Monolithic marketing strategies are over. Gone are the days when each brand fit a particular profile that called for a specific approach. You either built brand awareness or you issued a direct response call-to-action. And you stayed in your lane.
Today’s most successful brands are more adaptable. They cherry-pick from an ever-widening array of choices to tailor a strategy that’s just right for them. That means that startups sometimes act like legacy brands and legacy brands sometimes act like startups. Let’s break down some of the brand-new categories of brand profiles.
Direct to Consumer Brands (DTC)
This is not exactly a new category, of course. There have always been brands that have cut out the ad agency middlemen and taken their wares straight to their prospective customers via door-to-door salesmen, telemarketers and direct mail campaigns.
What’s new (relatively speaking) to DTC is the advent of digital. It’s been a Dickens of a change — as in the best of times and the worst of times. Brands can now target just about any consumer anywhere in the world with low-cost, infinitely repeatable ads, providing unprecedented reach with minimal overhead.
This strategy has been successful, especially when the consumer has decided in advance to complete a task/utility purchase by buying a particular product or service — or even a specific brand. (Renewing a phone plan, for instance.) But it has also resulted in rampant cases of abuse.
The good news? Just as direct mail survived its “junk mail” phase and continues to delver industry-leading response rates when used with relevance and respect, digital can evolve beyond “spam” and deliver impressive results, particularly when used as a reminder to complete a task. Digital can also provide intent data for Programmatic Direct Mail®, which has even higher response rates than traditional direct mail.
Digitally-Native Vertical Brands (DNVBs)
These were the innovators who first recognized that digital represented more than just a new marketing channel. DNVBs offer something beyond a more convenient way to complete task-and-utility purchases. They play to the consumer’s vanity by treating them as if they are both more discerning of quality and more deserving of a superior product.
It’s similar to the dynamic that has driven the craft beer boom. And it’s how Harry’s got a million customers in two years: By offering a great razor with cheap blades delivered straight to the customer’s door. In short, if you’re a sophisticated consumer, you’ll recognize that Harry’s offers a better shaving experience.
Experience. That’s the key word. What many successful DNVBs have discovered is that they can’t stay in a purely digital form forever. They need to make their experience tangible for the customer — which is why so many have expanded into popup stores, flash sale experiences and even into permanent brick-and-mortar locations.
This is the David and Goliath story in its most accurate representation. See, it’s a myth that David was a desperate, overmatched underdog. In reality he was the original “disruptor.” He went into battle with Goliath brimming with confidence because he had identified Goliath’s vulnerability (a lack of head protection) and had devised a technological innovation (a slingshot) to exploit it.
Challenger brands do the same. They identify a vulnerability in a field dominated by a handful of established brands (often a simple lack of agility or imagination) and exploit it by offering the consumer a better alternative. Parachute Home, for example, has made inroads into the staid bedding market simply by targeting “millennials wary of big-box chains and chemical-treated textiles…in a category that previously had no brand loyalty,” Adweek notes.
This, on the other hand, is the David and Goliath story adapted for the age of mergers and acquisitions. In this instance David’s goal isn’t to defeat Goliath, it’s to give Goliath a wakeup call that makes him realize he’d better stop underestimating his scrappy little opponent and start negotiating. Basically, after taking a rock to the noggin Goliath decides he’d rather have David as an ally than an enemy, so he invites David to join the cause. Think: Bonobos and Walmart, with a curved waistband representing the slingshot.
These are established brands that retrofit aspects of DTC, DNVB or challenger brands to their marketing efforts. At first blush that might sound like something actually worth a blush — like a middle-aged man wearing a baseball cap backward and listening to rap to try to appear hip. But a better analogy would be a middle-aged man who gives rap a good listen, and realizes that some of it is actually pretty good. After that he plays it in his car because he appreciates it for its merits, not as a cynical ploy.
Nike is a great example of an enlightened Act-Alike. Recognizing that an endless wall o’ shoes at a big-box store is not the sneaker-buying experience that their target audience craves, the footwear giant has begun using popup stores to great effect. The Nike popups, Forbes notes, “tend to focus less on sales and more on spectacle.”
The result? “By generating publicity, intrigue and an exclusive aura around the popup, Nike was able to further solidify its image as the premier athletic apparel and footwear retailer.”
Making a Tangible Connection with Your Customers
One thing that all of these brands — DTCs, DNVBs, Challenger Brands, Captured Brands and Act-Alike Brands — have in common is the desire to build a bridge between the digital world and the physical world. We invented Programmatic Direct Mail® precisely for that purpose. Let us help you get your message into your customers’ hands — literally.