Gillette Shows How to Get It Right When Going Direct to Consumer (DTC)


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Source: ThinkStock
Source: ThinkStock

When asked why a brand such as Nike would go DTC, here’s what Brian Yarbrough, a research analyst at Edward Jones had to say, “DTC allows them to control their own destiny, showcase product on their terms instead of the retailers, [and provides] a great avenue to test new product.”

Brand after brand is jumping on the DTC bandwagon, cutting out interference to a direct conversation with consumers. But, just “being there” is not enough to actually do DTC successfully.

Michael Kors recently announced the closing of up to 125 DTC stores due to significant declines in sales. Michael Kors Chief Executive John Idol commented that the brands’ difficulties stemmed from “a difficult retail environment with elevated promotional levels” and a product and store experience that had gotten a bit stale.

Taking the necessary steps to understand, and constantly re-evaluate, just what consumers want from their DTC interactions is the requirement all companies need to remember if they choose to make that shift.

Proctor & Gamble’s, Gillette brand re-launched its DTC program with a greater emphasis on meeting consumer demands. The newly repackaged, Gillette on Demand offering allows consumers to order their razor blades with just a text—or, no action at all via subscription. And notably, the company also took consumer sentiment and a changing market landscape to heart when deciding to lower its prices by 12%. Gillette spokeswoman Barbara Diecker commented, “We are fully aware of the challenges we are facing…”

Get the Fundamentals Right

A successful DTC strategy is based on one fundamental principle — listening to the voice of your ever-changing customers, trusting their wisdom and acting on it!

In the course of over 16,000+ hours of VoC research interviews conducted by our firm, ERDM, consumers told us repeatedly, that spray and pray marketing won’t cut it…engagement and communication has to be personalized, relevant and competitively differentiating;

  • Consumers perceive personalized engagement as essential. They believe that it forges strong ties with a company when there’s an almost-certain problem or outreach from competition.
  • In every communication method or channel with consumers, deepening relationships has to be the base upon which all other actions are based.
  • Customers evolve over time. They want brands to engage them to such a level that they opt-in to tell the brands about their changing needs and preferences so brands can change the value they provide and stay relevant and valuable.
  • Consumers do not want to be “marketed to.” This type of messaging is not perceived as differentiating or helpful.

Case in point, Nestlé, which traditionally has been reliant on retail channels for sales, announced that it will be seeking new DTC routes. According to CEO Ulf Mark Schneider, the company is now looking to establish “a direct channel of communication with our consumers… to be sure [customers] have the service levels, the communications, and sometimes even the direct sales.”

First Steps

So, as brands are rushing to go direct to consumers, what are the essentials before plunging in?

1. Recognize that being in front of your consumers is not the same as having a meaningful relationship with them.
In order for a DTC effort to be successful, it must be based on perceived value and relevancy. Melissa Parish, VP and research director at Forrester noted, “brands need to analyze all of the contextual signals they’ve got, while remembering that your audience’s values are also part of their context….Aligning with those values can be your competitive differentiation.”

2. Understand that your consumers evolve over time.
To remain competitive, brands need to leverage insights from all touchpoints in order to stay a step ahead and be flexible and nimble enough to demonstrate that they are listening and know when it’s time to change. Penn State partnered with ad agency Wunderman in a study that noted.” 79 percent of respondents [would] only consider buying products from brands that show they care and understand their consumers.”

3. Put anticipatory practices in place to be prepared for consumer interactions—both good and bad.
Going direct to consumers means new and expanded communication. Companies must have the means to quickly engage and respond. Vala Afshar, Chief Digital Evangelist at Salesforce noted,” 65% of consumers expect companies to interact with them in real time.”

As brands seek to go direct, they must remember that at the core of any good two-way conversation there must be listening, trust, perceived value, and responsiveness. Without these core practices, brands can take their products direct to consumers, but consumers may not welcome the outreach.

Ernan Roman
Ernan Roman (@ernanroman) is president of ERDM Corp. and author of Voice of the Customer Marketing. He was inducted into the DMA Marketing Hall of Fame due to the results his VoC research-based CX strategies achieve for clients such as IBM, Microsoft, QVC, Gilt and HP. ERDM conducts deep qualitative research to help companies understand how customers articulate their feelings and expectations for high value CX and personalization. Named one of the Top 40 Digital Luminaries and one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing.


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