Celebrating You: Why D2C Brands Need Self-Expression

Direct-to-consumer brands depend on your self-expression.  

Glossier’s latest tweet, for example, asks “if you were a Glossier product, which one would you be?”  

BarkBox’s latest Instagram post features a customer’s pup wearing rose-colored glasses.  

Harry’s latest hair-care products are a result of feedback from over 3,000 men using “face-to-face research, in-store shop-along interviews, in-office concept testing and at-home product testing,” according to a Glossy post.   

Whether running organic, customer-centric marketing or R&D, D2C brands give consumers an extraordinary opportunity to help develop the brands they buy.  Instead of engaging passively, Glossier user-generated content is celebrated on Twitter, the lived experience of dog owners becomes BarkBox’s brand marketing on Instagram, and Harry’s’ consumers influence the form and function of their haircare.  This creative energy turns D2C consumers into producers and forms a meaningful relationship between sellers and buyers.   



D2C brands rely on self-expression because their customer base is built on media, like Instagram and Twitter, that depends on vibrant, frequent self-expression.  Social networks condition their most active users, often young and wealthy like the majority of D2C consumers, to cultivate online identities, seek validation from peers, indulge curiosity and search for novelty.  When they shop, these users choose brands that, like the media they consume, can provide them with robust storytelling opportunities.  Inviting, nurturing and celebrating consumer self-expression is an essential part of D2C brands’ product marketing.   

The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s excellent “Disrupting Brand Preference” report corroborates this.  The IAB notes that 68% of D2C consumers are ages 13-44 and 52% have a household income over $50K (with the U.S. median at $58K), proving an evident correlation between social media power users and D2C consumers.  

It’s logical, given their conditioning to self-expression, that D2C consumers are twice as likely as incumbent-brand-only consumers to choose brands that “express ‘who I am.’”  

Moreover, D2C consumers are twice as likely as incumbent-only consumers to share online about brands they use.  This tendency to share is essential to D2C brands’ community-building.  Whenever a consumer shares his or her experience with a D2C brand, acting on the muscle memory to share that social media cultivates, that brand’s community strengthens.

As D2C brands grow beyond the social media that made them, they remain focused on consumer self-expression and make offline media complementary online.  

On TV, D2C brands turn their camera on their audience to celebrate their consumers’ authenticity.  SmileDirectClub’s latest TV ad, for instance, features selfies revealing crooked teeth made straight as well as user-generated reviews of its braces.  Its ad induces viewers not only to discover the Club, but also encourages current and prospective users to share photos of their progress toward straighter teeth and express opinions in online reviews.  

Though TV viewing occurs offline, an ad like SmileDirectClub’s causes online self-expression.  In this way, SmileDirectClub joins the benefits of TV’s mass reach with online media’s amplification of authentic photos and honest feedback.  This alignment of offline and online media accelerates the pace at which SmileDirectClub’s flywheel spins.  

The most effective D2C brands invite, nurture and celebrate consumer self-expression with wit and warmth that incumbent brands lack.    

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