DTC Brands Use of the Email Address is the Canary in the Coal Mine
How are direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands dexterous and competent in marketing trends where incumbents bumble?
A few years ago, the marketing trend du jour was content marketing. Dollar Shave Club developed its “Bro talkin’ razors” campaign (not the official title!), creating the rare content marketing that didn’t make you cringe. But Dollar Shave Club was just one of the many DTC brands that were early to understand and master this 2012 marketing trend. Since then, DTC brands have been at the vanguard of marketing. In the ensuing years, we’ve seen DTC brands adopt other buzzy ideas like podcasts, pop-up stores, print publications, and even direct mail (time truly is a flat circle). Not every adoption has been a home run, but DTC brands have been trendsetters and worth paying attention to.
DTC brands act as a canary in the coal mine for marketers (swap out detecting carbon monoxide for discovering effective market trends). They land on what works, and eventually their incumbent counterparts either catch up or acquire the innovative DTC brands as part of the strategy to make up lost ground.
How Are DTC Brands Readying for the People-Based World?
By paying attention to DTC trends, we can discover how nimble marketers are rethinking traditional marketing today.
Today, the marketing concept du jour is people-based marketing — i.e., the basic idea that brands should be able to communicate to a known person with consistent messaging irrespective of device, channel or platform.
Every marketer in the world understands that people live and spend time across more devices than ever. The market is looking for solutions that address the transient nature of a consumer’s attention, yet solves for targeting to the right person.
Growing Dissatisfaction With Google and Facebook
Like nearly all brands, DTCs turned to Google and Facebook to build their initial audience. What has raised the DTC ire, however, is that advertisers on the duopoly don’t get the data back from these walled gardens. Instead, they get the results of the campaign in aggregate, with no way of continuing the campaigns that were running in Google and Facebook into other environments where consumers are present and paying attention.
DTC brands recognized they needed one-to-one relationships with their customers outside of the walled gardens and adopted email acquisition campaigns. Today, nearly every good DTC brand holds an incredible email list. The brands captured those email addresses by getting consumers to raise their hands and say, "Sure, give me more content." Since DTC brands’ content is actually good, they can win that privilege.
Reimagining Email for a Post-Cookie World
DTC brands are reimagining the email address. They’ve discovered that email represents the key to identity in a mobile-first world. Traditional retail brands, still steps behind their DTC counterparts, think of email solely in the context of sending and receiving email.
DTC brands are finding ways to enrich their email lists and connect it to first-party data. They recognize that trends like ITP 2.0 and Google’s announced changes will put brands that have first-party data at an incredible advantage. With the anonymized email address acting as a durable ID, they’ll be able to connect the first-party cookies and devices of people who have opted in, mitigating the damage they’ll suffer in a world where the cookie is no longer important.
DTC brands are working towards solutions where they're able to tie intent expressed on their site to people, verified by the (anonymized) email address. When DTC brands leverage their email assets and their first-party data, they're able to use onboarding solutions to turn previously anonymous traffic to their website into known, loyal customers.
It’s obviously a complicated, byzantine world, however, by embracing the ole’ outdated email address, DTC brands are preparing for the future. Their legacy competitors are still relying on third-party cookies to be their shepherd for people-based marketing.
Pay Attention to How DTC Brands Use Email
If history is any indication, DTC brands are ahead of the curve again. Clearly, the biggest trend in marketing is being able to market to known audiences using intent they’ve expressed as the audiences cycle through devices, channels and platforms. With the death of third-party cookies, the established methods of doing so will all come tumbling down. What DTC brands have landed on is a salve for the post-cookie world: they're using the email address as the fulcrum to their marketing — the key to identity. It’s used as a stable ID, which is connected to intent and resolves traffic to their sites. That process allows marketing to that known person across channels, devices and platforms.
If traditional marketers want to be on par with DTC brands, it’s time to embrace the flexibility of the email address.
Adam Berkowitz is chief of staff at LiveIntent, the people-based marketing technology platform that makes email your superpower.
Related story: DTC Brand Brooklinen Finds Success With Pop-Up Shop