Selling is always a challenging and strategic consideration. When manufacturers decide to go direct to consumer (DTC) and by-pass a long-established channel there are a number of brand-related concerns to consider.
The key is to maintain brand integrity as you expose your company and products directly to consumers.
So, what is brand integrity?
Your brand is what people think you are. This includes the perception of your values and mission and is highly influenced by customer experience. Brand, in this context, goes beyond your logo.
Integrity means consistent, whole, undivided, principled, upright.
Brand integrity then refers to consistently maintaining the brand that you have built.
When dealing more closely with consumers, companies open themselves up to more risk. As consumers have a more direct relationship, they have more knowledge of a company and their experiences with that company will impact how they perceive the brand.
The good news is that this gives industrial manufacturers the opportunity to control the experience that consumers have with their brand. This means that there is an opportunity to add value and create a competitive advantage. The more value you can create, the more opportunity you will have for increasing your profitability.
The key is to maintain your brand integrity and create exceptional experiences.
The three key recommendations to strategically approach brand integrity are related to your target persona, internal collaboration, and measuring for success.
Understand your target persona
You need to understand who your target customers are and why they would buy directly from you. The needs of the persona are critical to understand before you make certain promises in your marketing.
- what issues do you solve
- what about your product makes their world better
- what does a great experience look like to them
- what about their current situation sucks
It is never just a matter of cutting out a channel layer. There has to be a compelling reason in the mind of the buyer as to why they would buy from you directly.
For example, the DTC mattress companies recognized that the existing buying experience for a mattress was not very good. You had to go to a big-box store, pick from one of many options with no hope of understanding the differences beyond price and how it felt to lay down on it for a few seconds, risk paying too much, all while dealing with a less-than-helpful salesperson. Plus this process was time-consuming.
By selling DTC mattress companies offer an easy experience at home, lots of social proof for their claims, free shipping, and a money-back guarantee. Mush easier and more fun to boot.
You must make sure everyone understands their role in delivering a great customer experience and are not just thinking of delivering the product.
We recommend service agreements between departments that document all handoffs and expectations. If your marketing promises 24 hour delivery the logistics team needs to agree that is possible, the order management system must communicate relevant information quickly and accurately, and your shipping partners must be on board.
Companies should consider cross-department collaboration between supply chain and logistics managers and marketing and customer service managers. The goal is to look at all delivery options, such as final mile, and work with logistics services providers to create the delivery experience your DTC customers expect.
Agree on what you will measure to track your success
Everyone understands to be sure you measure what you can improve and then use the information gathered to get better. The key to brand integrity is to make sure what you measure what is valuable to your customer. Your ultimate goal is that your customer is successful and then measure and track that information. Then you can use this information as the basis for your marketing campaigns in a self-reinforcing loop.
Selling DTC means you should have a specific plan to produce user-generated content like reviews, ratings, and stories where the user tells their story of your product. Tracking how your customers tell others about you is the ultimate feedback. Even if it is negative you have the option to show that you care by helping them make the situation right, but you have to be aware and looking and ready to respond.
If you want to move towards DTC and have a plan to protect your brand reputation you have the chance to enjoy some significant benefits.
● You now control the buying process and customer experience
● You have the chance to know the customer more intimately
● You can build stronger relationships with buyers
● You can be more targeted in your outreach
● You should see increased profitability
● You can offer to help in other ways leading to increased revenue with existing customers with a lower cost of sales
Get a Copy of Todd's Book, "Inbound Organization"
On the flip side of benefits there are some problems that could arise from NOT protecting your brand integrity. The biggest downside is the lack of experience/talent/expertise in marketing DTC. Companies may make assumptions about customers that are not true if they are not experienced in working with end-users. This creates a risk that the DTC effort will miss the mark and fall flat leaving the previous channel alienated and unlikely to commit to re-engaging on a meaningful level.
DTC is a shift from a production/product/output/efficiency focus to a customer focus which more about the entire experience the buyer has with your product.
This risk and associated missteps result in wasted time and resources leading to loss of brand integrity which turns all of the possible good things like profit, lifetime value, attraction, and retention going the other way.
Think about Glassdoor. Are you dealing with social media complaints, bad reviews, poor ratings? Are you ready for this if you go DTC?
How about things like returns? Do you have expertise and systems to do this well or have you relied on the channel to handle this?
DTC is a business-wide decision and it impacts every person in the organization. Be prepared by creating a mission, culture, and strategy that everyone buys into before you try DTC. If you do you have the opportunity to create immense value for your buyers and for your stakeholders and develop a defensible competitive advantage.