How Marketing Innovations Turn Content into Conversations 12.06.18 By Susan Borst This blog post is part of The Shift: Latest Thoughts on the Direct Brand Economy. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands have a distinct advantage over most incumbent, established brands because of one significant difference: They inherently understand the value of content and the role of storytelling as an important, if not the most important, foundational element of their marketing plan. They understand that the purpose of this content is to engage consumers in authentic ways to build their communities, establish consumer affinity and, most importantly, differentiate themselves from the competition. DTC brands use content with retention in mind from the get-go. The traditional marketing model for established brands is to start with awareness-building tactics, focusing on reach and frequency with a “one-to-many” marketing/content approach. This is typically done with one-size-fits-all overtly promotional messages on reach-building mediums like TV. Only when a set awareness threshold is achieved, which might take months to evaluate, might they work their way to employing more retention-oriented tactics which might include storytelling and more intimate one-to-one communications with their brand loyalists. Direct brands take the opposite approach. They are less interested in casting the widest net possible. Instead, they want to cast the smartest net. They effectively flip the marketing funnel and start with retention as part of their awareness strategy. From the get-go, they employ content tactics with retention in mind because they understand that their long-term success depends on the lifetime value that happens when consumers feel engaged on a more one-to-one, brand- to-consumer basis. DTC brands’ content innovation starts with a mobile-first mentality. Direct brands are masters at employing methods and ideas that may not be new on their own, but when used differently online become innovative, especially when compared with established brand tactics. Largely driven by promotion on social media, direct brands usually launch on mobile, and start with a keen eye on the platforms that will best reach their intended target audience consumers. Executionally, their tactics are truly mobile-first, designed with consumer experience in mind and engagement as a measurable goal. To be clear, when I speak of mobile-first, I am not just talking about the device, but about mobility. The IAB Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence, which I lead, focuses on the intersection of creativity, innovation and technology that forms the mobile experience for consumers and brands. Direct brands fit squarely at this intersection. Many DTC brands depend on a community of Influencers for amplification, engagement and feedback. Take influencer marketing as one of many content examples prioritized by direct brands. While this tactic has been around for ages, it takes on new life in the direct brand economy. Jen Rubio, Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer at Away, shared her thoughts on influencer marketing with me: “We launched Away by highlighting a collection of travel stories from our most influential friends around the world through a book called The Places We Return To. Introducing the brand alongside influencers from a wide range of industries allowed us to tell the world who we were and who we stood with. We also lean on our community of influencers to tell a broader narrative around travel. We have seen how powerful that type of word-of-mouth can be… so we are doing even more to encourage the most active members of our community to talk about their love for Away. We are tapping them to test new products before they are released, offer feedback on what they want to see us do next, and to continue to share the content they are capturing on our own channels. It is just another way we are giving our community a voice and empowering them to be truly engaged with the brand.” When it comes to content marketing, all brands can learn from DTC brand best practices. Here are a few to consider: Content can take on many forms, from the packaging itself, to customer service language, to branded content creation and distribution, and use of user-generated content and influencer marketing tactics. Even the eCommerce experience online should be factored into the content equation (e.g., ease of transactions). Content marketing should not be promotional in nature. Resist the temptation to stuff your content with product specs, instead, use content to tell a story that is valuable to consumers — beyond the brand itself — to establish affinity and grow your community. Be willing to test content from both a performance and brand point of view, measure its effectiveness, and walk away from what is not working. Create unique versions of your content for different platforms. One size does not fit all and content variations need to be planned for up front. Use technology such as programmatic and Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning to your advantage. To do this effectively, have creative assets that can be adapted to best take advantage of these technologies (e.g., dynamic creative assets: multiple headlines, images, and calls-to-action). Empower your people to make on-the-spot decisions based on data and be prepared to take some educated risks. What the entire ecosystem can learn from direct brands is that content and storytelling matters now more than ever, particularly on mobile where we continue to see double digit revenue increases with significant revenue increases expected over the next several years.