blue apron's exciting September Partnerships with Chef designed Bob's Burgers inspired and Whole 30 approved recipes and get your first three meals free at blueapron.com killers that's blueapron.com Killers to get your first three meals free Blue Apron a better way to cook

    In fact, they've even launched their own branded podcast, "Why We Eat What We Eat", Where Cathy Erway, a food historian, discusses a variety of interesting food-related topics on the show.

    Why does this strategy work?

    Today's podcast advertising is comparable to Facebook Ads a few years ago.

    Response rates are high, costs are low, and few advertisers are aware of how the channel works in practice. Right now, there is a huge opportunity that only a few companies have taken advantage of.

    Run Engaging Contests 💪

    California Headquartered Cosmetic brand Benefit cosmetic launched a marketing campaign called Browmobile campaign in 2017 in the UK.

    Combining experiential and digital marketing elements, it included an online competition in which users could win a visit from the browmobile (a van beauty salon). Winners would be able to enjoy a personalized brow tutorial, treatments, and a Benefit gift basket.

    This campaign generated around 61,000 unique website visitors, as well as a lot of buzz and engagement on social media.

    Likewise, Mumbai-based health cookies startup Open Secret frequently run simple & exciting contests on their Instagram page.

    In November they asked their followers about their favorite weird food combination while tagging 2 friends. As an incentive, top 3 Winners received 3 specially curated Open Secret snack hampers.

    Why does this strategy work?

    Contests allow brands to engage and interact with their audience, which ultimately deepens the brand-customer bond.

    Design Video Campaign ⏩

    Healthy snack food brand, The Whole Truth needed to do something creative to drive the adoption of their new-look products.

    So, the company launched their first-ever ad campaign, titled 'Our Food Is Screwed,' which aims to bust food myths and inconvenient food labelling.

    To make it look real, the brand decided not to hire models for these ads keeping the message as the main focus. As a result, the founder took the initiative and featured himself because people will identify with a common man and trust the brand.

    In the campaign, He declares each and every ingredient that goes into their food pack so customers don't have to turn the label to figure out what chemicals are going into their bodies.

    This campaign was produced with a short budget of 3.5-4 Lakh and helped the brand 50% increase in sales.

    Homegrown D2C sleeping solutions brand Wakefit decided to show the confusion consumers face when they set out to buy a mattress ( (in a comical way), by realizing a long-format video campaign on social media.

    The video highlights the flaws in the offline purchasing model of mattresses and proposes online purchasing from a reputable brand as a solution. a comedic take on the perplexing mattress shopping experience found in any local offline store.

    The campaign got 2.1 million YouTube and increased the subscriber base by 2x within 2 weeks.

    Why does this strategy work?

    Video campaign incorporates audio plus visual elements that appeal to multiple senses and act as an educational tool for customers.

    Moreover, It's an excellent way to give a brand a personality, allowing them to connect with the audience and earn their trust.

    Host offline or Virtual Event 🎪

    Clothing and lifestyle brands Nicobar has developed an impressive outreach strategy of tying up with like minded groups of people and hosting events.

    In 2017, They hosted events for Sofar Sounds, a global community of artists and music lovers spread across a network of over 300 cities worldwide. It is run by volunteers who organize secret gigs' at an undisclosed location with three artists from different musical genres performing in a 90-minute show.

    In the same year, Nicobar hosted the first edition of Kommune's Story Slam at its Kala Ghoda store in Mumbai.

    It was a storytelling “open mic,” with a story chosen from ten lucky ones to feature on their channels and win a cash prize. The evening was hosted by founder Roshan Abbas and attended by approximately 90 people.

    The Purpose was to host sub-cultured engagements that are uplifting and thought-provoking for their audience.

    Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the beauty brands too found creative ways to serve customers who were unable to maintain their regular routines (such as dyeing their hair or manicuring nails).

    One such example is Bleach London (a hair brand), which successfully shifted to a virtual platform, launching the ‘Bleach Hair Party'.

    The 'Hair Party' essentially functions as a digital salon, including live conversations with the brand's Creative Director (and other guest speakers) to enable consumers to correctly buy and apply hair colour.

    To make things interesting, The Hair Party' date, time, and virtual location were kept a secret, with pass-holders being notified of the details via email. as a special VIP service.

    Somewhat similar strategy was used by the award-winning singer-songwriter turned beauty founder, Rihanna for her beauty brand Fenty.

    Rihanna surprised fans when she invited them to virtually enter the Fenty Skin house in celebration of the launch of the skincare line.

    Inside the virtual Fenty House, Fenty Skin Ambassador Sean Garrette chatted with Rihanna before guiding the guests through the various products.

    Within the Fenty, Houseguests could discover fun facts about the products through ‘treasures’ hidden in the garden around the virtual hot tub and explore content from skincare experts in the sink’s mirror.

    Why does this strategy work?

    Hosting events helps in lead generation and boost customer loyalty towards the brand.

    Further, if attendees have a good time during the event, they may share their experience on social media that impacts your brand and product awareness.

    Build a Cult Online Following 🙇‍♂️

    The skincare product company, Glossier's main driver of growth has been their digital content strategy on Instagram.

    Glossier combines their own product-specific content with user-generated content such as customer real-world experiences with the product.

    One of the tactics they used was to give away free products to 500 "superfans" who had purchased the most product or engaged with the brand the most.

    Glossier also encourages customers and employees alike to share videos and images of themselves sampling their products while educating viewers on how to use them properly.

    Another smart Glossier move was to create city-specific Slack channels for their best customers.

    As a result, people not only buy Glossier products on a regular basis but also can provide product feedback and information on the products they want.

    https://blog.hubspot.com/hs-fs/hubfs/Screen Shot 2019-12-19 at 3.39.00 PM.png?width=600&name=Screen Shot 2019-12-19 at 3.39.00 PM.png
    Source: Digital.hbs.edu

    New-age women’s wellness and hygiene product's brand, Nua, also initiated social media series called #PeriodStories, where women share stories ranging from their first period to premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

    Through this series, Nua has created a safe space for women to openly express their concerns about their reproductive and sexual wellness.

    Today, The company has built a rapidly growing community of over 2 lakh women, including customers who are constantly engaging with them and assisting to drive real conversations.

    Why does this strategy work?

    Brands can reach and engage with a good portion of their audience without spending any money, if they have a cult following.

    It creates a strong brand that people are committed to and can easily be distinguished from competitors.

    Publish a Book or Magazine 📔

    Berlin-based personal care company Einhorn offers organic tampons and vegan condoms to their customers.

    In October 2020, the founder released a book titled Unfuck the Economy, with a foreword written by Maja Göpel, a researcher and expert in the field of a sustainable economy.

    The book talks about how the current economy, whose prosperity is based on data and finance at the expense of sustainability, is more important now that his company has made a profit.

    Einhorn is not the only brand riding on this publishing trend.

    Hello Yumi, a brand of fresh and organic baby products, also provides a free ebook called Rainbow in a Window that explains COVID-19 and lockdown to children.

    Whereas, Indian food tech startup, Freshmenu, runs a magazine called Food for thought to delight customers with new content about everything food, from travel and culture to recipes and health.

    FreshMenu.com is allocating 10–15% of its marketing budget towards content marketing initiatives.

    Why does this strategy work?

    It helps brands to engage their audiences by creating and distributing high-value-added, useful, and informative content.

    One-to-One Marketing 1️⃣-1️⃣

    So far, we've talked about marketing strategies used by Indian, American and European brand. Now, let's discuss an interesting marketing strategy used by the Chinese cosmetic brand, Perfect dairy.

    Perfect Diary engages with consumers one-on-one by leveraging private traffic on WeChat. This includes the creation of a fictitious avatar named "Xiao Wanzi" who befriends and converses with customers.

    https://cdn.shortpixel.ai/client/q_glossy,ret_img,w_1698,h_1004/http://jingdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Screen-Shot-2020-01-23-at-6.10.29-PM.png
    Source: Jingdaily

    Today, there are hundreds of “Xiao Wanzi” personal WeChat accounts run by Perfect Diary employees, all with the same profile image and WeChat Moments posts.

    Each of these accounts runs dozens of WeChat groups filled with the brand's customers. These WeChat groups offer customers daily updates on the latest Brand products, makeup tips, and other information.

    Sounds interesting? Of course, it is. But you'd be surprised to know that a luxury DTC diamond business sells diamond rings through Instagram DM's.

    Diamond brand, Clear Cut get customers from Instagram, Google, word of mouth, direct email etc. From there, the customer works directly with the team to create a perfect ring for them either via text and DM's.

    It all started when founder, Olivia Landau, posted some ring designs on Instagram and suddenly, she started getting DMs from total strangers to create their engagement rings and getting wire transfers from across the country.

    Why does this strategy work?

    Through this strategy, customers appreciate a user experience that is relevant and tailored to their specific needs and interests.

    Moreover, The information you obtain from tracking customers helps you in determining what is/is not working. You can make changes quickly and cheaply.

    Collaborate With Community Members 🤝

    Chord (earlier Arfa), a personal care brand rewards customers who are co-piloting their brand's development by paying them 5% of profits.

    This helps the brand to seek products for its customers rather than customers for its products.

    On other hand, Nide, a French beauty brand, takes community collaboration a step further.

    Source: Nide.co

    Community members submit ideas and are awarded 500 euros if they are viable. If the person's idea receives enough votes from the community, he or she will receive 1,500 euros. In addition, if the product is co-created after testing, the person receives 10% of the sales.

    Currently, Nide has over 12,000 members in the community for leveraging co-creation concepts.

    Why does this strategy work?

    This approach allows brands to create the products that people really want and need.

    Bottom Line 🔚

    Every new year brings new strategies, tactics, and tools to help you improve your DTC marketing and sales.

    However, Finding direct-to-consumer metrics for your company is critical for measuring and analyzing your marketing strategies. These metrics include:

    • Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)
    • Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR)
    • Customer LTV (Lifetime Value)
    • Average Order Value (AOV)
    • Conversion rate
    • Churn Rate

    You can streamline your marketing efforts, build momentum, and stay ahead of the competition by keeping the above metrics on your radar at all times.


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