How going direct-to-consumer can build defining value for brands

‘Defining value’ is what sets brands apart from the competition. It gives customers compelling reasons to believe in them, and to choose them. And one of the best ways to get that across is through a direct-to-consumer strategy. Need proof? Our last article was full of it.

Here, we outline six ways a direct-to-consumer business model can deliver meaningful experiences that embody your brand ethos.

1. De-commodify your product

Selling via wholesalers alone puts your products in constant competition with comparable ones –both on shop floors and e-comm screens. And just as problematic,  if they’re perched at higher price points, perception of their worth can suffer.

Direct-to-consumer retail experiences mean you take control of this crucial moment; moving the conversation away from price and towards the other benefits – like the simple joy of owning a better product.

One great example is the premium hosiery brand Heist. The brand retails exclusively through its own channels, so it’s able to control the conversation and explain exactly why its tights are worth upwards of a tenner a leg. (If they were side-by-side the competition on a rack? Maybe not so much.)  The approach they’ve taken gives them the freedom to develop a distinctive, engaging voice in what might seem at first glance to be a price-comes-first category.

2. Showcase an innovation pipeline

Announcing a brand’s innovations – even before they are ready for market – can build serious hype and put it ahead of the competition in people’s minds. And direct-to-consumer channels are perfect for getting that content out. They let brands promote their own hype-raising content in ways that engage and support purchase decisions – today and tomorrow.

Dyson’s latest store concept does this perfectly. It’s designed to get customers road testing models early and showcases the science and engineering behind each Dyson model. Essentially, the stores make light work of justifying the often considerable difference in price.

Of course, in this realm there is but one master: Apple. Their in-store events and training sessions help customers see how their lives will be all the better for a purchase. A purchase that probably costs more than a PC alternative. While you can try to bridge the price gap in a multi-brand retail space – and there are some clever examples –  it’s still unlikely to pack the same punch. People’s eyes do tend to wander.

3. Convey a brand’s purpose and ethical stance

A holistic brand experience, one that reflects its wider purpose and beliefs at every touchpoint, gives a purchase meaning and motivates conversion.

Research by EY shows that – surprise, surprise – younger people are more willing to buy products with an ethical stance. It’s the primary factor influencing purchase for 41% of 25-34 year olds and over a third of Gen Zs will pay up to 20% more for a responsibly-sourced product, compared to just 17% of Gen X.

As Gen Zs get older, tipping into their next life stage, earning their trust and loyalty through commendable eco-practice is a compelling reason to invest in direct-to-consumer retail experiences. A whole vanguard of modern, purpose-led names are already responding to those exact needs – Everlane, Reformation, Patagonia, Lush, Rapha, The Outsiders. No surprise: none is all that focused on wholesale.

4. Endorse Influencer Marketing

It’s 2018 and by now we all know what influencer marketing is, but direct-to-consumer brands are showing us how to make it work. By controlling the selling environment – whether store or e-commerce site – they can engineer content sharing to perfectly support their efforts. Fashion brands, like Missguided and The Couture Club, celebrate and amplify their influencers’ style by featuring their content in-store, tying the store, the Instagram content and the shopping feed together.

Direct-to-consumer experiences that promote their social superstar ambassadors to the fullest have a honey-pot effect for their followers.

5. Build a community

In our last article, we saw how direct-to-consumer marketing initiatives like Nike’s snkrs platform and Rapha’s Cycle Club have built living, breathing communities around their brands . Although only a small fraction of Nikes’ sales is made through snkrs, it’s an approach that delivers another kind of value – i.e. affiliation with a bunch of trend-forward sneakerheads who are spreading the word, and wearing the shoes.

The halo effect of initiatives like these is invaluable. Especially for brands relying heavily on wholesale environments over which they have little control. Community building platforms drive awareness, build loyalty and support other channels, driving web traffic and footfall.

6. Make it all personal

If personalised experiences were expressed as a venn diagram, they’d exist in overlap between ‘Instinct’ and ‘Data’. Direct-to-consumer experiences let brands collect the kind of data needed to offer personalised services and experiences that people increasingly expect.

Both physical and digital channels can play a powerful role here. As a start-up, going direct has proven invaluable for premium hosiery brand Heist, because it gives them a hotline to customer feedback and allows them to have direct conversations via Facebook, its own blog and website.

Going even further, premium Italian footwear brand, M. Gemi, has designed its stores to operate as ‘data troves’. The data accessed about customers’ online to offline journeys allow it to tailor the experience for those who shop across both channels. Sales Associates use apps to track products customers try on or purchase – giving the brand real-time feedback. Crucial considering it lands new designs in its stores every week.


At Start, we help brands create direct-to-consumer strategies and experiences. Starting with the customer, we work from the outside in, to understand their needs and how they currently see and interact with a brand. We then work from the inside out, using this insight to understand how these strategies can solve problems and improve their customer experience.

To talk to Start Design about how we can help your business adapt at the pace of change register your details below.

Want to talk to someone now? email or call Will Hawkins directly on +44 (0)7834620555

Kevin Gill Retail Director, Start