How do Direct-to-consumer brands talk to their customers?

Updated: May 21, 2020

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

As the name suggests, direct-to-consumer brands (D2C) are brands which bypass wholesalers, third-party retailers and other middlemen — selling products directly to consumers. This gives these brands full control over how they build relationships with their customers, which means that in terms of marketing, the options are limitless.

Curious about how direct-to-consumer brands marketed to their consumers, we selected 4 brands (Casper, Dollar Shave Club, Harry’s and Warby Parker) to study.

Running images and text content from their social feeds through our Cultural AI, we found that the top three emotions detected in these brands’ images were Creativity, Affiliation and Affection.

The different shades of Creativity…

Harry’s merry shavers

These brands opted for playful product shots, setting the otherwise mundane, everyday objects they were selling (e.g. shavers) against colourful backdrops or interesting models.

For example, skimming through the colours present in the Harry’s shavers instagram feed, we see the shavers placed against bright backgrounds of orange, green, blue and yellow.

While shavers connote utility, the experimentation with colours, composition and props allows for the overriding of the primary “utility” feel, instead re-branding it with connotations of fun and play.

From arranging tubes of shaving cream in a haphazard way with blobs of cream spattered on the background surface, to angling shaving blades on platforms as if they were toy figurines, Harry’s shavers are positioned in a lively manner — far from the stoic Gillette shaver ads we think of when we think of shavers.

Warby Parker and Casper’s Attack of the Cute

D2C brands are leveraging 21st century prestige symbols on the net when curating their social feeds, and cute pets are one of them. Pictures of dogs have a certain prestige status on social networking sites: they connote innocence, fun, and cuteness, and elicit joy in viewers. They’re comfortably in the category of “safe bets” — a surefire way to get positive reception.

In our data sets of images from D2C brands Warby Parker and Casper, we observed quite a few images of products with dogs as models next to them, adding the cute factor to their feeds.

Dollar Shave Club’s comic strip joy

Another instance of creativity would be the introduction of elements of entertainment into the brand’s feed.

The Dollar Shave Club’s feed is peppered with 2x2 cartoon comic squares, which give readers something to bear connotations of fun and perhaps nostalgia — taking viewers on a trip back down memory lane to the days where they might have spent hours reading superhero comics.

Affiliation and Affection: Borrowing the language of the Instagram Tweet Post

In humour and meme instagram accounts, a common type of content is the Tweet-as-an-Instagram-post format, where screenshots of tweets are posted on instagram as images.

In these posts, the image and text play complementary roles in a banter dynamic, where the caption text responds to text in the image - either to take the joke further or to serve up a comeback or witty comment poking fun at the tweet.

Viewers who follow these accounts feel let in on the conversation, but more than that, let in on the joke - which, in terms of rapport-building, being welcomed into the circle of sharing jokes indicates a certain level of closeness and belonging to the social circle.

Outside of the humour genre, other instagram accounts use the Tweet-as-an-Instagram-post format to post tweets that read like introspective musings.

What does it mean when brands adopt this style of content for their feeds?

In three out of four of the D2C brands we surveyed, posts displaying screenshots of tweets featured on their instagram feeds. Such posts are arguably their own genre of instagram content, and are especially used in humorous situations to establish rapport and relatability with viewers.

For starters, it shows the desire to level power dynamics in the brand-consumer interaction. On the level of explicit meaning, screenshots of tweets show the message, standard white background, and standard twitter font and layout.

On the level of the implicit, this twitter screenshot implies familiarity: it carries the broader meaning of relationship-building and affinity, it signals identifying the viewer as a confidante and friend, someone the sharer trusts to be a listener.

The way forward…

Where do we go from here? These codes of Creativity, Affiliation and Affection all indicate a shift in customer experience: customers are not made to feel as much of a distance between themselves and brand messaging.

Brands, both newcomers and household names, small or big, must embrace stepping closer to their audience - whether it’s through cute dog pics or a shift in tone.

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