How Direct-to-Consumer Brands are Changing the Marketplace - and What All Small Companies can Learn from Them


Trendy new direct-to-consumer brands seem to pop up every week: companies like Glossier that sell cosmetics directly to consumers, skipping the traditional drugstore/department store middleman. Where brands once depended on distributors and re-sellers, new startups are beginning to realize they have all the technology and tools they need to build their brand independently.

So let's look at what small local businesses and online entrepreneurs can learn from these Warby Parker-style brands.

Adweek published a terrific overview this week that pulls four big ideas that all marketers can apply. It's worth reading the full article, but I wanted to focus on my favorite one here: "They believe the brand is bigger than the product."

It's easy to see how some companies are lifestyle brands because they sell a wide range of life-enhancing products. But these new companies' product lines tend to be pretty limited. Glossier has way fewer products than Cover Girl. Harry's shaving-product line is frankly plain. And even Warby Parker only sells glasses, where as other glasses labels sell clothing and accessories too. 

But even though these companies have lase-focused product offerings, they have the mindset of a lifestyle brand. 

Harry's targeted not just males, not just millennial males, but a very specific demographic of hipster millennial male. Does that mean they weren't open to other customers within their general demographic? Older men, blue-collar young men? Not at all - but by focusing on a very small pool of consumers, they were able to tailor their marketing to be a perfect fit for those buyers.

Glossier isn't going after all cosmetics buyers. I doubt there's much overlap in their client base with MAC loyalists. But that's ok. Through aggressive social media marketing, Glossier has set itself of as the lip balm/eyebrow gel provider for a certain cool girl in her late 20s/early 30s. 

It doesn't matter how small you are, you can become a lifestyle brand. It will take work though - both visionary dreaming, and disciplined focus. If you're selling to pet products to pet owners, shift your marketing focus from the product to the pet owner...who will your products help, who will find them cute, or practical. Then build your brand around those pet owners' lifestyle. In the beginning stages it's temping to promote yourself as a generalist. More people will eventually discover your brand, but by the time the general public is aware of your name, your brand will have a lot more equity if you have a small tribe of ideal customers living the lifestyle your brand represents.