What startup businesses can learn from D2C

In today's digital age, where social media platforms reign supreme, the art of reaching and selling to customers has undergone a significant transformation.

Gone are the days of traditional marketing and sales tactics alone; instead, the focus has shifted towards building meaningful relationships and engaging with customers on a more personal level, usually more directly, and often using social media platforms.

This method of engagement – sell to your customers directly, normally via social media – has been one of the key success factors behind some of the innovative and often fast-growth direct to consumer (D2C) brands of the last few years – disruptor brands such as Freddy’s Flowers, Gymshark, Skin+Me, Lick, and Beauty Pie to name just a few. And whilst some might think of their approaches as a recent development, the origins of D2C go back a long way.

The early pioneers of D2C include some of the best-loved and well-known brands – think Avon, Tupperware, Ann Summers. And although the type of ‘social’ selling employed by such brands may seem like unfamiliar territory for the startup businesses of today, particularly those which offer offline services, there is much that can be learnt from them. Particularly when it comes to selling via social media platforms.

Ann Summers is a good example of D2C innovation, Jacqueline Gold, the company’s once Executive Chair having been instrumental in bringing some of the key D2C concepts into the mainstream UK business world. Fast forward to today and these types of brands are using influencers and affiliates to make direct sales from consumers having a quick scroll on one of the many social media platforms currently available. Such D2C approaches rely heavily on interpersonal relationships and word-of-mouth marketing, seeking out groups which could be brought together by shared interests. Such strategies offer valuable insights as to how startup brands can effectively gain momentum and leverage social media to support growth.

At the heart of social selling is the fact that people buy from people. D2C brands excel at supporting their (usually independent) salesforces and affiliates to craft compelling narratives that resonate – really resonate – with their audience, sparking genuine interest in their products or services. Salesforces working with established D2C brands such as Usborne Books, Oriflame, and Vorwerk are doing just that, creating relevant and compelling content that engages each specific customer group – whether that means sharing morning make up routines or filming a ‘clean with me’ video to demonstrate eco-friendly cleaning products.

Startups can take a page from their playbook by clearly defining and communicating engaging stories that showcase their uniqueness, their values, and the benefits of their offerings. By humanising their brand and connecting with customers on a personal or emotional level, startups can build trust organically and generate credibility as well as long-term relationships with their customers.

D2C brands tend to heavily invest both time and effort into cultivating genuine connections with their customers, getting to know their needs, preferences, and pain points. Startups can emulate this approach by actively engaging with their audiences on social media, responding to comments, and participating in conversations. By listening to their customers and addressing their concerns, startups can demonstrate their commitment to customer satisfaction and foster loyalty. Even better is if the business takes a comment on board and changes something, introduces something or delivers on a promise – shout about that on social! Many established brands don’t have the structure to be so nimble or flexible, it’s a startup superpower in effect. You’re listening and by listening and acting, you’re building trust and a loyal following.

Another key lesson that startups can learn from D2C is the importance of building a strong personal brand. D2C brands understand that people buy from people they know, like, and trust. By establishing themselves as trusted authorities in their field and cultivating a strong online presence, startup founders can position themselves as go-to experts within their industry – often regardless of company size. This not only attracts potential customers but also opens doors to valuable networking opportunities, brand building, and partnerships, or affiliate relationships.

One of the most powerful aspects of D2C is its ability to leverage the power of referrals and recommendations. D2Cs understand the value of word-of-mouth marketing and actively encourage their satisfied customers to spread the word. Startups can harness this same principle by incentivising their customers to share their positive experiences on social media. Whether through referral programmes, exclusive discounts, or special offers, startups can turn their customers into brand ambassadors, amplifying their reach and influence.

Finally, D2Cs excel at providing personalised customer experiences. They take the time to understand each customer's unique needs and preferences, tailoring their approach accordingly. Startups can adopt a similar mindset by leveraging data and analytics to segment an audience and deliver more targeted messaging. By delivering personalised content and offers that resonate with the audience, both engagement and conversions can be increased.

In conclusion, startup businesses have much to learn from the D2C world. By embracing the personal, using the art of storytelling, prioritising relationship-building, and leveraging the power of referrals and providing personalised customer experiences, startups can unlock the full potential of social media as a sales tool. Take inspiration from the strategies employed by D2Cs and pave the way for success in the digital age of selling.