Direct-to-consumer marketing leaders from Bark, Sweet Defeat and Casper came together at Advertising Week New York to talk strategy, priorities and explain why so many DTC brands are setting up physical locations.

In the panel “Direct to Consumer All-Stars,” Bark co-founder Henrik Werdelin told the story of how he bonded with his would-be business partner over a love of dogs, a spark that became the DTC brand. Bark Box delivers monthly packages of treats and toys for dogs that the company designs and manufactures itself. Filling a niche helped launch the DTC brand into superstardom with over half a million subscribers and 95 percent retention, but most of all, it was about the customer.

“For us it’s about seeing it not just as a utility, it’s understanding how to make great moments between dogs and their people. It becomes a family thing,” said Werdelin.

The co-founder used his previous experience at Viacom to design programming around the dog owner lifestyle. The brand curates content to its 7.5 million social media followers and communicates via the occasional text message as well—striking up a random conversation about a consumer’s dog.

Werdelin admitted that they took a few risks, erring on the side of authenticity. One Valentine’s Day campaign, for example, the company sent cards to its customers saying, “When I think of you I lick myself.”

Bark Box is now available in Target retail locations, but Werdelin doesn’t see this as a deviation from the brand’s core DTC strategy.

“To be a defining brand in your category, you have to be where your customers are,” he told the audience. “We are using the data and the insight from having so many conversations and relationships with our customers.”

Sweet Defeat co-founder and CEO Arianna Perry takes a similar approach to Bark in that she markets her product around a community. The brand sells mints that temporarily block one’s ability to taste sugar. She demonstrated its effect with the audience, passing out candies along with a sample to try.

Selling a product after an IRL sample is easier, but Perry’s team ultimately must accomplish this goal with online consumers. To do this Perry cultivates motivational stories around health and wellness online, leverages social media influencers, shares testimonials and communicates with every user that messages them.

“It’s hard as a product to get attention,” said Perry. “What we do [in terms of content] is talk about my story and our team. We try to humanize ourselves as a brand as part of our PR strategy.”

While Bark and Sweet Defeat identified a niche and filled it, Casper took an old business model and turned it on its head.

Jeff Brooks, CMO of Casper, said the brand saw an opportunity in a massive market that hasn’t changed in 100 years. Very few people controlled supply and distribution and thus, controlled the shopping experience.

Rather than simply offer matresses shipped to you door, Brooks and his team set out to create a lifestyle brand around sleep. They purposely talk to consumers in a whimsical way to share in the joy and rituals of bedtime.

Casper has also made the move to brick-and-mortar stores with two locations in New York. When asked about why his brand made the move to physical locations, Brooks echoed Werdelin’s sentiment about being where the customers are.

“For us, it wasn’t about the old model,” explained Brooks. “While some say it’s the death of retail, we think it’s the rebirth of retail.”

A majority of purchase behavior in the sleep category is still offline, he explained. The question was never if they would go brick and mortar, it was a matter of how.

“The big unlock for us now is to better understand how ecommerce and brick and mortar retail work together,” he said.

All three brands sell very different things, but share the same philosophies that marketers can take home—put the customer first, create a community and don’t be afraid to rethink tradition.