I’ve been involved with DTC for a large part of my career. I met and did some business with Lillian Vernon a good number of years ago, and if you don’t know her or her company you might find that to be an interesting history lesson. In fact recently named CBS Chairman Strauss Zelnick was principally involved in the purchase of the Lillian Vernon Company showing he is a direct marketer at heart even before his days at RCA/BMG and Ripplewood Holdings. I suspect Mr. Zelnick would concur that marketing direct-to-consumer can be a very successful and effective method, but is far from easy. He will need that consideration in his newest role as running CBS is not going to be easy either.
Online marketing has created an environment where anyone and everyone has the opportunity to market a product direct to consumer bypassing the more accepted retail model. Author/marketer Tim Ferris detailed a DTC path to riches in his well-known book ‘The 4-hour work week’. I believe Mr. Ferris is among the few if any people who have such a successful DTC business that they only need to work on for 4 hours per week. Why? Because it’s really hard!
I had a conversation with some 30-something online marketers recently in which I advanced that DTC marketing is challenging. They seemed somewhat surprised, which in turn surprised me. As if there were a key and all they had to do was find it without knowing where to look. While it remains true that online DTC marketing affords a chance for all to ‘take a shot’ at marketing a product or service, it’s far more involved than making or buying a product, slapping up a website, landing page or offer on social media, and then waiting for the orders to come in. As I say time and again, ‘if you build it, they may NOT come’.
In the digital marketing arena, search marketing and influencer/social media marketing have been paramount in launching successful DTC brands like Warby Parker and Dollar Shave Club. Yet those successful stories are the exception and are not the rule. Just because marketing has become more democratic, does not mean it’s easy as pie, contrary to what growth hackers and online marketing gurus would like you to believe. Research, testing and good old-fashioned hard work are at the root of every successful direct marketing story. That hasn’t changed in 100 years.
Is it getting easier or more difficult achieve direct marketing success online and beyond? While barriers to entry remain low, attention spans are shorter than ever, competition from all over the globe is fiercer than ever, and success is far more fleeting than people realize. Unlike the world of direct response television, digital advertising performance should be judged over an extended period of time (meaning more than three months which to many new marketers seems like a long time). Since digital advertising is the tail wagging the marketing dog, particularly among the non-deep pocketed, it’s important to evaluate performances on an ongoing basis without making too many changes too quickly which can make it more difficult to obtain learning from results.
Being a celebrity can help garner attention and engagement with a DTC brand. It doesn’t remove the requirement to test and measure campaign performance. It’s not the celebrity doing the heavy lifting in the back room, but the long-term success of the marketing effort will still be based on a campaign’s concept and execution.
‘Winning’ means remaining humble and cognizant that success is hard-earned and fleeting and increasing your speed of learning will lead you to abandon campaigns that do not work more quickly and ride the crest of the success wave as smoothly as possible with the knowledge that all waves have to come ashore.
Are you discouraged? Or are you ready to take a shot? Or maybe a bit of both?