There have a been a number of stories similar to this recent Adweek piece written about the rise of direct-to-consumer brands and the effect they’re having on the retail industry. In short, there’s a move toward buying directly from brands themselves as opposed to browsing big-box or department stores that bring a number of brands under one roof. As a recent CNBC story indicated, retail trends favor those who are online or outside the traditional mall footprint, something companies like Kohl’s are trying to be part of with new store concepts. I also think it’s at least partly why licensed toy sales are slumping while smaller, more niche toys seem to be doing pretty well.
This direct-to-consumer mentality is being felt in other areas of the economy as well. More and more media companies are launching their own streaming over-the-top subscription service, or have plans to do so in the near future. CBS has already made a splash with a service featuring top-tier content such as “Star Trek: Discovery” and “The Good Fight.” Disney has a service coming next year’s reported to include a live-action Star Wars series as well as updated versions of older movies and shows along with catalog material. The OTT market has tripled since 2013 and at the moment is an add-on to traditional cable and other subscriptions, not a replacement.
That’s because there’s little overlap in what’s offered. You can’t get “Game of Thrones” anywhere other than HBO and HBO Go, so you need to keep that even as you subscribe to CBS All Access for the new “Star Trek.” Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and even Apple know that they’re in danger of becoming the streaming equivalent of Sears – a place where you could get a little bit of a lot – and so all have invested heavily in their producing their own shows and movies.
The idea of cutting out the middleman has also been one of the guiding principles behind the concept of brand publishing in the last 15+ years. Why take the chance your corporate story won’t make the cut and be deemed worthy of media coverage when you can push out your message yourself and bring it directly to your customers and others?
Part of this trend is that even more than in the past, what you watch, buy and consume defines you as a person. As has been well-noted before, younger consumers in particular want to do business with companies that share their values. That’s indicative of a tighter connection between the consumer and the brand, one that makes individual decisions, choosing values over the convenience of having a number of brands under one roof. After all, the company you decide to align yourself with may not be one that makes the cut at your local Target or mall. Or it’s not one that is regularly covered in the paper.
A new Forrester report concludes that direct-to-consumer versus retail partnerships isn’t necessarily a binary decision. There are advantages to both brands can utilize while also experimenting with various approaches, leveraging the strengths of each while also giving consumers the most options possible. That finding is similar to how cutting press relations completely in favor of a corporate blog has never really been a good idea. Much better to balance the two in a way that makes sense and offers the most benefit to everyone.
Consumers are also signaling their desire for a more direct, intimate connect with brands when they support products, projects and more on Kickstarter, Patreon and other funding platforms. It’s not just that the promised perks and final creations look cool or useful, it’s that they want something unique that has a history behind it. They’ve taken the time to research the creator and deemed them worthy for personal reasons. There’s even a resurgence in niche food magazines that offer something more authentic and relatable that’s too narrow for the mainstream to cover. It’s the latest iteration in a movement that started with backroom-printed broadsheets, became fanzines and then blogs.
If you’re in marketing in *any* field, you need to be looking at how you can add direct-to-consumer strategies to your arsenals or work with those already doing so. It’s going to upset some apple carts, but it’s clear people are making more conscious consumption decisions. “Convenient” isn’t enough anymore and the fight isn’t, at least not totally, for limited store shelf space. Instead, it’s for the hearts and minds of consumers in a very literal sense.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.