“You must watch them. You must know them. You must partner with them.”
That was the message that IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg delivered about direct brands in his recent address introducing the “IAB 250 Powered by Dun & Bradstreet” report. He added that the report should serve as a “cheat sheet” for the entire marketing-media ecosystem to learn how direct brands were altering consumer markets, and to help others in the consumer-brand value chain evolve to meet all brands’ and consumers’ shifting needs and desires.
In a previous blog post, we aligned Rothenberg’s message with that of our Top 25 Digitally Native Vertical Brands report of 2017. One of the major trends we noticed in these brands is their increased engagement on social media. As we noted, digitally native vertical brands have a deep understanding of what inspires their community, and they curate user-generated content to further brand image and reach, offer social proof for products, and welcome customers to engage with their brands.
While we join the IAB in congratulating all the brands that made their list, below are four who are leveraging consumer photos and videos as a major part of their marketing strategies.
Founded in 2013, Madison Reed is an “online hair color company built on integrity, innovation, and love.” One of many digitally native vertical brands making the shift to brick and mortar, they opened two physical locations, called Color Bars, last year and have plans to expand to 25 by the end of 2019.
Randall Rothenberg highlighted Madison Reed as a brand defining content and storytelling in different ways during his IAB Annual Leadership Meeting address. He told of how he asked company Co-Founder & CEO Amy Errett about content, and she replied, “We’re all about content. In fact, all our customer support people are licensed cosmeticians.”
A company utilizing visual content in innovative ways, the brand developed software that could make recommendations based on photos uploaded by customers. They understand the importance of building community and listening to their consumers, and leverage social media to create lasting relationships. When asked about marketing channels recently, Errett told TechCrunch, “Facebook and Instagram continue to be great for us and we work hard at cultivating our image on both.”
Below are some examples of how Madison Reed collects, curates, and publishes content from their community, both on their site and in email.
American Giant’s legendary rise from being known as creators of the “best hoodie known to man” to a company giving top retailers a run for their money is a true “direct brand” success story.
“When the company was launched in 2012, it was based on the belief in the validity of U.S. manufacturing and the supply chain,” founder and chief executive officer, Bayard Winthrop told WWD. “The object was to create the next great American brand. The challenge was to strike the right balance between quality and price without deviating from our standard of only using U.S. production.”
Spending little on traditional marketing, the brand relies heavily on word-of-mouth and social media. Encouraging consumers to share their photos right on the brand’s homepage, as well as on product pages, goes a long way in maintaining the direct connectivity consumers have come to expect today. AG also leverages consumer content across shoppable galleries and in other channels, such as email.
When Cotopaxi, an adventure gear and apparel company based in Salt Lake City, launched three years ago, selfies and social media were a huge component of their launch strategy. Chief Executive Officer Davis Smith told Bloomberg, “We bought two llamas on Craigslist and brought them to a bunch of college campuses around Utah,” he says. “Hundreds of students took selfies, so we had 30,000 social media posts by the end of that first day.”
True to the nature of “direct brands to watch”, Cotopaxi is dedicated to empowering the people who make their gear, building lasting relationships, and ensuring their products come to life under fair, sustainable working conditions. According to Smith, they are “changing the supply chain for the better.” Cotopaxi also uses social media to drive marketing and relevance, and stages massive adventure race events that contribute to their thriving community.
Below we see how Cotopaxi uses shoppable consumer content across social galleries and product detail pages.
Gwynnie Bee is a subscription fashion business for plus-size women who can rent clothes for a monthly fee. Consumers pick their items from the e-closet on the Gwynnie Bee website, and the theory is that women will choose items a bit riskier to rent than they might buy. Sometimes those are the garments that don’t sell as easily for brands, so Gwynnie Bee opens a new channel for the distribution.
As with many of the Direct Brands to Watch, Gwynnie Bee relies on heavily on the data they collect when their customers choose clothes. Christine Hunsicker, founder and C.E.O. told Forbes, “In order to run this business well and provide a service that delivers value to our members, we have to continue to make data and technology the center. For example, we collect incredible amounts of feedback and we use that to predict the optimal inventory buying and allocation, and to drive our fit, discovery, and recommendation algorithms.”
Finding inspiration in the photos their members share using #ShareMeGB, the brand makes looks shoppable on Instagram and places an emphasis on driving community participation.