When the next edition of any given Marketing textbook publishes, direct-to-consumer brands will have written the majority of the new pages. As marketers, we’re obsessed with these disruptive players and the seeming freshness and simplicity of their consumer connections. But the differences between DTC brands and today’s legacy players aren’t nearly as night-and-day as we pretend.
In painting DTC brands as something entirely new and innovative, we’ve created false distinctions between the Marketing tools that define these scrappy startups and those appropriate for more-established, far-reaching legacy brands. The problem for DTC brands that buy into these false distinctions is that they’re neglecting foundational elements that are not only core to their missions, but also key to their sustainability. Perhaps the greatest example of this is identity.
Mistaking Fundamentals for Luxuries
DTC brands have heralded a new era of Marketing characterized by results-driven performance and efficiency. These are the brands that have come up and established themselves in closed social ecosystems like Facebook, where consumer identity has been provided by, managed by and trapped within the platforms themselves. To this new breed of marketers, owning technology like real-time onboarding and identity resolution might seem like luxuries befitting only the largest and most technologically sophisticated marketers with sky-high budgets.
But the truth is, identity is actually foundational to generating the kind of performance outcomes that DTC brands thrive upon. Especially as the cost of lower-funnel search and social advertising continues to rise, and DTC brands simultaneously reach saturation within these channels, real-time identity will define a brand’s ability to sustain customer relationships and acquire new ones—and to do so in an efficient way.
Real-time identity also enables brands to have empathy for their customers–to create better experiences by understanding the consumer journey and delivering more relevant and meaningful messages. It helps ensure that once a prospect converts, the brand doesn’t keep bombarding them with annoying messages to buy.
Social platforms have served as the early proving grounds for DTC brands, and these performance-driven platforms are built on a foundation of real-time identity. As DTC brands grow beyond these walls, they need to recognize the fundamentals of these platforms that enabled their initial successes, and they must seek to establish those fundamentals at the core of their internal marketing operations.
Brands must invest in technology that is central to their mission, regardless of their size. Identity is not the exclusive playground of the Fortune 100. It’s achievable at scale even with more modest budgets. Any Marketing organization that prizes efficiency should have a real-time identity strategy that extends beyond social. But even more importantly, any organization that prizes its customers should have a real-time identity strategy that meets consumers’ new expectations for personalized, empathetic messaging.