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D2C Marketing & Advertising Strategies

D2C Marketing & Advertising Strategies

The model of direct-to-consumer (D2C) business is taking off – and with the barriers to operating a business online beginning to fall, the idea of operating a direct to consumer business is more common than ever.

But because of its very different model, D2C marketing and advertising requires a different approach. Direct to consumer companies use a business model where they sell a product or service directly to consumers instead of using intermediaries like distributors and retailers. This means they cut out the middlemen of wholesale buyers, 3rd party retailers, shipping companies, and even outside help from marketers to get their products into the world. Companies that want to independently manufacture, sell and deliver their products will find that in-house D2C marketing and advertising requires using the most efficient, and affordable multi-channel strategies.

The best direct-to-consumer marketing strategies include some of the most well-known ones: search optimization, paid-advertising, social media, and content.

The challenge for these types of companies is being able to balance all parts of the business while making sure their marketing strategies get actual ROI; the benefit is that direct-to-consumer marketing strategies mean being able to seamlessly combine brand growth and brand recognition with better revenue and increased sales. SEO, search PPC, and paid-media marketing all offer some of the best ways to grow business online while generating revenue.

These companies also have a strong eCommerce focus. As shopping behavior continues to shift toward an internet-first default, and as the 2020 pandemic makes it the new normal, eCommerce is going to rely on digital marketing more than ever before. Last year alone, 78% of D2C brands indicated an intent to increase their eCommerce marketing budget.  

Here’s how the most common, and most successful digital marketing methods work specifically for D2C marketing:

D2C marketing for short-term & long-term growth

Businesses that want short-term results and long-term sustainable growth will have to use methods that are suited for both. The good news is that some of the best D2C marketing strategies offer both.

Research from Yotpo found that the best customer acquisition strategies for D2C marketing included social media, SEO, and direct-traffic. In fact, as much as 93% of brands say that acquisition is their biggest priority – and for that, avenues like SEO and social-media were the best. 34.6% of internet users say that they first discover brands using social media, nearly 25% say the same for search engines. Direct-to-consumer eCommerce sales are expected to reach close to $18 billion in the U.S. alone in 2020, and by next year that could jump to $21.25 billion.

This is where taking advantage of short-term vs. long-term digital marketing strategies can pay off!

Short term strategies include search-engine ads/display ads (PPC), Google shopping results, and paid-social media advertising. Paid advertising is famously perfect for getting sales fast, it has amazing ROI, and it’s almost guaranteed to work. For short term results PPC is good for D2C advertising, since it’s suitable for a bunch of business goals like:

  • Helping D2C brands compete against dominant competitors
  • Allowing new businesses/sites without a reputation to build brand recognition by targeting greater impressions
  • Selling products quickly or during short time-frames like holidays, sales, seasonal events
  • Generating cash flow far more quickly than almost any other strategy
  • When releasing new products
  • Just in general, when trying to subsidize a multi-channel strategy

A long-term direct-to-consumer marketing strategy like SEO or content marketing can take longer before results begin to show, but these strategies have great results as well. If done right, high-quality content based marketing and SEO can passively drive organic traffic to a D2C brand site for months or years – with only minimal maintenance.

Plus these strategies can put brands in front of potentially tens or hundreds of thousands of searchers – all for high-value search keywords that fit their brand. Long-term strategies are ideal for D2C marketing by providing:

  • Long-term reliable growth
  • Increased visibility and greater reach for the site’s content.
  • Greater shares, and increased traffic across organic, referral, and social segments
  • Improved sales and revenue, without an expensive ad budget
  • Engagement with eCommerce shoppers at every stage of the shopping funnel
  • Greater brand recognition

SEO specifically for marketing direct to consumers

The dominance of SEO as a business strategy is no secret. It’s probably the single most popular strategy for digital marketing, and SEO’s return on investment is the best of any strategy. Period.

Here’s what SEO means as a direct-to-consumer marketing strategy. Without the complex vertical network of purchasers, retail partners, and brick-and-mortar stores, D2C brands have to rely almost exclusively on their own distribution system. Their website and their online eCommerce platform is where all their business happens – meaning reliable SEO is crucial to a complete D2C marketing strategy.

As much as 53% of all internet traffic happens through search, and 40% of all internet revenue is driven by search. Nearly 1/3 of all marketers worldwide claim that search optimization offers them the highest ROI, and even 41% say it offers just medium ROI.

Good SEO – both on-page and technical – can help a brand’s website rank in search engines for their most valuable keywords. Getting traffic from search results means building and optimizing a site to fit the complex best-practices of search engine ranking algorithms used by Google and Bing. The most important factors include keyword research, optimized meta-data, quality content, and back-links – which each require a strategy that can improve all these factors and more.

Using on-page SEO strategies

On-page search engine optimization requires that businesses make sure their site is set up to rank as best as possible in Bing and Google algorithms. A big task since in total there are more than 200 signals used by search algorithms for indexing and ranking.

On-page strategies specifically, involve changing parts of the site directly for better results – since these are elements of SEO that are actually in your control.

Why is on-page SEO important in D2C marketing? Since direct-to-consumer brands rely so heavily on their own in-house eCommerce platforms and their own lead generation, getting traffic to the site is crucial. On-page optimizations are the best way of doing this, since they’re among the best ways to drive traffic to your site.

A key part of this is doing “keyword research” to understand which search queries drive traffic, and which ones best fit your brand. Direct to consumer marketing means being able to find low-competition, accurate keywords that accurately match with your site/pages’ subject matter, so a good SEO D2C marketing strategy will find:

  • Short tail keywords that are best suited for high-level cornerstone content or nav-bar pages where they have the best chance of ranking.
  • Intent driven keywords for eCommerce categories that help net searchers who are most likely to convert.
  • Long-tail keywords that are specific in intent and represent searchers at the end of the shopping funnel, best for low-level pages and product pages.

Meta-data optimization is one of the most important SEO methods for a D2C marketing strategy because search algorithms use title-tags and meta-descriptions to understand page-content, determine keywords, and set rankings.

Meta-descriptions are also crucial to improving click-through-rate (CTR) and gaining traffic from the SERP. Creating accurate and keyword optimized meta data is so important to SEO, it’s impossible to overstate.

Make sure your title-tags are accurate and fit the page topic as a whole. Even though meta-descriptions aren’t a ranking signal, they act as a selling-pitch or ad to persuade readers to click on your link, and to boost CTR. For marketing direct-to-consumers, good meta data will not only utilize the keywords from the keyword-research phase, but they’ll also be designed to fit the character limits (about 50 for titles, and about 158 for meta descriptions).

Other on-page strategies include keyword density and anchor-text link (ATL) optimizations which mean curating and rationing keywords on individual pages/URLs. Quality keyword usage will incorporate keywords into the on-page content just enough to improve rankings without looking spammy or triggering a keyword stuffing penalty.

SEOs use ATLs to help guide keyword associations as well. Page-to-page links are used by search engines to determine page subject-matter, keywords, and they funnel “link authority” which means they can play a huge role in SEO based D2C marketing.

Search PPC Advertising

An example of PPC search ads for D2C brands

Paid advertising is a huge part of digital marketing. And the “pay-per-click” model of advertising is one of the most common, most popular, and most successful strategies there is. This model is used across search engines, display-ad networks, and social media – and it has some of the best ROI possible.

Here’s why PPC is important: it can give eCommerce sites sales almost immediately, it’s one of the most popular forms of D2C advertising, and has incredible ROI. In fact visitors from search ads are 1.5X more likely to convert than organic visitors, and Google data shows that businesses can get as much as $2 in revenue for every $1 they spend.

At the end of the day, paid-search advertising drives an incredible 34% of online revenue (according to Wolfgang Digital). PPC is a crucial part of D2C advertising.

The most common types of online paid ads include search ads (PPC ads that look like regular search results on platforms like Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) and display ads (graphic/banner ads that display on partner websites) and social-media paid ads (which operate much like display ads, within specific social media platforms).

Social media commerce

Social media is also one of the largest, fastest growing, and most important channels for marketing and even eCommerce. One of the big pros of social media marketing for D2C advertising is that it lets brands extend the reach of their existing content, grow brand visibility off-site, and direct traffic back to their store.

Organic social media marketing is like SEO because it is a cost effective, long-term strategy, meaning you don’t need to have a large budget to get started. It can also improve D2C marketing through SEO by increasing shares and back-link growth.

Popular platforms – like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. – all offer ad networks that use very similar pay-per-click (PPC) models. But instead of keyword bids for search queries, these ads show in user feeds and are based on target audiences, locations, interests, demographics, and more.

eCommerce from social media is expected to increase as much as 34% in the next year alone. 1 in 4 business owners sell through Facebook now, and 70% of consumers search for products they need to buy on Instagram and Facebook. In fact, the Facebook/Instagram ad network now includes an audience of more than 2.7 billion people.

Social commerce is crucial for D2C marketing strategies since it gives brands a way to expand the reach of their products without 3rd party distributors, marketers, and retailers. Instead they can sell products off-site using built in eCommerce tools and ads. Plus social-media ads offer incredible amounts of data, KPI tracking, and extremely precise targeting with a far greater control over audiences and budget.

Social ads vary from platform to platform, but Facebook, Instagram and other platforms offer similar styles that allow brands to set specific goals/objectives, which means businesses can set up ad campaigns specifically for their D2C marketing strategy.

Common ad types include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Photo ads that display products directly in user feeds.
  • Stories ads that feature photo/video/multi-media ads in platforms with stories features like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook etc.
  • Video ads
  • Carousel ads with scrollable product-listings or multiple photos/videos that look like a sort of horizontal album
  • Collection ads that show multiple “cards” for products. These act as a sort of instant storefront.
  • Messenger ads – like on Facebook Messenger or LinkedIn – where marketers can sponsor messages or content directly to individuals.
  • On-platform shops. These are new to platforms like Instagram and Facebook and give extra opportunities for eCommerce D2C advertising by letting users shop/purchase without having to leave the app.

Search engine “Shopping”

Google shopping interface

The “Shopping” tab in Google is the search engine’s answer to online marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and Walmart. It gives brands a way to do direct to consumer marketing with an extra space to sell products off their site.

Retailers can use Google Shopping campaigns to promote their site’s online inventory of products, their “local inventory” and to increase eCommerce sales. Items appear in a grid like product-listing that includes extra information like photos, average user rating, pricing, brand/manufacturer, and a description.

The Shopping tab also lets shoppers filter/sort search results by price, availability, size, brand, seller, condition, rating, and more. This part of Google is a big opportunity for D2C marketing since it’s a fast growing way of selling products directly, and it also extends the performance of existing SEO and PPC strategies.

To get products to appear in Google Shopping, brands need to import their product data into a free Merchant Center account.

Shopping ads (called Product Listing Ads, or PLAs) use Merchant Center product data – not keywords – to decide how and where to rank ads even though the results are still largely based off of search words. This means that paid-ads are run using pay-per-click style advertising (PPC) that’s run through campaigns linked to the Merchant Center. Without a paid campaign it’s still possible to have products appear in Google shopping as organic results. Shopping campaigns also provide an option for products to be shown on “surfaces across Google” including Google Images, the Shopping tab, Google Search, and Google Lens.

Content that’s EAT

Content is king, and high-quality content is one of the most important parts of D2C marketing since it underlies basically every other strategy. Channels like search engines, social media, email marketing, and paid-ads traffic have no value if there’s no content for people to see once they visit your site.

Content is a big part of direct-to-consumer marketing since it’s fundamental to everything else – especially for D2C brands that rely on “inbound” traffic for sales on their site – it’s also one of the single biggest SEO ranking factors. Inbound marketing and SEO are key to generating greater shares, returning/loyal customers, and referral traffic from links.

Content should be built with the customer in mind. High-quality content should meet the needs of visitors, answer questions, and guide them easily through their shopping journey. It should be well written and thorough (when needed). Google’s rubric for good content includes “EAT” content – which is content which can be described as “expert, authoritative, and trustworthy.”

Google’s EAT concept comes from its “search quality evaluator guidelines” where emphasis is placed on high-quality content that can be ranked as “needs met” – a.k.a. content that actually helps searchers get what they want. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines also describes these best-practices for content:

  • Create a useful, information-rich site.
  • Design your site to have a clear conceptual page hierarchy.
  • Include the appropriate SEO keywords in your content.
  • Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
  • Don’t deceive your users.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
  • Focus on what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging.

As part of a site’s D2C marketing strategy, good content should focus on visitor intent, and information that demonstrates EAT as well as helps lower the barrier to conversions for shoppers.

Landing page optimization

For eCommerce in general landing pages are a key element of digital marketing, afterall one of the best ways of getting visitors is retaining the ones you already have. A landing page is defined as the page where visitors to your site “land” when coming from the outside – basically it’s the first page they visit.

This means that optimizing landing pages for better user-experience, load-speed, content, and click-through-rate (CTR) is a big part of direct to consumer marketing. Especially since D2C sites rely so much on netting customers and reducing bounce-rate.

Optimizing your site’s pages, categories, blogs, and product URLs can mean offering a much better landing experience for traffic from search, social, referrals, etc. This includes all of the strategies we’ve outlined above and more, like title-tag/meta descriptions that focus on search-intent and accuracy. Plus, the website’s structure, UI and performance can also play a big role in reducing exits/bounces.

That’s why Google is pushing marketers to optimize for “core web vitals” that emphasize “user experience SEO” by adding new metrics into its ranking algorithm that measure:

  • The time/speed of the pages loading
  • Slow “first input delay” or too-much delay before users can interact with the page
  • “Cumulative layout shift” or how much the page shifts around during loading

Likewise Google has also emphasized loads of other web-development elements like mobile-friendliness, navigation/structure, top-heavy advertising, and interstitials. All of these are an important part of SEO and landing page design and they can have a big negative effect on conversion rate (CR) within D2C marketing.

In fact, Google data claims that UX and speed drastically change visitor retention. As page load time goes from 1 to 3 seconds, bounce rate increases by 32%; as it goes from 1 to 6 seconds, bounces increase by 106%.

Amazon marketing

For D2C eCommerce the dominance of Amazon can’t be ignored. Similar to search engine “Shopping” results, Amazon is one of the single best ways to sell products without a complete vertical system for wholesale distribution, brick-and-mortar stores, partner retailers, etc.

A lot of marketers might not agree that definition of “direct-to-consumer” includes 3rd party marketplaces like Amazon. Regardless, it’s still at least an option for D2C brands – especially if they sell through Amazon but ship themselves (without using FBA). Plus it’s a huge opportunity for eCommerce. Amazon now represents nearly 8% of the digital ad market, and by 2021 it could be closer to a tenth of total US ad revenue. It has close to 200 million visitors a month, and 2.5 million sellers now use the platform.

Increasing Amazon sales & rankings means using both “SEO” and paid-ads – which work together to boost product visibility and conversions.

In fact Amazon’s A9 algorithm is based largely on clicks, conversion rate, and reviews – which means any way of boosting these metrics will improve Amazon search rankings and sales. That’s why D2C marketing involves things like Amazon A+ content, and sponsored products.

Should you hire an agency?

In the world of direct to consumer marketing, many brands choose to go it alone, and many choose to hire professional marketers to handle their digital marketing full time.

Is hiring professionals a good strategy? For D2C brands that decide digital eCommerce marketing is important – it definitely is. But for businesses that opt to reduce their efforts in paid/organic digital marketing and instead go with traditional marketing it might not be. Especially for small businesses concerned about fees and maintenance.

But here’s why hiring an SEO agency, or hiring PPC management experts is an appealing option: expert marketers come with years of experience, they can handle tons of busy-work and tedious processes for implementing optimizations/ad campaigns, and they can utilize lessons they learn from other businesses in the same industry.

An agency for paid and organic D2C marketing strategies means:

  • Full-time management of campaigns and individual pages, content, etc. using proven strategies
  • Detailed monthly reports and tracking of important KPIs
  • Professional data analysis and adjustments that use feedback data
  • Creating ad campaigns with optimized structure for campaigns > ad groups > ads
  • Expert keyword research
  • Quality score and CTR optimization
  • More efficient ad spend by muting bad campaigns and tracking “negative” keywords/audiences
  • Budget recommendations, forecasting, and A/B strategy testing
  • Industry research and recommendations on algorithmic optimization, best-practices, and platform updates

Businesses that have limited time and resources to manage day-to-day processes might find that hiring an agency dedicated to D2C marketing strategies is appealing. Plus, agency marketers are also experienced in a wide range of platforms including CMSs, Google Analytics, Google/Bing ad networks, and social media advertising tools.

This can save many brands the headache of familiarizing and learning how to optimize their D2C marketing strategy while fumbling with new, complex tools.

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