D2C Brands Bank On Social Media Savvy To Catch Up With Big Retail

D2C Brands Bank On Social Media Savvy To Catch Up With Big Retail


Home to around 700 Mn internet users, India is a force to reckon with in the digital space and social media across the country has emerged as a prime medium for brand marketing

India’s growing D2C segment is innovating social media engagement with a focus on creating brand narratives and community-building

As 54% of social media browsing is done for brand research, D2C companies are using the platforms’ data analytics to curate content for their target audience

A CRED advertisement showing former India cricketer Rahul Dravid getting angry — while stuck in a traffic jam — went viral on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook in April this year. Brands like Zomato, OYO, Cars24 started referring to it on their social media pages to jump on the bandwagon and interact with their followers. As shares and (hilarious) comments flowed freely, a good time was had by all and customer engagement was built across brands. (Yes, you heard it right; CRED was not the only beneficiary.) For example, Zomato’s twitter post referring to the CRED ad clocked a month-high engagement on the post, with more than 27K likes and 2.5K retweets. Today, most social media platforms triple up to drive brand awareness, customer connections and revenue generation for many businesses, especially the digital-first, D2C brands.

Whether companies are announcing product releases or updates, addressing customer concerns or simply trying to ramp up sales through marketing, social media remains the most effective business promotion and communication tool without borders. But for businesses of any size and in any domain, what matters most is creating a brand narrative and developing a dedicated consumer community through a strong social media presence.
According to Statista, a German firm specialising in market and consumer data, India was home to 448 Mn social media netizens in January 2021, a 28% rise from 350 Mn in 2019. This exponential growth and stickiness have made social media the most suitable platform for brand discovery and more engaged and targeted marketing compared to above-the-line (ATL) channels like television, radio, billboards and print media.
After the Covid-19 pandemic hit India in 2020, the mandatory lockdowns to contain the disease kept consumers indoors and changed the way they shopped. Understandably, ecommerce dominates the new normal, throwing open a massive opportunity for many D2C brands to reach out to more customers through online channels. But here is the downside. Due to the Covid-19 crisis, economies have shrunk, consumer confidence has drooped (along with buying power), and customer trust and loyalty have been put to test. As a Deloitte paper pointed out, consumers today focus more on value for money. Hence, they evaluate products and services more stringently, critique brands more often and never return if they lose trust due to poor quality or a lack of veracity in product promotion or campaigns.
At a time like this, when D2C companies need to adopt a holistic, customer-first approach, social media has come to their rescue. As social media turns into a global community, brands are leveraging its wide reach and easy accessibility to build a connection with their customers and focus on community engagement.
To start with, companies have moved away from aggressive, hard-sell tactics and leaned towards building a narrative with a purpose that goes beyond stakeholder returns. The focus is more on value creation and engagement with people at macro and micro levels, while advertising is done subtly through content integration and influencer marketing. Delhi-NCR-based personal care startup Mamaearth is a case in point. Soft selling through influencer marketing, well-bolstered by value-added narratives The campaign focussed mainly on building a strong brand message (of its toxin-free products) and relied on well-integrated word-of-mouth promotion from many social media celebrities to add credibility to the brand name worked wonders for its promotional strategy. The company grew its operating revenue by more than 6x to INR 112 Cr in FY20 compared to INR 16.8 Cr in the previous year.

What Drives Successful Engagement For D2C Brands

Right now, driving engagement is essential for brands to survive and grow. For the short term, companies can look at deals, discounts and giveaways, but these cannot help build long-term engagement or ensure customer retention. Freebies cannot be continued for the long term and when the offers go away, so do the people.

Long-term engagement, on the other hand, has its own set of parameters. As discussed before, consumers today are not looking for straightforward advertising campaigns which push products in an invasive or aggressive manner. Instead, they are looking for an authentic brand experience through added value, trustworthiness and a meaningful approach. Again, the cut-throat competition in the ecommerce space is pushing most brands to find new ways to acquire and retain customers. So, it makes sense to create a compelling story around a brand to make it a win-win for both customers and companies. Also known as immersive marketing, brand experience establishes an emotional connection with consumers and projects the humane face of the company for amplification and long-term customer engagement.

In the past, when social media did not exist or was rarely used for targeted business promotion, creating a brand narrative was the prerogative of large-scale businesses who could afford celebrity endorsements for big-bang campaigns on TV and print media.

But the internet has become the great leveller for new-generation D2C brands, and they have brought everything back from traditional to social to lift experiential marketing. With 4.2 Bn active users worldwide, social media has emerged as the go-to marketing tool for companies that directly reach a vast user base and rely upon innovative ways to create narratives and drive brand loyalty. Although the range of innovation is huge, the critical elements involved can be put under four broad categories that form the social media engagement playbook of a D2C brand. 

The Playbook For D2C Brands: How It Works

Creating an awesome brand experience requires letting people sit at the same table and converse with them as equals. Allowing them to be a part of the brand’s journey forms a bond that is the key to driving loyalty. Here is a quick look at how brands are adopting different formats to reach their goals. 

Getting Them (Users) To Talk To Build Awareness

On March 8, 2020 (International Women’s Day), the Mumbai-based D2C cosmetics startup SUGAR came out with an innovative campaign. To show its support for the fight against female foeticide, the brand posted a photograph across its social media platforms that had all the women’s faces deleted from the picture. The image carried a poignant caption that rued the wasted lives and urged people to celebrate women.

The post was paired with the hashtag #BetterWithHer and asked people to spread awareness by posting similar images with the hashtag. The campaign saw more than 5,000 posts on Instagram that reached 7.7K people and triggered 933 tweets, with 16.8 Mn impressions. 

This campaign, powered by a strong message, saw widespread user participation where they discussed the brand’s goals, initiatives and core values. These timely and resonating conversations/feeds/posts not only resulted in word-of-mouth promotion but also led to active engagement and better retention. Users are no longer passive listeners or buyers. They feel that they have a say in how a company operates, and this sense of ownership helps build deep customer loyalty.  

Handling Influencers With Care For Maximum Impact

Influencer marketing is not a novel concept. For years now, companies have approached social media stars with a large following to endorse their brands. But the problem lies in the nature of the endorsement. While influencers try to convince people that the products they are recommending have genuine worth, people tend to take sponsored content with a pinch of salt. In fact, the whole exercise can backfire if consumers feel that the brand/influencer has not been telling them the ‘whole’ truth.

Here is a case in point. In 2018, Mumbai-based D2C clothing brand Bewakoof came out with its #ColorOfTheMonth campaign where the startup chose a specific colour and offered a colour-specific discount of 50% discount for the next 12 hours. The campaign was released on social media at the time, but the company did not adopt the influencer route to grow its sales. Intending to experiment with newer ways of branding marketing in December 2020, the brand decided to opt for influencer marketing to reach out to a larger audience.

Choosing as many as 45 influencers, Bewakoof allowed them complete freedom in product placement (embedded promotion as part of content) and just asked them to highlight the brand. Given this creative freedom, the content quality became richer and the brand gelled well with the overall narrative, creating an engaging experience. The company confirmed that its December campaign resulted in the highest reach since its launch.

Giving A Nudge At The Right Moment

Capturing special moments in real time and building content or a marketing campaign around it often resonate well with the online crowd. That is why companies are quick to piggyback real-life events and social media trends to drive much of that engagement towards their brands. Known as moment marketing, this strategy helps them enhance each campaign’s impact, thanks to the strong emotional connection that can be experienced second-hand by many more who are not directly affected. 

D2C brands boat

Take, for instance, Delhi-based audio wearable brand boAt, one of the D2C players using moment marketing for a while. Recently, the startup made a post on Instagram after the famous sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S announced its reunion movie. The post replaced the (full) stops with BoAt’s earphones to leverage the occasion and received more than 6.2K impressions, its highest in May 2021. 

But it was not the first time when the company used moment marketing on social media. The brand has a consistent content strategy that focusses on engagement and community building.

Adding Value Through Social Messaging

In an increasingly polarised sociopolitical climate, consumers cannot ignore the core values and vision of a brand that they patronise. Consumers, too, are conflicted, and brands need to send the right message in such cases, or they stand to lose customers. Many brands have noted this societal change and made sure that they support ‘less controversial’ topics. (The withdrawal of the Tanishq ad indicates the kind of turmoil companies can face.)

D2C brands Peesafe

Even then, some brands have come out with bold social statements on issues, which are still considered a taboo in India. For example, Pee Safe, a Delhi-NCR-based personal hygiene brand, develops sanitary napkins, menstrual cups and a whole range of female hygiene products. The D2C brand spent years conducting campaigns and discussing issues rarely raised by rival brands in public. The vocal nature of Pee Safe’s campaign resonated with many consumers who are no longer accepting ‘period shaming’, and the brand has gained a loyal customer following. In a recent campaign based on Father’s Day (June 20), it started a conversation on sanitary pads. The post generated 6,866 impressions and received a lot of positive feedback. By using social issues to spread brand awareness, the startup created an inclusive narrative which was recognised and appreciated by Indian women. There is a flip side, though. Consumers today are well aware of the brands’ easy-to-use marketing ploy that leverages social issues to advance their own interests. 

The Invisible Hand Of Analytics

Using social media to drive awareness and engagement is not merely a placeholder act until a brand is able to generate enough resources to move to another form of marketing. According to Global Web Index, a UK-based audience targeting firm, 54% of social media browsing is done for product-related brand research, a strong indicator that brand discovery will continue to happen on social media.

Another important aspect of social media marketing is data analytics. As we are aware, brands posting advertisements on these platforms can use highly specialised targeting mechanisms to reach the audience they desire. Be it age, gender, location or spending habits, the filters can be numerous, ensuring that the ads are only seen by those for whom they are intended, and the content can be curated accordingly to drive better engagement.

Brands can also access analytics tools on social media for a thorough understanding of content effectiveness. This insight helps them comprehend what works and what does not and rework their marketing strategies.

The consumer-brand relationship is tricky, especially when consumers are trying to align themselves with like-minded brands to define their identity and preferences. Overall, brand engagement in modern times is emerging as a core activity for business development. Engaging with customers and building a community around them is not just a feel-good activity but an effective strategy to turn loyalty and retention into conversion and growth.

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