September 18th, 2019

Beyond Google and Facebook: The Challenges of Modern DTC User Acquisition


In the age of always-connected devices, direct to consumer companies have found more ways than ever to connect with audiences. This shift has led to a renaissance in the DTC category: Social media has replaced the mail-order catalog, and modern-day consumers embrace the hype with word-of-mouth. Whether they’re selling glasses, razors, mattresses, or cleaning products, modern brands are eschewing traditional retail strategy in favor of selling directly to customers.

For years, DTC brands have relied heavily on Google and Facebook for customer acquisition — and for good reason. Billions of people use these platforms daily, making both high-profile options for digital advertising. Although Google and Facebook are ideal for generating awareness, down-funnel engagement is a struggle. For instance,  67% of users report that they have not purchased “from” nor directly within social media. On top of that, customer acquisition costs are rising, and Google and Facebook remain expensive. To stretch their marketing budgets further, direct to consumer companies must find new channels for user acquisition and target down-stream engagement metrics.



Create memorable, personalized experiences

The influence of Google and Facebook ought not to be discounted, but modern DTC brands are experimenting with new ways to drive ROAS. Alternative channels may not yield the same number of views, but if you deliver a memorable experience, they could drive more consumers to the purchase.

To do that, you’ll have to make your ads a little more personal. DTC marketers are always coming up with new ways to tailor products to their intended audiences. Often, the customer journey even begins with a personalized quiz. For example, vitamin brand Care/of quizzes customers and delivers personalized supplement recommendations. Similarly, haircare brand Prose specializes in making custom shampoo and conditioner based on customers’ hair texture, health, and environment. These kinds of experiences could easily translate into the mobile advertising environment.

In fact, mobile advertising is becoming an increasingly common strategy for brands looking to deliver personalized value. Playable ads, in particular, have surged in popularity over the past few years. IAB defines playables as “a single ad unit that combines interactivity [with] gamification to enable full-funnel marketing brand communications (attention, education, and action).” Direct to consumer brands are already seizing the opportunity, launching memorable mini-games that delight consumers and gently encourage a purchase. In fact, according to eMarketer, US agency professionals cited playables as the single most effective format for in-app advertising.

Furthermore, rewarded advertising in the in-app environment is a particularly powerful approach for creating memorable ad experiences. In a rewarded model, app users receive an in-app bonus, such as coins in their favorite game, just for engaging. Then the experience drives to the purchase as a secondary organic action. Alternatively, customers could be rewarded for signing up for a free trial. Virtual rewards foster brand affinity because it’s a two-way exchange of value.

Think about the end-game — Not clicks or impressions

It’s time to stop thinking about views and clicks as the most important measures of success. Since the dawn of internet advertising, marketers have chased these metrics, wanting to get ads in front of as many eyes as possible and entice a good percentage of those viewers to click through. The truth is, with so many screens and apps vying for users’ attention and so many brands to choose from, that’s simply not enough anymore.

Instead of running campaigns on a cost-per-mille (CPM) impressions basis, explore options like CPA — cost-per-action (also known as cost-per-acquisition). In CPA advertising, brands only pay for ads when the customer completes a desired action, such as a purchase. For instance, DTC brands that leverage a subscription model could run a CPA campaign that invites users to sign up for a discounted first month. Another popular CPA tactic is to encourage users to sign up for regular newsletters or emails. This is a particularly good option for brands whose content marketing is on point.

Keep it simple, streamlined, and relevant

DTC brands need to return to the tried and true tactics that have always served them: keeping things simple and relevant. These principles are evident in their products and websites, and they must extend to their advertising. Men’s shaving supplies company Harry’s is an expert at this: The brand earned over a million customers in its first two years in business by being straight-forward and user-friendly. Its website keeps things clean and streamlined, limiting itself to a few categories and only a handful of products within each. As a result, when someone sees an ad and clicks through, they’ll find an easy-to-navigate user experience where they can quickly find exactly what they’re looking for. Digital ads can follow this same philosophy — but remember, simple doesn’t mean boring. Whatever kind of interaction you’re hoping to achieve, it has to be designed intuitively so that potential customers can find their way to the desired result.

Finally, you can’t discount the advantage of influencers in today’s market. Influential YouTube steamers and social media users often have followings numbering millions of people, many of whom are active viewers. Studying the social media techniques that boosted these personalities to internet success could also be a successful technique in your own marketing campaigns.

While Google and Facebook still have their roles in the DTC marketing industry, gone are the days when they’re the only way to reach consumers or measure success. The successful modern DTC retailer is constantly evaluating new channels of communication, analyzing its own strengths and weaknesses, and evolving along with technology. For more information about modern DTC user acquisition and advertising, contact the experts at Tapjoy!


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