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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

What publishers can learn from D2C brands (who learned it from them)

March 10, 2021 | By Eddie Lee, Head of Publisher Account Management – Nativo @nativo

Successful D2C brands have a strategy for each and every customer touchpoint. This new crop of startups have made this specific way of marketing and selling into a model all its own. They have a renewed focus on understanding what customers want, expect, and need every step of the way. This includes everything from research to purchase and returns along with everything before, after, and in-between.

This approach borrows much from what is perhaps the oldest “direct to consumer” industry in existence: publishing. Publishing has always been the purest form of providing what the consumer wants, whether news or entertainment, in text or audio or visual form. Publishers have to be direct with consumers. Their value proposition is clear: This is what we offer, and here it is for your consumption. And today’s most successful D2Cs mirror this process in their sourcing (and marketing).

Traditional publishers recognize the power of subscription models and advertising on editorial content, but many of the new class of publishers have gone above and beyond. To name just a few: Food52 transitioned successfully from recipe blog to culinary business, leveraging their recipe site, and engaged its community to create a thriving home kitchen, cooking and specialty food business. Buzzfeed’s Tasty pivoted (or pivoted their pivot) into Pet by Tasty. They harnessed the undeniable combination of the internet and animal content. And they use it to power a natural pet food business. And of course, in 2014, Emily Weiss metamorphosed digital beauty destination Into the Gloss into the multi-billion dollar juggernaut Glossier. This new class of publishers understands —  and monetizes —  the power of brand equity, loyalty, and community. 

Lean into your D2c roots

Even the more “traditional” publishers are well positioned to do the same. They’ve already accomplished the hard parts, like building a community, establishing trust, providing consistent value, and earning brand equity and cachet. Now more than ever, publishers are sitting on an unmined vein of pure gold. And with today’s level of technology, the next step for publishers is much more achievable than, say, sourcing a sustainable make-up factory or producing industrial quantities of pet chow.

Publishers now have the tools and expertise readily available to marry editorial with branded content  thoughtfully and intentionally. They can respectfully leverage the enthusiasm and engagement of their communities and the eminence of their brands to create novel revenue streams. We can say farewell to the numbers game, where more clicks and eyeballs meant everything. It is being (rightfully) subsumed as a jaded consumer population demands quality, relevance, and a bit of respect in how they are advertised to. Publishers have already done the hard part as the original D2Cs.

Here’s a few more lessons that they can re-borrow from today’s most successful D2C companies. 

Let your content lead your commerce

D2Cs quickly developed a new mastery of advertising everywhere their consumers already were, in podcasts or specific niches of social media. Even then, these brands did their best to match the theme, tone, and even appearance of their surroundings. In no way can an ad or branded content take a reader/viewer out of the experience. Your brand has worked so hard to give the consumer a consistent “universe” of experience. Don’t let bad advertising take them out of it and ruin all the established good will. 

Feelings, lifestyles, brands > products, services, logos

Luggage D2C Away doesn’t sell suitcases. They give consumers the ability to live the jet setting lifestyle they’ve always wanted. Casper doesn’t sell mattresses. They imagine a world where everyone is well-rested and sleep is a pillar of personal fitness. Today, the bigger picture is the bigger seller, especially when everyone knows they can get an objectively similar product from a dozen places instantly. With everything so commoditized, consumers want to be a part of something bigger. Chances are that consumers already associate your brand with a lifestyle, feeling, or movement. Identify it and become a proactive champion. 

Taking back the lead

Publishers are the “OGs” of D2C. Publishers boast the power of brand equity, loyalty, and community. So, they are uniquely positioned to capitalize on the opportunities that D2C brands have to work so hard to achieve. All publishers have to do is to continue to focus on their consumers and take back the lead in crafting, monetizing and commercializing the products their consumers want, expect, and need – a trusted brand with content. 

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