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D2C Plus Marketing Yields Success During The Pandemic

The pandemic has been hard on everyone, and most businesses took a major hit. Yet some businesses managed to not just survive but even to thrive. The secret to their success was pivoting from standard retail models to D2C (direct to consumer) models.

According to Statista, D2C e-commerce sales were predicted to hit 17.75 billion U.S. dollars in 2020, a substantial increase over the 14.28 billion achieved in 2019. In fact, the figures were likely far higher.

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New pandemic purchase patterns

The U.S. (and likely even the global) economy was completely reshaped by the pandemic. When normal supply chains to retail outlets were disrupted by a combination of lockdowns, overseas production, and shipping delays, as well as demand for certain products rising and falling with greater rapidity than a rollercoaster – if you couldn’t get your product to the consumer directly, your customer likely couldn’t get it at all.

Now that it’s been a full year since the first cases were reported, it becomes clear that the pandemic changed the way people shopped, possibly forever.  The change may have been prompted by necessity due to their workplaces and stores being closed for months under government orders and kept up by choice for those who still want to avoid entering stores as much as possible.

Coffee at home

Nespresso was one of the brands that embraced D2C to meet their customers where they were during most of 2020 – at home.  As reported in Modern Retail, its parent company, Nestlé’s was able to report growth for that part of its business as they delivered the experience customers wanted to their homes.

The publication interviewed Nespresso U.S.’s VP of Marketing, Justin DeGeorge. He explained that even though the brand already had a strong base of customers at home, they were able to strengthen their connection and even win over new customers by making sure they would provide the level of quality people normally get from coffee shops:

“Many home coffee solutions don’t necessarily deliver the same level of quality as the coffeeshop. The challenge is highlighting the convenience and taste, which are our big value drivers.”

Another challenge for the brand was getting the word out about what their machines deliver. Like many others in 2020, they did use Zoom for demonstrations, but they also used social media to feature baristas talking about the machine features and the coffee taste.

As DeGeorge explained, “The idea is to replicate that in-person experience that customers get at our boutique or a department store when buying a new machine.”

Other strategies they adopted to appeal to the customers who were staying home include easier recycling. They have an option to recycle capsules via UPS. In New York City, DeGeorge said they worked out an approach for curbside pickup for recycling.

To incentivize reorders, they offer an, “Easy Order program, which offers incentives such as accessories and gifts for loyal customers and has been popular among subscribers,” DeGeoerge said.

Not forgetting that some working from home not by choice may miss the coffee on tap in the office, he added that they are planning to work with businesses on “delivering coffee to remote employees.” My suggestion: throw in a company mug, as well, then people will feel tangibly more connected to their company than they do just from seeing people on Zoom meetings. Better yet, have a virtual coffee happy hour and encourage all employees to use the mugs together on screen.

A lot of us feel that we can’t live – never mind work without coffee. So, it may seem like not such a big deal to get people to clamor for it at home. But what about something one may feel is not essential, particularly when we hardly see anyone in person?

The beauty at home challenge

Would women bother with makeup even when they’re not going into work? Apparently, they do, and that’s why Sally Beauty reported an amazing return for 2020.

In a combination of strategy and fortuitous timing, the beauty brand was already poised to focus on its digital line in 2019, so when the pandemic struck it simply had to accelerate rather than shift its strategy.

Carolyne Guss, Sally Beauty Group Vice President Of Marketing, was featured on the Glossy Beauty Podcast, where she talked about what led to the company’s impressive 250% gain over the previous year in the third quarter of 2020.

The foundation of that success was laid at the beginning of the year, as Guss explained when they set out to embrace “digital transformation” and set out to make more use of apps and technology:

“Starting in January, we had a pretty extensive brand relaunch that we were in the throes of. The tagline was all around ‘unleash your potential.’ And really, it was about modernizing the brand, showcasing to consumers that we will deliver the confidence they needed to DIY at home.”

They also were gearing up to deliver the tech that made it possible to shop at home with the launch of ColorView that uses AI to show shoppers how hair colors and makeup would look on them on a mobile app.

“So, we had a lot of things in the works that we had just started when the pandemic hit,” Guss observed. “What we had to do was be nimble.”

The brand’s directive was: “‘How do we meet customers the way they need to shop?”

While they were on track with options already, Guss said, “We also accelerated a bunch of things from a digital and omnichannel perspective.” That included options like “Ship-from-store and BOPIS [buy-online, pick-up in-store] recently, so in case you don’t want to go into the store, you have that option.”

Social media also became very important, not just to reach out to customers but even for what they call “digital education” for salon pros who earn credits for the courses. They made us of various channels, not just the usual Instagram and with entry into TikTok but even podcasts, which Guss observes, “Have really exploded.”

The key to connecting with the socially distanced customer

When you can’t draw customers into your store, you need to meet the customers where they are. In 2020, that meant not just getting the products directly to them via D2C but making full use of digital channels to keep them informed and engaged. Even businesses that already had the delivery pathways in place had to make sure their marketing delivered, as well.

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