DTC Brands: Have No Fear, You Can Survive Without Facebook!

Break the Facebook, oops, we mean Meta habit? Why would any Direct-to-Consumer brand want to do that? As it turns out, there may be a lot of reasons.

If only Pets.com had launched in 2020! The sock puppet would have been a DTC hit.

First, the facts: the last decade has been great for DTC brands. Social media powerhouses Facebook and Instagram have empowered a new generation of online brands to engage their customers with the type of targeted precision that would be unthinkable in previous eras. This type of social media marketing may not have the glitz and glamour of Mad Men, but for data nerds (and venture capitalists), it’s been nirvana.

As a result, largely online DTC retailers like Warby Parker are succeeding in ways that the prior generation of online retailers failed. (Remember Pets.com? That sock puppet-powered brand may have had a very different outcome if it launched during the Facebook-powered DTC era!) But while times are still undeniably good for savvy social media marketers, there are storm clouds ahead for DTC brands.

Is Facebook Facing an Existential Threat?

Before we move on to how DTC brands can live without Facebook – or at least rely less on the social media giant – let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Facebook just changed the name of their company to Meta. Why do companies change their name and completely rebrand? It’s often done to solve problems, and this is no exception.

The New York Times details it pretty well. Basically, Mark Zuckerberg is young and not interested in retiring any time soon. And it’s safe to say he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his career managing a platform that repels young people, filled with toxic political screeds. Instead, he’s making a pivot to VR. Will it work? We can’t envision anyone over 40 strapping on VR goggles and spending hours in the Zuckerberg Metaverse. But younger generations may love it, which is exactly his intention.

Regardless of the name change, Facebook is facing an “existential threat” to its business model – and that impacts DTC brands who put significant marketing efforts into the platform.  The #1 Facebook threat right now: Apple’s recent announcement that iOS 14 “generally requires apps to request permission for any kind of tracking.” Tracking customers across sites and apps is kind of the business model of the entire Internet, including Facebook – but Apple now lets consumers opt out of tracking. Is Apple is doing this out of a genuine concern for privacy? Or is it a way to eat into Meta’s profits? Probably a bit of both. Either way, this means Facebook may not be the unicorn that DTC brands can ride to profit-land anymore.

Facebook is concerned about its future. And so are many DTC marketers. Which is why we are here to help smooth the transition for you if and when you decide to break the Facebook habit.

5 Ways DTC Brands Can Break the Facebook Habit
(hint—we saved the best for last)

So you’re convinced that advertising on a platform facing threats from all sides may not be the best long-term solution. But as a DTC brand, what else can you do? Well, lots.

1. Make Sure Your DTC Brand Online Reviews Are Stellar: A while back we  wrote about the critical importance of online reviews. It’s truer now than the day we wrote it—and it was very true then. (Stats don’t lie…)

    • 97% say consumer reviews factor into their buying decisions
    • 92% of consumers hesitate to make a purchase if there are no customer reviews
    • 73% say written reviews make more of an impression on them than star/number ratings
    • 94% typically read written reviews

      Positive online reviews are DTC gold.

2. Improve Your Search Engine Optimization: In a DTC online ecosystem where your Facebook feed isn’t everything, you’re going to need to make sure your customers and prospects can find you the “natural way”…via online search results. That’s where SEO comes in. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is defined as “a set of practices designed to improve the appearance and positioning of web pages in organic search results.” Basically, you want your web content to be engaging for people, and easy to find for googlebots. And in a world where fewer people are using Facebook, making your DTC content easier to find on the web is critically important.

As Dave Alvarez, S3’s Digital Strategist puts it, “Generally, people use search to seek specific solutions and fortunately, taking your first steps on the path towards good SEO is pretty intuitive. Ask yourself: Who is my audience and what are they searching for? How would they describe their interest or the problem they’re looking to solve in their own words?  Effectively connecting those insights with your content—and ultimately the solutions or products you offer—will lead your DTC brand marketing to ongoing SEO success.”

3. Consider Direct Mail: Direct mail may not be the sexiest of mediums. In fact, it’s on the shortlist for the least cool advertising channel out there. (Although we have created some pretty awesome direct mail pieces for some of our clients…) But a new generation of direct mail is changing the way people think about this most traditionally old-school tactic. We get way less snail mail than digital mail. And while people may not read every single envelope that arrives in their mailbox, this survey shows that “Direct mail is the most effective channel for reaching the C-Suite.” Does that mean they’re going to look at your postcard? Maybe not. But as part of an integrated multichannel campaign that includes real personalization—not just someone’s name—it can generate real results. And direct mail isn’t just for CEOs! DTC brands are adding catalogs to the mix – and they’re seeing results, especially when paired with digital efforts.

4. Bring Creativity Back: Many DTC brands who previously saw great bottom line gains from smart social media targeting are seeing that they can no longer rely on technology as the primary driver of their results. Instead, brands that are embracing creativity – differentiating themselves in a way that is authentic to them and relevant to their target customers, and then executing around that differentiation – are rising to the top. (If you want to know more about brand differentiation, our all-time favorite topic, click here.) This is an approach that Don Draper would have embraced, had Mad Men been set in the era of social media. Take Squatty Potty – a DTC brand that has embraced creative marketing since its inception and continues to do so. (We loved their April Fool’s joke last year.) That sort of thinking is an approach that consumers can really get behind, so to speak…and it breaks through the digital clutter with the human element. After all, we’re marketing to humans, right?

5. Make a Game of It: Last but definitely not least, if you’re looking to really engage DTC customers and prospects in a way Facebook never could, consider a customized video game. Just how large is the video game industry? Even a quick google search yields startling 2021 results:

    • the film industry is roughly at $17.4 billion
    • TV production, including streaming, is coming in around $46.5 billion
    • video games are estimated to be at $66.9 billion! That’s right. Video games are bigger than movies and TV combined. According to S3’s chief creative officer Adam Schnitzler, “Branded gamified experiences can be incredibly sticky for your current and potential customers. People who engage with your brand at this level are going to remember your message in a way they never could from an ad alone.” Is it easy? No. But when you achieve the right level of brand experience – heavy on the experience with just the right amount of brand – the level of message recall is unparalleled. 

The global gamification market is projected to grow from $9.1 billion in 2020 to $30.7 billion by 2025, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27.4%! It’s also expected to continue driving recruitment and training programs, particularly for remote teams. Over 54% of new hires are being highly productive after undergoing a gamified training program. DTC powerhouses like custom haircare brand Function of Beauty have seen success gamifying the customer journey, providing a personalized quiz as the first thing customers see when visiting their site.

What’s Your Facebook Status? (It’s Complicated, We Know)

Not everyone is ready to say goodbye to the social media behemoth that has become an intrinsic part of our lives. However, with changes in privacy accessibility, consumer mindsets, and even legal trends, DTC brands simply cannot rely on Facebook to deliver the way they used to. If you’re a DTC brand that has found new ways to reach the market, let us know so we can share them here! And if you’re a DTC brand that needs help breaking the Facebook habit, send us an SOS. We’re here to help.