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The next era of DTC is ‘direct-to-community’

Retailers can delight customers by identifying and building communities with social media.

As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, one of the most important learnings about commerce is that people want to shop their values and build more genuine relationships with businesses.

According to Meta Foresight research, over half of consumers globally now say it is very important to them that the brands they buy support the same values they believe in. To address this trend we’re businesses seeing businesses embrace a new phenomenon in e-commerce that we call direct-to-community. It’s an extension of direct-to-consumer strategies focused on authenticity and an opportunity for any size business to build stronger relationships with their customers.

Find and build your community
Both COVID-19 and changes to the advertising ecosystem have limited businesses' ability to reach customers. As a result, they are evolving product development, segmentation and marketing strategies to better resonate with customers.

By using ads and social tools like photos, groups, live videos and comments, businesses are able to identify their most loyal customers and develop products that meet their communities’ needs and wants. If brands might have once prioritized the widest possible audience and biggest addressable market, in the era of “direct-to-community,” they’re engineering authenticity and virality into their product development and growing from the bottom up.

Bylt Basics, a southern California-based menswear retailer, does this really well. Bylt nurtures their community of customers with a mix of Facebook Shops, messaging, Reels and personalized ads. Insights from these tools allow Bylt to quickly iterate marketing strategy.

For example, when customers were tagging their new shorts at the golf course on Instagram, Bylt found new customers and increased sales by focusing their ads strategy on a golfing audience. They’re posting Reels from behind the scenes at warehouse sales. And their comments and direct messages tipped them off to a new opportunity they hadn’t explored: clothes for women and children, so that everyone in a family could wear matching outfits.

Be agile and think like a creator
Just like creators, brands today are keeping their audiences engaged with a compelling calendar of personalized ads, organic content and new products. Instead of looking at social media as a separate channel, they’re focusing on a holistic customer experience that brings a community of customers back for more. 

For example, suppose a brand has an advertising campaign highlighting a seasonal collection. On Monday they may host a live video Q+A to talk about their commitment to their brand values and on Wednesday drop a limited edition product for their superfans. On Friday, the line is launched, and on Saturday, they repost reactions to it.

These moments and behaviors are not separate from each other. By making it easy to discover a new product and make a purchase at the moment of inspiration, brands create a more compelling experience for people and optimize for sales.

Consumer research tells the same story. According to a Salesforce survey, almost 80% of global consumers say that the experience a company provides is as important as its product or services. Indeed, Gen Z shoppers are increasingly craving inclusivity and authenticity from brands. According to Meta research, 41% say that when a brand posts content it makes them feel like part of the brand’s community and 29% say they feel a closer connection to brands that offer an inside look at their business.

The big shift in this new era of direct-to-community is brands recognizing that: communities don’t live on e-commerce sites; they live and thrive on social media. No one’s sense of identity is being formed and celebrated in their online shopping cart. In social media’s blended experience, where qualitative and quantitative data guides product development and marketing, brands can unlock new opportunities for growth, while still owning the customer relationship.

Creators can be criticized for the content they share when reviewing products, participating in trends or giving people a view into their day-to-day life. What this criticism misses however is that: creators aren’t just sharing content, they’re sharing stories.

They’re saying: this is who I am, this is my world, where I come from, and this is what I love. In this new era of direct-to-community marketing, brands need to do the same. Social media isn’t just a platform, it’s a language for sharing identity and finding community. If brands can speak with an authentic voice, they will find their audience, and scale from there.

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