Direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands are always looking for ways to increase the level of awareness, engagement, and, ultimately, conversions driven by their marketing efforts. With the recent changes in consumer behaviors, there has been an increase of 1,200% in online shopping account registrations and a 300% increase in mobile app downloads compared to the previous month. The spike is so high that estimates for using digital commerce within the general population will reach a level that had been predicted for 2025.

With there being between 12 to 24 million e-commerce stores globally, it’s become challenging to stand out in an overcrowded market. Even more so, with the tumultuous landscape of COVID-19, marketers are looking for cost-efficient ways to stand out to their customers right now. Here’s a list of marketing channels to consider exploring in the short term, as well as other channels to be aware of once uncertainty stabilizes.

In this article:
Email
Taking In-Store Experiences Virtual
Brand Partnerships
Direct Mail
Podcast Sponsorships
SMS
Newsletter Sponsorships

Email 

Now more than ever, building relationships with your customers is incredibly important as we fight the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. Although consumer spending patterns may change in the short term, you want your brand to stay top of mind for shoppers so that they will stick with your brand in the long term. Email is arguably the most cost efficient way to communicate with your customers at scale. But how can you stand out as inboxes are overflowing with new offers from other brands and news updates? 

Tips and best practices for email

Focus on customer retention/loyalty: Let’s face it – acquiring new customers can be tough in an unstable economy. However, your most valuable relationships are with your existing customers. Now is the time to double down and focus on building brand trust and loyalty with previous buyers. Offer value that these shoppers might not be getting elsewhere including helpful content, personalized promotions, or just a simple “We’re here for you”.

Include engaging videos: Video is a great way to spark a genuine connection with your audience by showcasing your brand’s authenticity and unique personality. Beyond that, consumers are 4x more likely to watch a video about a product than to read about it. Since the in-store shopping experience is lost with the COVID-19 lockdown, bring your products (and brand) to life through engaging videos.

Test, test, test: How do you make sure your emails are being opened and better yet engaged with? Testing everything from email subject lines, header images, design, and CTA buttons can impact your email’s performance. Setting up A/B tests will help you figure out what works best for engaging with your audience. Once you find out what works, make sure to iterate and continuously test new things to ensure your emails don’t become stale.

For more on how to craft an effective email strategy: 

Email Marketing: A Guide for Beginners [TEMPLATE]

Taking In-Store Experiences Virtual

We’re currently navigating unprecedented times with COVID-19. Of course, this changes the in-store experience landscape, but that doesn’t mean these valuable interactions with your customers have to stop. How can you connect with customers in a personal way without the physical connection? Here are some ideas to consider: 

  • Virtual product fittings: Virtual product fittings are becoming increasingly popular with D2C brands like Ray Bans, Warby Parker, and Nordstrom. Letting shoppers see what they look like with your products is a simple way to bring that in-store experience to their homes.
  • Social media giveaways: Spindrift was originally planning on launching a new flavor, but in the midst of COVID-19, they quickly pivoted and ended up launching the flavor on Instagram instead and giving it away for free. This generated a lot of positive press and was a great tactic for delighting customers. 
  • Virtual events: While physical events are on indefinite hold, skipping out on engaging with customers during this crazy time is a huge missed opportunity. Brands have been doubling down on creative ways to connect with customers in fun and nontraditional ways. Everything from virtual fitness classes, concerts, and happy hours can be great at strengthening your customer relationships and building brand affinity.

Tips and best practices for taking in-store experiences virtual

Authenticity is key: Continue earning brand trust by being open and honest with your customers. Find the best medium (many brands are using Instagram Live) to let them know how the current landscape is impacting your business (if it is) and provide value that strengthens your brand’s story. Appeal to your consumers’ emotions and they’ll feel more connected to your brand.

Create a sense of belonging: In times of uncertainty, people like things that will either reduce their anxiety, reduce their risks, or provide a sense of safety and belonging. Think of ways your brand can stand out during this tumultuous time by providing a sense of belonging through things like online community events, virtual concerts, etc.

Get creative: Now more than ever, your brand has the opportunity to test unique ways of engaging with your customers. Whether it’s a virtual yoga class, live stream, or social contest, these nontraditional activities will make you stand out from the crowd. Although these activities may not directly tie to revenue, building meaningful relationships now will secure loyalty with your brand once consumers are ready to spend again. 

For additional tips on transitioning your events virtual:

How to Take Your Event Virtual: Lessons From CAB

Brand Partnerships

We’re seeing more and more ambitious brands pursue opportunities to work together, all in the name of cheaper customer acquisition. In a perfect brand partnership, both parties use their respective assets and audiences to cross-promote one another. It’s a mutually beneficial approach that boosts brand perception and builds brand strength.

🔆Partnership Spotlight: Glossier x Bark 🔆

Cosmetics brand, Glossier, and dog toymaker, Bark released a limited edition-line of Glossier branded dog toys. The toys are available for purchase at Glossier’s New York and Los Angeles retail locations, and on Bark’s website. 

Tips and best practices for brand partnerships

Find customer overlap in unexpected places. A brand partnership can only be successful with a suitable audience. Sometimes your target audience exists with another brand in a totally different industry. Looking for partnerships in unexpected places opens up a lot of creative opportunities. Do thorough audience research and make sure the brand partner’s audience is a good match for your business.

Partner with brands that share your values. Brand partnerships are effective when the two brands meld well together. The partnership has to feel natural and logical to have the most power. Check out the potential partner’s values, brand identity, look and feel, and goals before moving forward.

Ensure your products pair well with your partner’s. Beyond values, brand partnerships must also work at the product level. That doesn’t always mean that products will have a direct correlation; there’s room for creativity too. After all, makeup brand Glossier ran a brand partnership with Bark dog toys — and it worked!

For more on how to create D2C brand partnerships:

Brand Partnerships: Why They Matter for D2C Brands

Looking for a partner but don’t know where to start?

Brand Match is a free platform where any D2C brand can browse a directory of 100+ brands, claim their profile page, and specify brands that they’re interested in partnering with. Behind the scenes, AdRoll will act as a matchmaker to arrange introductions on behalf of interested brands.

For the Future…

Once the market becomes more stable and we get a handle on our new global landscape we’ve listed a few additional paid marketing channels to consider, as well as some overarching tips and best practices to help you get the most out of them.  

Direct Mail

D2C brands love direct mail, and for good reason. According to Epsilon, 73% of American consumers say they prefer being contacted by brands via direct mail because they can read it whenever they want. Consumers like having a relationship with their favorite brands, but not based on the brand’s marketing schedule. 

This creates a perfect opportunity for D2C brands to differentiate themselves from their competitors by incorporating this tactic.

Tips and best practices for direct mail

Consider including past and current customers. Your relationship with your customer shouldn’t stop after they’ve made their first purchase. Re-engaging past purchasers helps increase brand loyalty and customer lifetime value (CLV). Send direct mail to your lapsed customers or those who are no longer engaging with your emails. Timing the two together so they arrive on the same day (email + direct mail) is a great strategy that increases open rates for email and engagement for direct mail.

Think outside the swag box. There are plenty of ways to stand out that are fun and tie into your brand. For example, NextRoll business unit, RollWorks, recently sent out cans of Spam to high-value leads and, in their notes, made a reference to them being used to receiving spam emails in their inbox. Keep it creative and you’ll see great results.

Don’t send it and forget it. If you haven’t heard back, don’t assume direct mail recipients aren’t interested. Many times, direct mail is one of many touchpoints needed to convince the shopper to buy. The benefit to a physical piece of mail is that it’ll persistently remind the recipient of your brand and has a longer engagement window (i.e. the postcard that stays on the coffee table for weeks). The key to keeping your brand top of mind post direct mail is following up in a timely manner. 

Podcast Sponsorships

The realities of our busy day-to-day lives make it challenging to consume traditional pieces of long-form content. Enter: podcasts. If you’re not ready to launch your own full-blown podcast series, your brand can still “be heard” through podcast advertisements. By sponsoring a popular podcast, your D2C brand has the opportunity to increase brand reach and show up in a unique way to target your ideal audience organically. 

Did you know?

Tips and best practices for podcast sponsorships

  • Identify which podcast is right for your brand. When advertising on a podcast, it’s important that the demographics of the listeners line up with your target shoppers. Keep the podcast’s audience in mind and you’ll have a better chance of converting those listeners into supporters of your brand.
  • Align brand messaging to the podcast. Depending on which podcast you choose to sponsor, your messaging should align well with the overall tone of the podcast. Is it a fun retail podcast targeting millennial listeners? Is it a health/wellness podcast targeting women in their late 30’s? Keep the podcast’s audience in mind when developing podcast content to ensure that your messaging resonates.
  • Know which metrics to track. As with any marketing campaign, identifying a goal will help tremendously when tracking the performance of your efforts. If your brand’s goal is to build awareness through a podcast ad, tracking the number of podcast downloads can shed light on how many impressions were served. Additionally, UTMs can help brands track how much traffic is coming from a particular ad spot.

For more on UTM best practices:

UTM Parameters: What Are They and How to Use Them [TEMPLATE]

SMS

Texting has the best engagement rate of any marketing medium. As opposed to emails, which can sit unread for days, text messages are read almost immediately. In many cases, D2C brands will use SMS marketing for high-volume events such as the holiday season. In addition to higher open rates, highly personalized SMS is a direct channel catering to your consumers’ immediate buying interests and enables them to engage with your brand rather than just receiving your offers. 

Benefits:

  • Interactive content: Mobile messaging allows you to get feedback from your recipients quickly via a quick tap on the reply button or a click on your link. You can deliver quick, simple messages that direct recipients back to your site and drive sales.
  • Higher engagement:  Over 80% of consumers say that SMS is an attention-grabber and they prefer to engage with brands over texting instead of email. SMS marketing campaigns aren’t just opened more frequently, they also drive higher click-through rates and engagement rates compared to email marketing (up to 25x higher!).
  • Immediate delivery: Once you press send on an SMS campaign, your message is delivered instantly and you can have hundreds of clicks in minutes.

Tips and best practices for SMS

Identify which platform fits your needs. Since not all SMS marketing platforms are the same, it’s important to evaluate which one will fit your business needs. Look for a solution that can listen for responses, learn from responses, and then intelligently respond to your messages. Choose an intuitive platform that can scale with personalization, help you ensure and maintain compliance, and integrate with your existing applications. 

Make sure your recipients are opted in. It’s neither ethical nor legal to send unsolicited messages with SMS marketing. Your customers should know the types of messages to expect and at which frequency. The good news is that most text-marketing services make it easy for people to opt-in or out — straight from their phones. 

Get personal. Brands that take the simplistic approach and treat SMS the same as email run the risk of over-communicating with their customers. Since texting is a more personal form of communication, there’s a huge opportunity to use SMS for intimate, personalized engagements with customers at scale. Consumers demand personalized brand experiences so be sure to customize messaging based on your audience profiles.

For more on personalization tips:

Personalized Marketing: 7 Actionable Tips

Newsletter Sponsorships

D2C brands all know the value that email newsletters drive to their overall business. But how can you reach beyond your email list to reach the inboxes of thousands of other shoppers? Newsletter sponsorships are a great way to increase the reach of your brand’s message and can act as a powerful brand awareness channel. 

Tips and best practices for newsletter sponsorships

  • Get to know their audience. As with any sponsorship, it’s crucial to ensure that there’s overlap between both parties’ audiences. Before moving forward, make sure to get specific demographic information from the email newsletter you’re considering. Everything from location to job title to age can show you whether it’s a good fit. 
  • Have a close look at their data. What’s the size of their email list? What’s their average open rate and click-through rate (CTR) and how does that compare to the industry average? What type of content performs best? These are the questions you should get answered before moving forward with sponsoring a newsletter.
  • Make the biggest splash. If you’re doing a full run on a publication, ask your contact if you can get any sweeteners like a banner on their website or a mention in editorial. Many times, newsletter publications will “sweeten the pot” if you simply ask. 
Veronica Covdy
Author

As the Customer Marketing Manager, Veronica is responsible for building strong relationships with customers and amplifying their stories. Outside the office, Veronica is happiest when she’s exploring hidden gems in SF, eating her weight in cheese/charcuterie, and dancing at a show (preferably in that order).