Commentary

An Insufficient Label: The True Value Of D2C Brands

Some labels, like “startup” and “AI,” automatically add value to what they represent.  An “ecommerce startup” seemingly has more growth potential than an “ecommerce company” and “using AI to improve customer experience” is considered savvier than “using data to improve customer experience.”  

Like “startup” and “AI,” “direct-to-consumer” or “D2C” is a uniquely powerful label ascribing value to brands that deliver excellent customer experiences. These experiences takes the form of Instagram-hued aesthetics, topical brand narratives, and personal relationships with customers based on first-party data. 

Brands want to be labeled first as D2Cs and then as ecommerce companies to earn attention from a network of D2C-seeking VCs like Forerunner, and creative agencies like Derris, which dedicate resources to motivating D2Cs’ growth.  Effectively, the D2C label signals admirable front-end branding, vertical integration and high customer retention.    

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“D2C,” however, is more than a label.  It’s an operating system and set of aesthetic beliefs.  When D2C brands scale beyond direct-to-consumer distribution channels, they don’t cease being D2Cs.  Even when they sell indirectly, D2Cs continue exhibiting the essence of excellent customer experience: more distinctively designed products, greater cultural relevance, and deeper customer insights than incumbents have.  

In this sense, it’s consistent for D2C luggage brand Away to tap Nordstrom as an indirect sales channel.  For its Up & Away Pop-In, Away’s D2C instincts manifest in four Nordstrom-only suitcase colors, along with “the most stylish travel steamer” Travel + Leisure’s “ever encountered,” and stain-remover wipes, “the epitome of function-meets-form.” 

Nordstrom's pop-up shop offers shoppers a chance to sample Away’s products, making Away’s buyer’s journey more tactile while impressing consumers who don’t typically pass Away’s Manhattan showroom.   

As Away proves, brick and mortar is a vivid, physically impressive way for D2Cs to display their products’ appeal, curate their brand narrative, and turn customer touchpoints into experiential marketing, not unlike the work of museums and hotels. 

Tellingly, Casper’s Dreamery features beds “turned down like in a five-star hotel room” and mattresses like an “ergonomically correct cloud,” as noted in Vogue magazine. 

In the same vein, D2Cs are uniquely well-suited to TV.  Their aesthetic and commercial instincts align with TV’s ubiquity and artistic promise: 95% of U.S. households have TV, meaning there are hundreds of millions of sizable canvasses across the country capable of creating lasting impact.  TV offers D2Cs far-reaching, dramatic influence to broadcast their products’ appeal and tell their brands’ story in context of iconic live-audience moments like the Oscars and World Series. 

TV’s better when advertisers like Rothy’s, Third Love and Postmates, drawing upon talented agencies like Quirk Creative and Sandwich Video, bring to TV the wit and visual rhetoric they've honed on social. 

TV buying’s also gotten better.  D2C brands now bid on TV inventory to fulfill cost-per-install and cost-per-acquisition objectives, making TV a bonafide performance marketing machine.  

D2Cs aren’t defined by distribution channel type, but instead by sustained truths: distinctive design, authentic storytelling and emotional resonance with customers. The essence of excellent customer experience always sells. 

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