Commentary

Mirror Image: Seeing Yourself In D2C Brands

D2C brands are uniquely appealing because they form and reflect their consumers’ lifestyles.  Warby Parker’s blog, for instance, details the brand’s collaboration with Ghostly, a Brooklyn-based record label, and its Pupils Project on DonorsChoose.org.  It also contains a review of Mark Greif’s book of essays, “Against Everything.”

With this curated content and a brand name combining two characters from Jack Kerouac’s journals, Warby Parker can’t help but develop a distinctive aesthetic and cultural relevance that, by design, shapes and mirrors its consumers’ lives. 

Millions of consumers resonate with Warby Parker and similar D2C brands, seeing their values validated in these brands’ paid, owned and earned media.  When seeing D2C content, often comparable in quality to that of Travel + Leisure, GQ, Vanity Fair or Vogue, D2C consumers can feel part of a hip intelligentsia populated by the likes of Soho House members and admirers of the New York Public Library where (no coincidence) Warby Parker held one of its first fashion shows.  

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This commercial success and pop cultural significance is motivated by D2C brands’ performance and brand marketing savvy.  A recent study by Toluna and Unmetric, for example, reveals that 21.4% of consumers consider an “appealing online presence” the most compelling reason to try a D2C brand.” Over 31% are prompted to purchase D2C products by social media ads, and 16.3% are prompted by ads on TV. 

These statistics don’t tell the whole story, however.  An “appealing online presence” amplified by TV and social media ads is all about projecting a vivid brand identity in which consumers see a reflection of themselves.  This merger of brand and consumer identities is a crucial competence of D2C brands -- and, more generally, brands that are beloved.  The more complete this merger, the more a brand looks and feels like its consumers, and the stronger its product-market fit.  

While strong product-market fit is required for commercial success, it isn’t sufficient.  D2C brands must “launch loudly,” notes Jesse Derris, founder of D2C-focused PR agency Derris, as quoted on the textview blog.

Launching loudly is really hard with today’s fragmented media, where many screens, including TV, mobile and desktop, compete for consumer attention.  To deal with this issue, D2C brands need to find the right consumers at the right time using expert audience forecasting tools.  

In addition, it helps that D2C brands’ ethics resonate across a variety of distribution channels, like Everlane’s and Rothy’s campaign against single-use plastics, encouraging consumers to see their own values and attitudes in their brands.

Each time they find consumer resonance, on TV, mobile, desktop, print, audio and in person, the most distinctive D2C brands generate spikes in user acquisition that catalyze step-function growth and enable investments in more brand building.  As Brian Balfour of Reforge points out in a company blog, this becomes a “growth loop.”

As a brand strengthens, new D2C consumers tell more consumers about their latest purchase — and a flywheel made of commercial and cultural momentum begins to spin.

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