Blog Post:

Direct-to-Community is the new D2C

5 minutes

Jackie Davies

Let’s examine the modern consumer: they’re wearing Warby Parker glasses and Allbird shoes. Ditching Gillette for Dollar Shave Club and sleeping on Casper mattresses. Consumers care about the brands they buy from more than ever before, which means the rise of Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) retail is upon us.

D2C companies are changing the game for traditional retail brands by forgoing the middleman and selling their products directly to consumers online. And they control the end-to-end production, marketing, and distribution to boot. Companies like Casper, Dollar Shave Club, and Allbirds pick one thing they do really, really well and, by way of that specialization, communicate to their customers that there is no need for alternatives. With their direct relationship with their customers, not only are they making buying decisions easier, they are establishing a community of like-minded people who rally around their brands.  This, in turn, drives up earned media, lowers the cost of customer acquisition and drives up the lifetime value of a customer.

These companies are in direct control of the customer experience and want to keep it that way. From the moment you buy, they are collecting first-party data to use to market to you again and again – powerful information that the average retailer doesn’t have access to.  As a result, these D2C champions have managed to capture the buyer’s desire for more authentic experiences that build a close relationship between brand and consumer.

So then, how do brands that have relied on retailers stand a chance against these D2C companies? They need to leverage a “Direct-To-Community” approach.

What is Direct-to-Community?

Direct-to-Community is what we call the “new” D2C. It’s the process of finding groups of people with shared values and interests who either already love your brand or should, and targeting them with authentic tailored content.

To go Direct-to-Community, you can begin by building your own community from scratch, but this can be expensive and time-consuming.  A more efficient method is to identify and leverage one that already exists. To do that, marketers can leverage graph technology – which can naturally identify communities in massive data sets..

Consumers are gravitating towards brands that are authentic; that understand them and can speak to what they value most; brands that really feel like part of their community. If a brand is to survive among these modern consumers, it must leverage the new D2C.

The Direct-to-Community strategy has many applications – here are just some examples of how it can be deployed for PR, Brand Sponsorships, CPG / Retailers, and eCommerce.  In future posts, we will do deeper-dives into each of these Direct-to-Community opportunities:

Direct-to-Community for PR:

Let’s assume you’re a PR manager working for United Airlines. You’ve been tasked with rebuilding brand equity following the puppy scandal. How can you identify the audience engaging with the scandal and develop a  corporate communications strategy to address this? By analyzing the interests of those who have shared the article on social media, you can quickly identify that the audience is primarily made up of animal lovers and activists. The societies they care about most are PETA, The Soi Dog Foundation, IFAW, World Animal Protection, and The ASPCA. You can now suggest that United partner with these organizations to improve their animal transportation policies and support the initiatives of these organizations. Through these partnerships you are aligning your brand with the interests of those who care most, and help regain brand equity in these communities.

Affinio United Airlines Puppy Network Affinio related brand affinity

Direct-to-Community for Brand Sponsorships:

Suppose you work on the Brand Sponsorship team at a broadcast network and you are trying to identify new partnership opportunities for a widely popular program. Where do you begin? How can you identify one brand that resonates with a broad television audience? By analyzing the broader affinities of the TV show audience, you are able to determine a shared love for McDonald’s. With this information, you can approach McDonald’s to create content or a brand placement that will feel native to the audience and you know will resonate with this community.

Affinio example brand cluster

Direct-to-Community for CPG/Retail:

Imagine you’re a brand manager at a global CPG company and you’re interested in creating a new vegan product line.  You want to glean insights to guide the creation process – but where do you start? By understanding this audience’s interests (beyond vegan) you can skip the guesswork and tap into their related affinities. You can then use these insights to guide what you create, what the packaging should look like, and the most effective media channels to reach your audience when it’s time to launch your product.  You might discover that there are actually sub-vegan communities who should be targeted differently. For example, you might find out that “Trending Vegans” are just interested in the latest food-fad and don’t really care about what’s in the product, as much as how they can join the movement without breaking the bank. Compare that with “Extreme Vegans” who are more likely to read every ingredient and might be willing to pay more for a premium product.  These two sub-communities will want different products and likely need different messaging to resonate with them.

Affinio vegan network graphic

Direct-to-Community for eCommerce:

What if you were the head of marketing at a Direct-to-Consumer company like Allbirds and you are tasked with acquiring new audience segments to grow your business. Manually scraping through your first-party data can be challenging and demographic targeting doesn’t leverage the key value of D2C – building communities.  However, by analyzing Allbird’s social audience you discover a community that wasn’t even on your radar: Political Moms, or “Momocrats”, who have a keen interest in progressive politics from a parent’s perspective. Now you’re armed with data-backed insights to expand your sales opportunity within the “Momocrats” community, maybe with a politically slanted ad.

Affinio all birds network graphic Affinio sample brand clusters

Consumers are demanding more authenticity from brands, and D2C companies are responding by harnessing first-party data to form a direct line of communication to the consumer. The only way for incumbent brands to circumvent this advantage is to go Direct-to-Community. It allows them to compete by creating content, product, and communication strategies that will resonate with the communities they want to be loved by.