Your brand will always need to invest in DTC customer acquisition, since you’ll always need an influx of customers. But it’s possible customers may no longer need you. It’s a harsh truth, but one you need to face.
Today, the average person sees up to 5,000 ads per day. On Amazon alone, a whopping 78% of searches are also unbranded, underscoring how an increasing number of shoppers are trying brands they’ve never heard of before.
In this hyper-competitive environment, it’s critical to invest in a solid customer acquisition strategy that keeps your brand front and center. Without one, you could be leaving money on the table and exposing prospects to the influence of your competitors.
This article breaks down what you need to know to create a customer acquisition plan. Keep these tips in mind as you consider the right mix of channels and tactics for your business.
Why you should invest in your direct-to-consumer (DTC) strategy
Selling directly to consumers is essential in today’s eCommerce climate. High competition and a multitude of sales channels necessitates having a direct line to your customers.
Here are just a few reasons why it’s so important to invest in DTC.
Own your customer relationship
When someone makes a purchase on a marketplace, the marketplace knows who the customer is, but doesn’t necessarily share that with sellers. There’s no way for you to contact that customer again, whether it’s to offer a new or similar product, or to get their feedback.
Having your own website means you control the customer relationship, and can capture their information. You open a direct line to your buyers so you can request reviews and ratings, learn what they like and don’t like about your items, and reach out for retargeting.
Customize your buyer experience
Marketplaces are optimized for purchase, no matter the brand. That means your listings will appear alongside your competitors’ and often be compared based on price.
When you have your own DTC website, you can customize your buyer experience. This includes featuring only your products and related SKUs to encourage higher cart values. You not only eliminate the competition from the consideration stage, you can also craft a buyer experience so enjoyable, it inspires brand loyalty.
Access additional acquisition and retention tactics
Marketplaces are strict about what you can offer and what you can request from buyers. For example, you may not be able to offer a discount or free gift in exchange for a review. However, on your own website, you can implement new acquisition and retention tactics.
For example, you can have a pop-up that offers 10% off for everyone who subscribes to your newsletter. That helps improve customer retention, since you can send customized product selections and announcements to your list. Or you can start a blog and rank in search engines to promote your website via SEO.
Diversify your revenue streams
Marketplace rules are constantly shifting, and most 3P sellers have little control over changes in policy. There’s always a risk of your listing being removed, your seller account being flagged or banned, and subsequent loss of revenue. For example, if an unhappy customer or competitor flags your company as fraudulent, you may have to stop selling until you resolve the issue and prove you’re a legitimate seller.
When you sell DTC, you diversify your revenue streams while investing in a sales channel that you own. That means there’s less risk of this sales channel being cut off. Even if a marketplace bans you, your revenue won’t drop to zero as customers can continue to purchase from you on your own store.
Reduce marketplace fees
Finally, there’s a direct monetary driver for having your own DTC channel: you avoid marketplace commissions and fees.
Many marketplaces charge a percentage of sales, which differ depending on the category. When selling directly to consumers, you bypass this fee, which means you keep more of your revenue.
Key components of a DTC acquisition strategy
There are several fundamental components of a DTC customer acquisition strategy that are meant to keep your brand running in the right direction.
Know your audience
Before you launch any strategy, you need to know who your customers are. A shocking number of businesses don’t spend enough time developing their buyer personas, and have a shallow understanding of their customers.
Knowing, for example, that your best customers are between the ages of 18 and 24, female, and live in urban areas is a decent start. Aside from that, what do your customers like to do? What do they value about products and/or brands like yours? Who in their circle influences their decisions?
The answers to all these questions will help you decide where to post your ads, how to frame your messages, and how to become an integral part of your customers’ lives. You may even discover secondary audiences in the process, like when Duck Brand learned some of its customers used their duct tape for decoration as opposed to repair ductwork.
Identify the right marketing channels
Beware of shiny object syndrome. Just because everyone and their mom seems to be on TikTok doesn’t mean your brand belongs there. Likewise, just because you can be on every social platform doesn’t mean you should.
Jumping the gun or committing to too many marketing channels at once are surefire ways to burn yourself out. Be strategic about your channel selection. Find out why your customers use certain channels and how often. For instance, even though your buyers may be on TikTok, perhaps they’re on it solely for comedic relief. Your ads for vitamins may therefore receive little engagement because they involve more serious, educational content.
Going one step further, you’ll need to analyze your own strengths and willingness to commit fully to new channels. In order for those platforms to work, you need to be ready to test, analyze, adapt, then test again on repeat. Do you have the bandwidth and discipline to do that?
Set the right budget
Needless to say, some acquisition channels cost more than others.
All of them require some sort of capital, even if it means just borrowing from the resources you already have (staff, tools, etc.). For this reason, you’ll want to know your expected budget up front.
Consult various resources, experts, and past reports if you’re not sure what that number will be. As you experiment with channels, keep track of your customer acquisition cost (CAC). This is the total of all of your sales/marketing costs divided by the number of customers gained over time.
CAC, alongside metrics like customer lifetime value (CLTV), will help you determine what’s working and what’s not.
Set your goals and timeline
You’ll need to give yourself descriptive goals and milestones to work towards. Instead of simply saying, “We want more website visitors,” come up with specific goals like, “We plan to get 10,000 more website visitors in three months, which should produce 250 new customers.”
It’s okay if your goals feel ambitious or slightly arbitrary at first. The purpose is to hold yourself accountable to a goal, which can be adjusted over time as you gather real data.
Aside from providing a sales number to target, your goals help you prioritize efforts and keep your team focused on the task at hand. While your team should know when to abort a mission (like when sales or costs reach dangerous levels), you should always strive to finish what you started, whether that means proving or disproving a hypothesis.
Know who (or what) needs to be involved
Assemble the right team members before the start of a campaign. Get team buy-in as well as time commitment so your efforts don’t stall in the execution stage. Remember to have a process for “managing up” and to anticipate (as well as invite) feedback from team members along the way.
Pro tip: To avoid endless rounds of revisions, give your team deadlines for feedback and clear instructions for the type of feedback you’re looking for. Sometimes the worst type of scope creep comes from the broad question, “Thoughts?”
Last, but not least, know what tools you’ll require ahead of time to achieve your goals. You may wind up needing more from the budget for new software, or extra time to learn a new system. It’s better to anticipate these needs before embarking on a campaign than to be surprised later.
10 DTC customer acquisition channels
Without further ado, here are nine strategies for acquiring new eCommerce customers. You certainly do not need to (and probably should not) tackle them all at once. However, each tactic can offer a unique benefit to your business.
1. SEO and blogging
Blogging is easy to start, but hard to maintain if you’re not prepared to invest in the long term. SEO practitioners will always tell you it can take up to six months for you to see the fruits of your labor — and for that to even happen, you’ll have to commit to consistent blogging and a strong keyword strategy.
If done well, however, a blog presents a huge opportunity to build your brand authority and to bring in organic site traffic day in and day out.
2. Organic social media
Social media is where word-of-mouth marketing occurs in the modern world. Just one viral post can put your brand on the map, while consistent engagement can help you build a loyal following.
Note that customers may already be turning to social media to complain about products, ask questions about your brand, perform research, or request other forms of support. They may also follow influencers in your space who could be great brand ambassadors, assuming they have a need for your products.
3. Brand partnerships
Brand collaborations are a powerful way to tap into new, established audiences. Just like with peer-to-peer recommendations or influencer marketing, a trusted brand can influence consumers to consider a new brand like yours.
There are many options in terms of brand partnerships: product collabs, co-hosted events, blog swaps, newsletter shout-outs, or all of the above.
As you consider other brands to partner with, make sure you can provide value in return; any marketing collaboration should be mutually beneficial.
4. Influencer sponsorships
Working with influencers delivers more for some industries than others, but if you find the right partnership and process, they can bring a continuous stream of customers for one sponsorship fee.
For example, if you’re in the beauty industry and sponsor a video by a well-known beauty blogger, that video has the potential to continue generating income as long as it appears in relevant search results on YouTube.
5. Google and social media ads
Paid social media or Google ads can yield more immediate results than organic tactics (albeit requiring close monitoring). However, targeting options are more limited than years prior due to privacy laws.
That said, you can still target keywords with high purchase intent and interests that get your brand in front of the right people. Another (generally cheap) type of advertising is retargeting, which involves targeting an existing list of leads and web visitors. Note: each channel has a threshold for how big your contact list needs to be before it can show them ads.
6. Webinars and events
Events let you engage with customers more closely and associate a friendly face with your brand. You can host live product demos or offer an in-person event related to their interest.
For example, if you sell workout gear, you could consider hosting a fitness class that incorporates your equipment.
Events allow you to collect contact information, engage customers in a fun way, and form deeper connections. Clips from these events can then be repurposed across your social accounts, blogs, or emails to spread brand awareness.
7. Email marketing
Email marketing goes hand in hand with both paid and organic acquisition tactics. With email, you can keep your brand top of mind and consistently engage prospects with content that’s tailored to their interests.
As an eCommerce brand, you also have the unique opportunity to use purchase-related messages (like email receipts, which get high open rates) to suggest other products or promos, as you would in a newsletter or drip emails.
8. Referral programs
Referral programs are a great way to nurture existing customers into brand ambassadors. They can be as simple or advanced as you want them to be.
For example, you can offer a discount prize in return for a referral, or launch a full-fledged loyalty program with various rewards for different actions.
Referral programs help you gain new customers as well as keep existing ones engaged and involved in your marketing.
9. Giveaways and contests
These limited-time events are often used to collect user-generated content (UGC) that can be displayed as social proof on your site.
You can ask customers to post a photo or video of them using your products for a chance to win a prize. Pair this with a hashtag or a “follow” campaign to glean even more ROI from your contest.
10. Host livestream shopping events
Live shopping is when you stream product demos live on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, then allow consumers to purchase from you on the stream. For example, you could be showcasing a new product release on Facebook Live, drop the link to the product if they want to purchase, and then answer any questions that come in on the stream as well.
This provides a more interactive experience for your customers and potential buyers, where they can see the product in action, ask any lingering questions, and interact with your brand directly.
Wrapping up: Build a DTC customer acquisition plan
Don’t wait around for your customers to seek out your brand. Proactively find and approach your consumers using a combination of the strategies above. There are countless tools, channels, and tactics you can choose from — don’t let them go to waste!