Direct-to-consumer (DTC) is having a strong pandemic, but many brands still have limited insight on their customers, are unsure of how to offer value to their audience and struggle to turn initial purchases into second orders.
We broke down the entire DTC journey, from product development and acquisition, to delivery and post-purchase retention, to identify strategies proven to drive merchant growth.
Find out how the top brands, including Brewdog, Huel, Daring, Asystem, Outdoor Voices, Poo-Pourri, Gymshark and Ugly Drinks are shooting for the stars.
Product & CX
1) Communicate your product creation 🔧
Going from idea to shelf-ready is no mean feat. Make a splash by taking your audience into the process step-by-step, building engagement and community along the way. Clothing brand Paynter Jacket do this amazingly in their newsletter series explaining the manufacturing process behind their regular new jacket releases.
2) Launch on Product Hunt 🎉
Product Hunt is where 5 million highly engaged technophiles hang out to discuss new products and start ups. Launching there is essentially free mass distribution for your new creation. Check out this handy how to guide on how to execute the perfect launch.
3) Place products on Unsplash 📸
Built a super photogenic product? List it on Unsplash to raise awareness. It’s free to upload onto the platform, and gets eyeballs on your brand for free.
4) Create a giveaway 🤑
Everyone loves free stuff, so this tried and tested play never gets old. Partnering with other brands who share your ethos and doing bundled giveaways can do wonders for exposure. Pasta Evangelists typified this approach by teaming up with Aperol to send free spritzers in their meal kit deliveries.
5) Launch limited editions 🚨
Creating limited edition product sets can elevate your offering beyond its ‘normal’ range. If executed right, you can enhance both your brand image and community following. Beverage merchant Ugly Drinks nailed this with their monthly new flavour drops which proved wildly popular with customers.
6) Co-create with your customer base 👨👩👧👦
Don’t just share your product development journey with your audience, actually create it with them. Test early versions with your customers, listen to feedback, then iterate and repeat. You’ll build a better product and grow a loyal customer base.
7) Create co-branded products 🤝
Co-creating a product with a partner brand can split production costs and open up new audiences for both merchants. We loved this mashup between emergency kit vendor Judy and toilet spray provider Poo-pourri that proves effective partnerships don’t have to come from within the same niche.
8) Personalize your products 🎨
Consumers love products that are tailored to them. Building that personalized experience from the beginning can add fuel to your growth. Supplement brand Care/of are a great example of how product customisation can sit at the core of a business.
9) Launch tutorials of your products 👩🏫
The more customers understand how to use your products, the more satisfaction they’ll get out of them and want to come back in future. Facilitate this by creating product-focussed educational content for your audience. False eyelash vendor Doe Lashes has a whole section on their site dedicated to exactly that.
10) Add offers to your Amazon packaging 🛍
When you sell on Amazon, you don’t own your customer. Bring them into your DTC channel by including coupons, offers and links to your packaging which offer incentives to buy on your website. That way Amazon can act as a source of acquisition for your direct channel.
11) Offer CX support in under an hour ⏰
Consumers hate waiting for support when something’s gone wrong. Wowing customers with rapid CX can turn a negative experience into a positive.
12) Adjust offering based on region 🌎
What works in one location might not work in another. Do your research when you expand into new markets and tailor your products to them. This is something Bleach are currently doing as they expand from the UK into the US.
13) Build in public 🧱
More people than you know are going through the same as you, and authentic storytelling gets great traction. Sharing your wins, losses and learnings in public can also humanise your brand for consumers. This is something Matteo Franceschetti, CEO at Eight Sleep does really effectively on Twitter.
14) Find your niche subreddit 📝
Reddit boasts 130,000 interest-based communities and 2.2 million subreddits - every one of them awash with questions and discussions. Find a niche relevant to your brand and get involved. Greg Isenburg’s Unbundling of Reddit is a great deep dive guide on this tactic.
15) Answer specific Quora questions 💡
Quora is a platform built around questions and answers. Jump in, search for key topics relevant to your brand and offer content-led answers to user questions. If you’re providing valuable answers within your niche, it’s your brand the audience will see as the solution.
16) Spark conversation in private slack groups 🔒
Slack groups have really grown in popularity over the last few years. Some of the best operators (and potential customers) hang out there. Again, give value before selling, and you can build up an engaged following to boost your brand.
17) Stand for something bigger 🗣
Many brands are now actively taking a position on wider societal, political or environmental issues as a way of attracting customers to their products. A good example of this is adolescent self-care brand Blume who have chosen to highlight the low availability of sex education in the US and petition for political change on the issue.
18) Create viral PR 🧨
Otherwise known as a PR stunt - the aim here is to grab headlines by doing something smart, whacky and preferably noisey. From serving pints from a squirrel corpse to driving a tank through the streets of London, UK beer brand Brewdog are the masters of this play.
19) Build PR relationships 🗞
You don’t have to start a flash mob to get great press. Building close relationships with journalists is often a more sustainable route to coverage. Sexual wellness merchant Maude did exactly this to build brand awareness pre-launch.
20) Tell your story on podcasts 🎙
Popular podcasts are always looking for great stories to tell. Sharing the ups and downs of what you’re building can inspire existing customers and reach new audiences. Check out Work in Progress for some compelling brand journeys.
21) Sponsor a niche podcast 🎙
You can also bag yourself an advertising slot on a podcast which addresses a relevant topic for your audience. There are currently 850,000 active podcasters operating regularly, so there’s sure to be one that fits your brand!
22) Start with your industry stakeholders 🔑
Work directly with the grassroots influencers in your category to boost brand awareness. Dairy-free milk provider Oatly kick started early growth by working with baristas in indie-coffee shops, as they had influence with potential oat milk adopters.
23) Host in-person events 🎪
What better way to foster community than through events that people want to be a part of. In-person events are an amazing way to reach new customers and build loyalty among existing ones. Activewear brand Outdoor Voices are unrivalled in this space, hosting multiple meet-ups every week.
24) Host online events 👨💻
Whilst many have been pandemic-enforced recently, online events are an ideal opportunity to reach audiences outside a specific geographic area. A smart play to keep in your arsenal when the in-person stuff comes back.
25) Align with a cultural event 🏆
If there’s a large cultural event, like the Olympics or International Women’s Day that's relevant to your audience, build an experience around that which brings exposure to your brand. Suit merchant The Black Tux recently went extra for Pride Month with a tie-dye bingo party.
26) Create a content distribution framework 📚
Get the most out of your content by creating a structured way of sharing it across multiple channels. Check out Hubspot’s guide to content distribution for top tips and handy templates.
27) Support a cause with every order 🙌
Many brands choose to support a charity for altruistic reasons, but it can also bring strong brand awareness if done in the right way. Alcohol free beer operator Days Brewing share 2% of all sales to mental health charities - a cause which is highly aligned with their values as a brand.
28) Launch content pre-product 📸
If you’re not ready to launch a product or something is delayed, don’t wait to build your audience. Launch a content piece or series and use it to build a waitlist. Away famously launched a magazine to their crowd funders when their suitcases didn’t arrive in time.
29) Create a Youtube series 🎥
Building a Youtube series can be a super powerful way to tell the story behind your brand. Subscription dog product provider BarkBox does exactly this with some banging unboxing videos showcasing their products.
30) Create a blog ✍️
An oldie but a goodie. Well written blog posts are perfect for creating solo moments of deep learning & entertainment for your audience. SEO-optimised long-form copy also captures valuable search traffic.
31) Collaborate with other brands on content 🤝
Much like pooling audiences with a partnered giveaway, creating a content piece with a relevant brand can create a lot of mutually beneficial noise. Collaborating on guides, video series, or simply blog posts are all great ways to build brand awareness.
32) Create UGC customer success videos 📱
Customers want to know how other people are using (and loving!) your product. Video testimonials are one of the best ways of demonstrating this. This tactic is big in the beauty space, with brands like Ipsy curating Instagram feeds filled with UGC clips.
33) Build a questionnaire 🤷♂️
Up next is a Buzzfeed classic. Not-so-serious questionnaires are inherently sharable - build one into your online brand experience to add entertainment value to your marketing.
34) Build a personalized quiz❓
Got a product that requires complex educational messaging to sell? Create a quiz to allow customers to understand how it might work for them. Braincare brand Heights do this by questioning users on their daily habits, and offering them a brain health score as a means of explaining their complex, science-led product.
35) Create a Spotify playlist 🎧
Use music as a medium to build your brand image and give value to your audience. Madhappy lead the way here with their super chill Spotify playlists.
36) Build customer case studies 📖
Like CPG content, building case studies is another great way to showcase how much people love your product! CBD brand Populum did this really well by creating videos of satisfied users giving glowing testimonials.
37) Create viral video 🎥
Tough to do, and there’s no real formula to going viral, but a real winner if you get it right. Toilet fragrant brand Poo-Pourri famously smashed it back in 2013 by creating a viral ad which has since amassed a huge 43 million views on Youtube.
38) Create a print publication 🖨
Go analogue with your content marketing and set up a physical print publication. Solo Coffee’s print magazine Outside the Box explores coffee culture, creative caffeine-based recipes and lifestyle elements to engage customers between purchases.
39) Work with guest writers on your blog 🤝
Share the love by featuring guest posters with relevant expertise on your blog. These writers not only add to your content quality but also bring their own audience to your brand.
40) Mutually share content 👫
If you have relationships with other relevant partners, get friendly and leverage each other's channels to distribute your content.
Build audience via SMS with Blueprint 📱
41) Use Twitter DMs 💬
There are thousands of potential customers on Twitter. Head to https://twitter.com/search-advanced and enter in search parameters for the type of industry you work in. From there you can build conversations, give value, and connect with potential customers.
42) Collaborate with Instagram influencers 🤝
Identify genuinely relevant influencers that align with your product, mission or ethos. Finding influencers that actually value or use your product or service will come across as authentic and tell a better story for their audience. This is a common play for leading beauty brand Glossier.
43) Find niche Facebook groups 📚
Grassroots Facebook groups are often private so be sure to add value before selling. Humanise yourself by explaining the problem you’re solving, the journey so far, and what you’re excited about to build your audience.
44) Use Instagram DMs 💬
Although speaking to your audience one-to-one can be time consuming, it’s something most brands don’t do effectively, so can be a great way to differentiate yourself. Slide into their Instagram DMs and ask them to share their experiences with your product, and any feedback they might have.
45) Try social selling 📺
Social selling is a big buzzword at the moment and isn't going away anytime soon. Early bandwagon jumpers are likely to reap big rewards. Check out Hootsuite’s guide to social selling to get ahead of the game.
46) Tell stories on TikTok 🔊
TikTok is where memes start these days, and for brands selling to Gen Z audiences in particular, it’s now a must have platform. Activewear merchant Gymshark were amongst the first to see the opportunity and have since built a following of 2.5 million users through compelling workout-led content.
47) Schedule an AMA on social 💬
Hosting an AMA with your founder or a top influencer you work with is a strong engagement driver. This can be done across almost any social platform.
48) Share a Twitter thread 🧶
Value-packed threads are consistently the top performing pieces of content on Twitter. Again, entertainment and educational-led topics are the way forward here.
49) Build a pre-release waitlist 📋
No one wants to launch to crickets, so don’t wait for your product to release before you tell anyone about it. Drive awareness and collect future customers in the form of a waitlist. Newly launched vegan beverage brand Barcode did this successfully, drawing on the NBA contacts of the founder Kyle Kuzma to build a pre-launch waitlist.
50) Launch a micro-influencer partner program 🤝
Micro-influencers are social media users with between 3,000-10,000 followers. With larger influencers now commanding huge fees to promote products, working with a number of smaller online personalities can be a more cost effective approach, and allow you to tap into more specific niches. This is a tactic period care brand Rael uses effectively.
51) Build a referral program 💸
WOM is always an important driver for growth, and a referral program can give it rocket fuel. Vegan protein bar merchant Tribe’s referral program is a typical example of how you can incentivise existing customers to bring new ones to your site.
52) Sample products offline with link to online 🥤
Don’t just sample your product without a link to connect that customer with your brand experience online. This could be a takeaway sample with a QR code or a coupon for free shipping.
53) Sample with vending machines 🤖
Vending machines can be a quirky, cost-effective means of having a retail presence without a large footprint. Here’s how Matcha Works did it with a text-to-try vending machine placed in a WeWork.
54) Offer a money back guarantee 💵
The dominance of Amazon means customers now expect a free returns policy on products they aren’t satisfied with. It’s both an acquisition driver and incentive to build product quality into the DNA of your brand.
55) Sell gift cards 💳
A classic play and a no brainer if you sell a giftable product. Think about tying gift cards to cultural events throughout the year for maximum impact.
56) Use Klarna to increase AOV 📅
Buy now, pay later service Klarna makes shopping more accessible to consumers by reducing upfront costs. One to consider for brands selling products with high AOV. Amongst those already using it are Beer Hawk, Bugaboo and Swoon.
57) Launch a sample pack to upsell 🎁
Allow customers to find their favorite product of yours by offering multi-flavour sample packs, then upsell them to a higher ticket item. Beverage brand Days Brewing recently used email automation overlaid with SMS messaging to prompt customers to trade up from a 4-bottle taster pack to a larger box of 12 beers on their second order.
58) Add social proof 🌟
There’s a reason why all businesses are keen to showcase positive reviews. Make sure you make the most of them by placing your best ones prominently on your website, and at checkout. Liquid food replacement provider Huel are among the many brands to do this effectively.
59) Create seasonal campaigns ⛄️
Creating seasonal launches is a great way to boost sales throughout the year. Bakery brand Crosstown celebrated St Patrick’s Day this year by launching limited edition Guinness & Bailey’s donuts.
60) Think of FAQs as sales 🤔
Your FAQ section might seem like a boring sales and marketing play, but it’s often a crucial means by which you can overcome customer objections. Treat them as such and make sure they really address customer concerns.
61) Attack your enemy 🧨
Calling out your competitors can be a bold play, but can pay off if you get it right, and often earns you viral PR as a bonus. Check out how some famous brands have roasted competitors over the years.
SMS & Email
62) Build SMS and WhatsApp list 💬
Every brand of the future will use SMS or WhatsApp as part of their online strategy. Why aren’t you building this audience like you are with email? Here’s how brands like Ghia, Scrubbingtons and Ugly Drinks are collecting mobile numbers.
63) Use SMS to speak one-to-one post-purchase 💻
Learning about your customers can build huge insights that lead to better retention and feeds into acquisition. Using SMS or WhatsApp can also build an intimate, engaging customer experience. Here’s how gluten free granola brand Nutsóla are doing it.
64) Launch a content series on SMS or WhatsApp 📹
Use SMS to introduce consumers to your products via a content series. If you’re a skincare brand, for example, work with a relevant expert to offer help and guidance to your audience, and share it via SMS.
65) Start a newsletter 📰
Newsletters are still the best way of sharing long-form content with your audience, which can be particularly important if your product requires complex educational messaging to sell. Braincare brand Heights nail this tactic with their science-led weekly newsletter.
66) Offer discounts to sign up to lists 💸
Everyone loves a bargain, and most consumers won’t mind giving information away in exchange for one. Offering discounts to sign up to your SMS or email list is an easy, effective play, and one that plant-based chicken brand Daring execute smartly.
67) Segment customers based on average order frequency ♻️
Sending timely, personalised reorder prompts is a smart way of moving customers from a first purchase onto second and third orders. To do this you need to intimately understand the individual buying habits of your audience. Heavily segment customers based on average order frequencies and products purchased for the best results.
68) Build upsell flows via SMS ⬆️
Bringing customers back for a second purchase is tough, and upselling them is even tougher. The immediacy of SMS can help overcome buyer reluctance. Send customised upsell flows via text with one-click ordering functionality that directs customers to a pre-filled checkout for a frictionless buying experience.
69) Collect mobile numbers at checkout 📱
An easy way to build an SMS marketing list is to allow customers to opt-in via a form fill or tick box at checkout. Check out this guide for more tips on how to grow your SMS audience.
70) Advertise in niche newsletters 📧
Email newsletters often have large audiences interested in a particular theme or niche, and they’re always on the lookout for fresh content. Find one that is relevant to your brand and partner with the creators to provide valuable content for their audience. In the DTC ecosystem, Indie CPG is a good starting point.
71) Integrate SMS abandoned cart flows with email 🛒
The average cart abandonment rate in eCommerce is a huge 69%. Recovering those lost transactions is one of the best ways to boost your revenue. Combine SMS messages with email flows to win back more customers. Vegan protein brand Misfits Health made $4,000 in a week from a simple SMS abandoned cart flow.
Monetise your audience via SMS with Blueprint 🧢
72) Create a seamless checkout experience ⚡️
Any friction in your buying process is an opportunity for customers to abandon their transaction. Keep clicks and form fills to a minimum, and use any existing information you have about the customer to pre-fill data for them.
73) Communicate your product value onsite 🔥
You have a very limited window to sell once a customer lands on your site. Boost conversion by creating beautiful landing pages that clearly communicate the value you offer in a nutshell. Supplement brand Asystem do this super effectively.
74) Crowdsource from your customers 👋
Online recipe company MOB Kitchen recently asked their audience to check for typos on their site in return for a recipe book. This led to 136,330 visitors in a single day (their biggest ever) and 600+ new sign-ups. Check it out here.
75) Time delay onsite pop-up ⏰
Grab a customer's attention as they navigate your site with an interesting piece of content or insight to keep them engaged.
76) Get your onsite branding right 🎨
Onsite creative has a huge impact on the way customers subconsciously purchase. Make sure your branding is aligned to your product and above all, distinctive. Period brand DAME standout for their slick, idiosyncratic look and feel.
77) Add Hotjar to your site 🔥
Understand how users are really interacting with your site by adding Hotjar. Get heatmaps, recordings and surveys to get powerful insights then optimise based on the learnings.
78) Upsell on your checkout page 🛒
A common tactic, and for good reason - why would you not upsell a customer as they’re checking out?
79) Add an exit-intent pop-up 💣
Also a widespread play. Try offering visitors who are about to exit your website a compelling reason to stay - such as a discount or a compelling piece of content. Bedware brand Brooklinen offers free shipping on future orders as an incentive for consumers to remain onsite.
80) Identify limited stock availability 😰
Nothing sharpens a shoppers compulsion to buy than FOMO. Highlighting where stock is limited is a play many eCommerce stores use to create a sense of urgency and drive conversion.
81) Add time limits on deals ⏳
A ticking clock can have a similar effect on consumer psychology. When faced with a time limited deal, the fear of ‘losing something’ often pushes customers to purchase there and then.
82) Gamify your site 🎮
Gamification is a hot topic, and for good reason - it’s a great way to engage attention of customers on your website. Merchandise store The Chivery have gamified numerous elements of their onsite experience, including their discount offerings and loyalty program.
83) Turn shipping into an experience 🚢
A shipping notification doesn’t have to be boring. Malomo can help you create branded landing pages which turn delivery updates into a marketing channel.
84) Offer fast delivery 🏎
Nothing excites customers more than getting their delivery in double quick time. If you have the infrastructure to support it, charging for fast delivery is a great way to increase the customer experience and exclusivity of a product. UK flower brand Bloom & Wild offers same day delivery for those who need a bouquet fast.
85) Brand your external packaging 📦
Your external packaging is a chance to stand out against the sea of brown boxes. Make your boxes distinctive and brand aligned - like Ugly Drinks do with their bright blue theme.
86) Add free delivery on specific AOV 🚚
With consumers used to getting free deliveries from Amazon, delivery fees are unpopular. Removing them for higher AOV items both improves customer satisfaction and incentivises more expensive purchases. Mattress brand Simba offers this, and communicates it effectively on their website.
87) Add QR code to your packaging 🤳
QR codes are a useful way of maintaining a relationship with your customer post-purchase. They can direct buyers to leave a review, participate in a loyalty program, or engage with future content - all are compelling ways to engage customers.
Drive retention post-purchase with Blueprint📱
88) Audit your own brand’s touch points 🔍
Founders and marketers are so focussed on building that they often forget what the experience is like from a consumer perspective. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes - go buy your product from your store and document every touch point that takes place thereafter. Objectively analyse the buyer experience and optimise for improved retention.
89) Build a VIP program 🕵️♂️
Everyone loves to be part of an exclusive VIP club - so they’re a great way for brands to reward their most dedicated fans. Treat them as special by sharing exclusive product drops, content and community initiatives.
90) Add a subscription service ♻️
A subscriber for your product is worth far more than a one-time customer. Add a simple tool like ReCharge or Bold to your store and enable subscribers from day 1. Overcome commitment phobia by using SMS to allow customers to flexibility change, pause or cancel their subscription at any time - something drinks brand Olipop have nailed.
91) Run retargeting ads post purchase 💰
A great ad strategy sets aside a portion of budget to retarget customers post-purchase to reduce buyer’s remorse and increase retention.
92) Sell merchandise 🧢
Build community, brand awareness (and revenue) by selling merchandise. Drinks provider Recess and supplement merchant Asystem are great examples of this, selling branded clothing alongside their core product set.
93) Build post-purchase feedback flows 👋
Collecting feedback post purchase can be a handy way of building a relationship with customers, whilst gaining insight on how you can improve your brand. Feedback requests sent via automated email and SMS flows can be the best way of doing this - something CBD brand Not Pot did to build a bank of over 3,000 reviews.
94) Offer coupons for reviews 🤩
Even with strong automations in place, collecting reviews can still be tough. Think about the incentives you can offer to encourage customers to give them - discount coupons are always a good shout.
95) Win back churned customers 🚫
The more you can do to re-engage inactive customers the healthier your bottom line will look. As well as discounts, you can also offer content to solve common customer problems, information to get more value out of the product or updates on new releases.
96) Create a birthday flow 🎂
Consumers love personalization - in fact 72% won’t engage with generic marketing messages. Birthdays are a perfect way to connect with an individual customer, and perhaps offer them a little treat to make their day. Homeware brand Fancy does this consistently well.
97) Delight customers with a direct mail letter 📮
With digital channels heavily saturated these days, direct mail marketing is making a comeback. Subscription food brand NatureBox recently had success sending a personalized postcard to existing customers who hadn’t purchased in 30-90 days in order to re-engage them.
98) Start a loyalty program 🔒
A loyalty program seeks to increase the LTV of a brand’s most engaged customers by offering them a value exchange that includes, but goes beyond, purchasing transactions. Brands have been getting super creative with this play recently. Customers of socially conscious beauty player Pacifica win loyalty points for returning empty packaging, which the vendor then recycles.
99) Offer a consultation 🤝
Wow your customers by using your expertise to solve their problems. This can be applied to almost any niche. If you’re a skincare brand, for example, offer customers a one-to-one or group consultation with a dermatologist. If you sell coffee, get buyers on the phone with a barista to answer their questions.
100) Create an affiliate program 🔗
Affiliate marketing is doubly beneficial. Not only do you engage high value customers and stakeholders, but they widen your audience from an acquisition perspective. Check out this useful guide to help you execute.