Consumer shopping habits are changing, and companies are having to adapt to stay competitive.
In the past, shoppers were content purchasing branded goods only from distributors and retailers. Not anymore. According to recent studies, 55 percent of shoppers prefer to shop directly with brand manufacturers over retailers.
This evolution has created a rather challenging opportunity for branded manufacturers. Many are shifting their sales strategies from a retailer-distributor model to a direct-to-consumer one. For most companies, this shift has become a necessity rather than a luxury, notes Ryan Parker, marketing designer at ParkerWhite.
The reward for making this pivot is that brands are able to build direct relationships with consumers to engender loyalty. The hurdles involve changing the business model and creating a marketing strategy to support the new sales strategy and align with consumer shopping habits.
Why Social Media Is so Important to a DTC Sales Strategy
Social media is one of the most powerful tools of a DTC strategy. Social media platforms allow companies to talk directly to consumers at any time, not just when they are actively shopping.
And this is not a one-sided push by companies. Consumers are showing an interest in interacting with brands on social media.
- Sprout Social also reports that 3 in 10 (31%) adults used social media more in 2021 to follow brands.
- Sprout Social found that 57 percent of people follow brands on social media to learn about new products or services.
- According to the latest Sprout Social Index, nine out of 10 consumers will buy from brands they follow on social.
- 71% of consumers ranked social media as very influential in purchasing decisions.
- 77% of consumers will choose a brand over a competitor after a positive experience with that brand on social media.
Numbers like that prove the need for social media in a DTC strategy. Companies need to assess their DTC strategies and see how social media can best be utilised. The next section dives into how companies can align their social media profile to a DTC sales strategy.
How to Align Social Media with Direct-to-Consumer Strategy
In general, social media drives a DTC strategy in four key ways:
- Supporting the personalised customer experience
- Collecting consumers’ data for customising content
- Creating opportunities for selling on social media
- Facilitating customer service
Make It Part of the Personalised Customer Experience
Consumers are spending more time shopping online, and, according to Accenture, 68 percent of consumers demand a consistent shopping experience, regardless of channel. “Providing a consistent customer experience is key to ensuring people continue to interact with your brand,” advises Ben Phillips, senior social strategist at Hootsuite.
Today’s consumers interact with brands on social media multiple times a day. This means companies cannot afford to ignore the importance of social media in creating a consistent shopping experience.
Companies need to maintain consistency in messaging and branding on social channels when adopting a social strategy that compliments DTC. But where social media really stands out for DTC is its ability to reach consumers directly and immediately with customised content.
There are endless tactics to personalising content on social media based on consumer expectations and company strategy. Here are some examples of ways that companies can utilise social media in DTC sales:
- Promote a sale on items targeted to specific consumer demographics, with an immediate call to action. Peter Millar, co-founder of marketing agency DMcropCX, stresses that this type of offer needs to be special, not generalised like free shipping.
- Have contests in which the reward is a new item valued by the customer. This gets consumers engaging with the brand and provides an opportunity for feedback on a new product.
- Supply videos that address consumer pain points or highlight product specifications and uses.
Most important when devising the social media strategy is to create a presence on the right platforms. Then, DTC brands need to ensure the content is relevant to the expectations of customers on that platform. One reason a social strategy fails is that companies prioritise the wrong platforms, says Betsy McLeod, digital marketer at Blue Corona. She emphasises the importance of understanding how to use each social channel and what content performs best on those channels.
Analyse Social Media Data for Consumer Insights
In order to personalise the customer experience, companies must understand their customers. Where businesses fail, notes Jon Clark, CEO of Fuze SEO, is never understanding the buyers who are most interested in their products. Social media data can help provide the information needed to create personalised experiences.
Not only can companies collect vital demographic information from social users, they can also collect data on consumer attitudes and behaviours. Marta Buryan, content marketer at Socialbakers, suggests companies run an audience analysis on each social channel where they have a presence. Analysis should include a look at demographics, likes and interests, social media activities, page affinities, followed influencers and customer journey stage.
This type of information gives companies a deeper look at, and better understanding of, their audiences and consumer shopping habits. This is the knowledge that can help companies communicate with those customers on a more personal level.
But a word of caution: Companies should not gather more data than they can analyse and utilise. Meltwater’s Jenny Force warns that companies can’t reasonably keep track of everything and must decide what data matters most. That, she says, will depend on each company’s goals.
Sell Products Directly on Social Channels
Some of the most popular social media channels — Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest — allow companies to sell products on the platform. A 2022 Hootsuite report claims that there are over 4.62 billion social media users worldwide. For DTC brands, numbers that big create a huge market of potential social media shoppers.
Alex York, senior SEO specialist at Sprout Social, emphasises the importance of a straightforward buying process. The process must easily move from social networks to shopping pages. If the sales funnel is complicated by several clicks and on-page searches, the buyer will likely abandon the shopping experience.
Social media platforms are helping create that simplified buying process. For example, Facebook Marketplace allows companies to sell items in their specific geographic area. Instagram allows companies to place “Shop Now” buttons on their products, which directs the consumer to a check-out landing page. And Pinterest has “Buyable Pins” that allow users to go directly to a website to purchase the item.
And these streamlined purchase processes are exactly where consumer shopping habits are trending.
By setting up social commerce options, companies add value and convenience for their customers. The results are stronger brand-customer relationships, says Matt D’Angelo at Purch.
Expand Accessibility for Exceptional Customer Service
Customers expect to be able to easily reach a company, especially with problems or issues with a product or service. DTC businesses need to be accessible on multiple channels to provide the level of customer service that consumers expect. Heightened service is especially true as so many shoppers use social media as part of their buying journey.
“Customer service and social media have melded together,” says Lindsay Patton-Carson, vice president of customer engagement at natural deodorant company PiperWai. “If your brand has social media profiles, you are absolutely going to have to perform customer service on social media.”
Sonia Gregory, owner of FreshSparks, shares best practices for companies that must incorporate customer service into their social media strategy:
- Respond quickly, not only to customer complaints, but also to general comments, questions and feedback.
- Decipher which issues should be resolved in public or private.
- Humanise the interaction by using names or initials.
- Respond to negativity with positivity.
- Use social media tools such as Hootsuite, Buffer, Sparkcentral and Mention to aid social listening and customer service efforts.
Using social media as a customer service tool is becoming increasingly significant for DTC companies. This is especially important as consumers are more reluctant to call phone numbers or fill out contact forms. Social media is more convenient, and, to the customers’ minds, more immediate because they expect a response right away.
Harness the Power of Social Media DTC
There are few marketing channels that allow a company to speak directly to a consumer in near-real time, 24/7. Social media is one of those tools, and it is especially powerful for companies that sell directly to consumers. To meet current consumer expectations, direct-to-consumer companies must carefully align their social media presences with their DTC strategies.
New consumer shopping habits are omnichannel and shoppers demand an exceptional experience. Learn how to expand your brand’s reach and improve customer loyalty with solutions from ESW. Contact an ecommerce expert today to get started.