delivery sign under a stoplight
PHOTO: Mika Baumeister

Direct-to-consumer isn’t just for D2C-native brands anymore. The trend of established brands opening up D2C channels gained momentum throughout 2020, as D2C became an important way for consumer brands to connect with customers who were staying out of stores and shopping online. In April 2020, as the pandemic reshaped buying habits, US D2C sales were projected to reach $18 billion for the year.

Brands with products that consumers are comfortable buying online, such as clothing and shoes, aren’t the only ones making the move. For example, some appliance manufacturers that have traditionally relied on authorized retailers and dealers to sell their products are also now selling directly to consumers. Instead of having to visit a store to buy a new refrigerator and be limited to what’s in stock, or order through a retailer’s website, some brands now give shoppers the option to browse, compare, learn about and order appliances for delivery directly from their website. Companies launching a D2C channel can now have complete control of the customer experience, their brand and also learn more about their customer base in general.

At a time when fewer people are making in-store trips and more people are fixing up their homes, this shift makes sense. However, with so many brands moving into D2C, there’s more competition in the channel than ever. Content is quickly becoming an important differentiator for customer experience in the space.

Create Content That Helps Customers Make Decisions

Simply offering the same products that shoppers can find on retail sites isn’t enough to craft a compelling D2C experience. Brands need to offer helpful content, such as interactive tools to assist shoppers in choosing the right appliances for their home and videos showing product details, to make up for the lack of hands-on browsing.

A well-crafted customer experience on an appliance-brand website makes it easier to cross-sell customers on additional appliances to create a uniform look in a kitchen or position the benefits of a brand’s smart-appliance ecosystem. The D2C model also gives brands the opportunity to sell subscriptions for related products like filters and detergents — which in turn creates more opportunities for customers to engage with the brand and reinforce/build loyalty.

Related Article: How to Unleash Your Omnichannel Content Strategy

Offer Content That Differentiates the D2C and In-Store Experiences

Of course, retail and dealer channels aren’t going away, and brands need to maintain good relationships with the businesses that carry their products. The Harvard Business Review notes that in the current D2C landscape, “omnichannel is a necessity” to prevent direct-to-consumer distribution bottlenecks from impeding growth. That requires developing D2C strategies that don’t compete directly with existing retail channels. Again, content has a role to play here.

For example, a manufacturer of infant formula will typically make most of its sales through grocery retailers. At the store, parents will make their purchasing decisions based on factors like their budget, recommendations from their doctor, and what their baby prefers. In this setting, there’s limited time and no real space for product education.

But on the formula manufacturer’s website, they can offer in-depth information for parents who are researching their options, along with information on infant development and nutrition, tips on introducing solid foods, live customer support and loyalty programs. Then, they can give parents the option of ordering the formula and supplies they want directly from the brand or from a partner retailer near the customer for local pickup. That lets consumers choose how they want to buy without cutting retailers out of the process — and it keeps customers who need formula right away from abandoning purchases because of the shipping time involved.

Related Article: Meet the Middle Man in the Modern Ecommerce Supply Chain: Content

Use Data to Personalize D2C Customer Experiences

Part of the reason brands can cater to customers with richer content experiences on their own websites is that customers who seek out brands directly are making decisions differently from customers who visit a retailer or marketplace platform to make a quick purchase. These research-oriented customers also expect brands to recognize them and offer personalized content.

Where can you find the data you need to create customized D2C engagements? There will always be Google Analytics data on traffic from search results, and you can use your brand’s own site data to understand what appeals to visitors on your site. You can also analyze keyword searches to see what customers are looking for and what they’re not finding on your website, so you can close those content gaps. For example, you might look at customer keyword searches related to your brand or products and find that 30% of them are searches for discount codes. If your site doesn’t offer codes, it might be time to close that gap to meet customers’ expectations.

Related Article: Personalization Prep Work: Is Your Content Ready?

Data Is the Key to Creating the Optimal D2C Experience for Your Brand

Smart use of data now drives D2C success, but there’s no single solution that fits all brands or customer bases. Analytics and innovative solutions can help your brand identify the best customers for your D2C channel, target them, direct their experience and provide engaging brand-customer interactions. As the interaction model continues to shift based on a growing body of data, there will be even more reasons for brands to focus on D2C opportunities, and more insights they can use to succeed in the D2C channel.