Direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands aren’t new, but in recent years they’ve gained a lot of popularity mainly because they’re responding to consumer needs. Many D2C company founders encountered issues with big name brands and they took the initiative to find alternatives—disrupting the market.

The D2C business model, in which the brand controls or works closely with manufacturing and shipping—sending the product directly to buyers—allows these companies to control the data collected about each customer and continuously improve the customer experience.

Not long ago brick-and-mortars were king. In 1992, they took more than 96 percent of the 2 trillion in retail sales. There’s been a sea change, though. Last year, D2C sales increased 34 percent portraying 13 percent of all e-commerce sales.

D2C startups have blown up because they’ve not only focused on creating a desirable product, but their marketing is individualistic.

Relatable content

When Tommy John launched in 2008, the marketing in the underwear industry was as slow to evolve as the products itself.

“We wanted to introduce a new ballsy point of view that was more authentic and relatable,” said Tom Patterson, founder and CEO of Tommy John.

“Instead of banking on sexy marketing with European soccer stars, supermodels and celebrities, we decided to take a more comedic approach and highlight the uncomfortable truths about men’s and women’s underwear. (The Big AdjustmentLittle Adjustments).”

His business idea came from his daily annoyances.

He and his wife set out to solve the problems he was facing with his ill-filling undershirts.

Since then, they’ve expanded into men’s underwear, socks, loungewear, and apparel before launching their debut collection of women’s underwear and loungewear in spring 2018.

Something Tommy John has done that’s out of the norm is to invest marketing dollars in radio, but the brand’s original foray into the platform was a bit of an accident.

The company stumbled upon radio in 2014 when Howard Stern started organically talking about how much he loves their underwear on air.

Stern nearly broke the brand’s website with the amount of traffic he was sending. A few months later the company decided to integrate radio as a marketing channel and they’ve been working with radio ever since.

ThirdLove’s inception also came from dissatisfaction.

Co-founder Heidi Zak was frustrated with her Victoria Secret bras and now offers half-sizes to fit every shape.

The bra company targets customers using models who historically have not been shown in bras—the response has been great.

In September, they launched the To Each, Her Own campaign aiming to capture the strength of real women while simultaneously embracing their vulnerability.

“We wanted to make sure we presented our incredibly diverse customer base as well as celebrated the beauty in all shapes, sizes, ages and stages of life,” Gena Tomisser, director of brand marketing for ThirdLove.

Engagement on posts from their models, Mason (11K likes) and Janis (8K likes) have been about 10 times higher than an average post.

“We are showcasing real women in their daily lives, not just sexy,” she said.

Winc, a subscription-based wine club, strayed from the classic model of going from the vineyard out to the consumer and flipped the paradigm—focusing on the with a customer-first focus and using its direct relationship to back into the vineyards.

“Every brand wants to be as connected to their consumers as possible, but many other companies can only dream of the kind of authentic, engaged conversations that Winc has with our members every day,” said Andreas Biebl, Winc’s chief marketing officer.

On Instagram, the company makes wine accessible, not just for older, wealthy types. On the brand’s page, there are pictures of cotton candy in champagne flutes and out-of-the-box wine pairings.

The biggest example of making this wine more relatable to the average joe is rosé. Even up until a few years ago wine drinkers thought of the drink as unsophisticated.

Winc’s Summer Water Societé was a campaign that rosé enthusiasts—specifically targeting millennials—that included a limited membership offering products from May to July including special screen-printed wine bottles. The campaign was so successful it’s now an annual subscription offered each year.

Millennials value personalization and convenience, and they also have the most varied tastes of any wine drinker in history, and are most likely to experiment with new and unique varietals,” he added.

Winc has also created guide videos on wine jargon, cabernet sauvignon, sparkling wine and even wine tool essentials.

“We are constantly thinking about how wine can best be enjoyed and shared within the context of life, and how we can continue to empower this new generation of wine drinkers through wines tailored to their tastes,” said Biebl.

direct to consumer marketing

Data-driven products

ThirdLove also strives for personalization with their customers. Using a question on their website called Fit Finder, consumers can find the perfect bra by factoring in breast shape, height, favorite bra brand and strap issues. The results are change the band, cup and strap fit.

“We use data to inform a lot of our marketing decisions. We know from our Fit Finder the types of fit issues women are dealing with and can address those things in our marketing messages,” said Tomisser.

Using Fit Finder the company has collected more than 600 million data points from the over 11 million women.

The data helps inform ThirdLove’s messaging and what common issues it should focus on that women experience, and how the brand can solve those issues.

The company can also send personalized messages based on someone’s individual data—like when a new style launches in their size.

Winc requires curious customers to take a palate profile quiz asking them six questions such as “How do you like your coffee?” to “How much do you usually spend on a bottle of wine?”

“Real-time customer feedback and data is something almost non-existent in the wine industry so we go to great lengths to understand these signals,” said Biebl.

They’re able to look at all types of behavior, from ratings to cart abandonment, reorders, social listening and surveys. Winc tracks data on both the wine and consumer preference to constantly optimize for better wines and targeted recommendations.

Tommy John uses a different approach, regularly sending out surveys, hosting focus groups and archiving customer requests on a daily basis.

“Nothing comes to mind that has really flopped for us. With a lot of the marketing we do, I think it’s more about the creative, copy and audience than the channel itself—so that’s where testing and optimization comes in,” added Patterson.

“The key is to find what works best for your business because there isn’t a universal silver bullet for every brand.”