With so many messages inundating consumers every day, businesses are finding it difficult to stand out. Breaking through the clutter to make meaningful connections is requiring more nuance and repeated attempts.
To stand a chance, innovation is not just an ideal, but a necessity. Yet, with tighter budgets and ROI at stake, which innovative tactics are worth the effort?
We have to find ways to penetrate what would be a very crowded, noisy space relative to advertising. We look for unique and distinct methods that we can reach our audiences.”
To gain insight into how today’s marketers are cultivating one-to-one relationships, the United States Postal Service commissioned proprietary interviews with senior leaders at top consumer-facing companies across industries. Here are the direct marketing trends and insights they shared:
The Direct-to-Consumer Innovations That Are Working
The marketing professionals interviewed are employing a range of tactics to stand out from their competitors.
Effective and relatively inexpensive, email remains a trusted channel of communication for those surveyed. The key difference is increased personalization. Marketers are finding that segmenting their audience and including highly relevant, engaging content in every email resonates most.
Social Media Connections
With its flexibility to create unique and multiple forms of content, social media is a top choice for many looking to drive brand awareness. Additionally, brands that are willing to invest in influencer marketing are generating buzz and seeing positive results.
“Our agency’s reaching out to content creators who come up with interesting ways to reach our consumer in a more authentic way, so it feels organic and authentic.”
— Head of marketing at CPG Company
Customer Loyalty Programs
Several marketers pointed to loyalty programs for their ability to keep customers engaged long-term. Consequently, they’re prioritizing spending on loyalty initiatives and working to customize incentives and coupons.
Brands are only touching the surface of SMS texting. Some marketers are seeing success with helpful notifications on delivery status, for example, while others are using text touchpoints to bolster their other initiatives. Others, however, are worried about privacy and getting consumers to opt in to messaging.
More Event Presence
Stalled during COVID, event marketing is making a comeback. Several marketers raved about the impact of community events, where they feature samples and discounts and can engage customers directly. A strategic presence at conventions was also mentioned, tying in marketing efforts to really hit home.
“There's no better personalization than meeting someone face to face, and event marketing just extends that further.”
— John Modi, co-owner of MakerFlo
Smart Direct Mail Plans
Brands are using direct mail to build awareness and nurture their audience. From coupons and free trials to digital tie-ins to help upsell, the key to direct mail success is relevance and timing. The professionals interviewed lauded mailers that were planned smartly and targeted perfectly—and saw greater engagement as a result.
“…at the end of the day, you must target the right customer with the right offer and be differentiated enough to appeal to them.”
— Frank Wanderski, general manager of Texas Power
Enhanced Online Shopping
Direct-to-consumer brands are innovating the online shopping experience. They’re taking advantage of purchasing enhancements to sell live on apps such as TikTok. They’re enhancing e-commerce sites with user-generated content and guided shopping. Overall, they’re using the power of technology to connect with consumers and elevate the purchase experience.
DTC and Direct Mail Together
Customer testimonials can be persuasive. Direct mail can be a place to highlight online reviews and social media buzz to help spread the good word.
You have to get in front of the homeowner, and the best way to get our name out there and get the phone to ring is some type of mailing program.”
[Our] new neighbor program is very, very successful. It is a postcard with the exact right message for the right customer at the right time.”
Which of these innovative direct marketing approaches would you adopt first?
Now is the time to explore outside your comfort zone! Just be sure the fresh DTC tactics you pursue are well thought out, authentic to your brand and right for your target audience.
Keep the conversation going!
How Can Brands Take DTC Marketing Even Further?
There are some common themes across what’s working that bring to light where marketers can push further to create deeper connections with consumers.
The professionals interviewed highlighted the difference personal attention can make. More than just putting a name on an email or mailpiece, it’s clear they believe that more “personal” personalization will create stronger relationships going forward.
“Thousands at this point have gotten this really personalized direct mail from us. We know that this is really making a difference, impacting both our repurchase rate and word of mouth. People are telling their friends.”
— Tracy Motz, head of marketing at Belgian Boys
The marketers are eager to find ways to successfully leverage personal attributes. The executive from Firstleaf, for example, said they’d like to use data on past wine purchases and reviews to drive more types of highly relevant communication—making it more valuable to the consumer than general messaging.
Similarly, the senior marketing manager from Colgate would love to target different soap scents for different use cases to create more of an emotional bond with the product.
Overall, the focus is on developing a customer-first model, understanding what they’re buying and why, and making real connections to increase brand loyalty.
Along with personal connections, brands are discovering the importance of connecting with communities and placing a genuine emphasis on social responsibility.
Whether in their local community or within a related subject community online, becoming a trusted voice has helped grow their customer base.
For example, Belgian Boys ran an initiative for International Women’s Month, offering free breakfast for 500 busy moms. Promoted to a very targeted group of support communities on various platforms, the effort was tremendously successful, spreading by word of mouth and exceeding their key performance indicators.
Plus, when social causes are part of the marketing effort, these brands are finding engagement rates to be much higher. And finding the right partnerships can help amplify their message.
“We do have partnerships [with national not-for-profit organizations] that we work with, and they help drive a lot of business. Those are great third-party companies that provide opportunities for us.”
— James Allen, regional vice president at Allied Van Lines
The interviewees shared how bringing in more personality has helped initiatives see success. By switching their tone to be more relatable and perhaps throwing in some unexpected humor, the brand became more approachable, complicated subjects became digestible, and sales and engagement flourished.
“The ‘Giving blood hurts less than…’ campaign was a stand-out. … When you talk to the younger audience, they thought it was funny and eye-catching. … keeping it fresh and not just the story about the recipient.”
— Andrea Cefarelli, senior VP of corporate communications at New York Blood Center Enterprises
Many brands are also turning to TikTok in particular to create an online identity that uses humor, slang and a voice that resonates with younger audiences. The goal is to be authentic, rather than pushing a sale.
Quantifying Success: How Marketers Are Tracking Direct to Consumer
ROI is king. With budgets tightening and results under the microscope, how can marketing teams prove which tactics are worth leaning into?
The study helps to understand that quantifying success is essential to allocating ad spend, but in today’s market, it is challenging.
Challenges to Evaluating ROI
Big tech is influencing measuring. With new laws in place and changes to tracking techniques on major platforms, marketers are having to evaluate alternate channels and methods to collect data.
Tracking can be disjointed. Tracking multiple channels typically must be analyzed manually via several databases. The process can be lengthy and overwhelming.
Multichannel touchpoints prevent accurate tracking. Omnichannel campaigns are proven achievers. But identifying which channel was most effective at converting is tricky.
“I thought it would be much easier to have the data that I would need to efficiently do the job, but it’s hard to come by in some cases.”
— Alux Loyola, marketing manager at Amazon
Ideal Tracking Solutions
A tool that can automate the process. Marketers unanimously expressed a need for a way to easily track multiple channels at once and assign credit to the most effective.
One place to view everything. Teams want a tool that is not only automated, but also comprehensive. Marketers are looking for a platform that brings all spend and reporting together to help optimize across and within channels.
Real DTC Results
Allied Van Lines
Objective: Better optimize its direct mail campaigns
Initiative: Larger mailers—oversized postcards instead of smaller ones—that included a picture of the person who would handle the move and a cutout coupon for money off the cost
Results: 8% increase in engagement
NY Blood Center Enterprises
Objective: Increase blood donations post-pandemic
Initiative: Switching up their tone to address a serious topic with humor, including geo-centric headlines
Results: Really good metrics
Objective Capitalize on a pancake TikTok trend
Initiative: Quickly mass-produced a related product and promoted it on TikTok, where it originally went viral
Results: Huge organic buzz for the brand
Objective: Increase conversion and brand loyalty
Initiative: Developed custom stickers and a corresponding email campaign to personalize packages with the team members who handled them
Results: 51% email open rate, $30,000+ in direct sales
When consumers are being sold to all day across all platforms, brands need to find meaningful ways to capture their attention. Innovation is vital, but given today’s climate, there’s little room for trial and error.
You’re being tasked with proving results, cutting underperformers and maxing ROI. Know you’re not alone in the challenge. It can help to see what other DTC marketers are doing, and where they’re seeing the best results.
The experiences shared by the top companies here may inspire you to think outside your team’s comfort zone to break through the clutter. As you do, focus on where your brand can improve personalization, community connections and approachability. These areas have the greatest potential to strengthen your DTC marketing initiatives.
- “Direct-to-Consumer Innovation and Insights,” Qualitative Research Conducted by Provoke Insights, May 8, 2023.