In 2023, the direct-to-consumer market generated approximately $135 billion in e-commerce sales, ranking third in online purchase channel popularity behind marketplaces and supermarkets. Marketers looking to beef up sales for DTC brands should consider turning current customers into advocates. The effective and profitable strategy can add authenticity to recommendations, provide assets to your content marketing arsenal, and reach new audiences with whom your brand might not otherwise be able to connect.
Curious to learn more? Check out this overview of DTC brand advocacy to learn how (and why) to add this tactic to your marketing toolbox.
What are DTC advocates?
When manufacturers can sell their goods and services directly to the end customer, there’s no need for the huge markups necessitated by the traditional retail route. Consumers who buy directly from the brand win not only with lower prices but also a personalized customer journey — from marketing to follow-up messaging — of which the brand takes ownership.
Without third parties to sell their products and services, many DTC brands have leaned into using satisfied customers to promote their products. These brand advocates can communicate directly with audiences, creating authentic content about items and services they use and love, much like a personal recommendation from a friend or family member.
Why you need DTC advocates
DTC advocates can be found among your existing customers; you just need to do some social monitoring to find them. Don’t worry about the number of followers your potential advocate has. Beyond just converting their followers to customers, your brand can benefit from any positive content generated by the advocate and the engagement that comes from it.
This is especially true from garnering user-generated content (UGC) that can be upcycled into testimonials for your site, online advertising, e-newsletters, and printed collateral. These assets are hot commodities among savvy marketers who know that UGC is perhaps the best form of social proof available.
Speaking of proof, check out these stats to better understand the potential value of UGC collected from your brand evangelists:
- 85% of users surveyed find visual UGC more influential than brand photos or videos
- 90% of survey respondents said they’d prefer to see brands share content from actual customers
- 83% of survey respondents said they’re more inclined to purchase from brands sharing real customer content
By humanizing the brand with unfiltered content, you’ll signal to anyone who views the UGC that you care about the consumer and invite them to engage in a conversation about your product or service.
How to use DTC advocates
DTC brands can obtain UGC from their advocates in various ways.
Organic content you find
First things first: if you spot UGC online that you’d like to use to promote your brand, secure permission before using an advocate’s content. You can do this via direct message or email from your brand’s official public account. Because UGC is protected under privacy laws, you must obtain explicit consent to avoid fines, criminal penalties, and a bad reputation.
Content you ask an audience to generate
You can also create a pool of potential DTC advocates by running a social media campaign encouraging users to share content. Decide upon a unique hashtag for posters to use with their UGC, and be sure to announce that you plan to feature the best content that uses that hashtag either on your social channels, e-commerce store, or website.
Create brand ambassadors
If you’re looking for more diverse voices and faces in your content or are in need of more high-quality unscripted storytelling, actively pursue your brand’s most satisfied customers by paying them to create UGC.
These brand ambassadors typically expect a per-asset payment, gifted product, or discount on future purchases in exchange for their user-generated content. Unlike holding a hashtag-branded contest in hopes of collecting UGC, a brand ambassador agreement would include a written contract to spell out the purchase of content rights and payment.
Launch an affiliate program
Looking to scale your marketing efforts quickly and for minimal cost? Consider the benefits of an affiliate program in which creators promote your products or services on their channels with a call to action and link to your website or e-commerce store. Because the affiliate is rewarded with a commission whenever someone buys from your brand through the unique link, you have no upfront costs. Start with one or two affiliates and grow that number into the hundreds once you’re comfortable scaling the process.