Home Commerce DTC Brands Are Trying Something New, By Building In Public

DTC Brands Are Trying Something New, By Building In Public

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Hi, readers. Thanks for reading, and welcome to the AdExchanger Commerce Media newsletter.

This week, we’re digging into direct-to-consumer (DTC). Not the metrics or the paid media, exactly, but the information and personal support systems that have grown up, especially recently.

The DTC ecommerce category has experienced many up-and-down cycles since Casper mattress videos first went viral on Facebook.

It’s easy to forget that the industry is still young. And, as someone who’s covered new categories in this stage – DSPs, CDPs, blockchain, Web3 – there is something special about the DTC sphere, which has a streak of collaboration and transparency that’s as rare and precious as a vein of gold in a mountain.

The community garden

“I’m almost 40, so I’m like a grandpa in the DTC space,” Andrew Foxwell, co-founder of the ecommerce ad agency and industry membership service Foxwell Digital, told AdExchanger.

He’s somewhat misty-eyed about the days of Pura Vida bracelets, Fitbit ads and GoPro vids.

Andrew and his wife, Gracie Foxwell, ran the eponymous agency for years, specializing in DTC and Meta campaigns. Six years ago, he was approached about writing an educational program, since Gracie was a former editor and Andrew had come up through writing jobs.

They started creating ecommerce marketing educational programs, with a library of episodes and some hands-on services.

Two years ago, in a deep funk after year one of the pandemic, the Foxwells decided to start a community-based membership that offered services for education – learning directly from founders and marketers with first-party case studies and experience – but also collaboration and, in a way, people’s well-being.

The first 20 people he floated the idea to signed up; many more did shortly after.

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“It turns out we all need more support,” he said. Twitter is a helpful resource, he said, but people mostly “share wins,” not the true hard-knock lessons that operators need – and, “frankly, it’s fairly toxic.”

There are now 350 members, mostly agency execs, but about a third are brand owners and practitioners.

Sharing is caring

People in the DTC space needed communities like Foxwell Digital, which operates in a new hybrid of personal and professional, according to Alexa Kilroy, a former brand marketer who’s director of marketing at retention and LTV-based mar tech company Stay Ai.

Communities like Foxwell Digital and the overall DTC ethos of “building in public” took off over the past few years, as the industry largely shifted to remote work. It’s more important to learn on Slack channels, Twitter or wherever you can when people aren’t meeting up in person.

But there are different dynamics to ecommerce businesses. Brands must benchmark their effectiveness against other companies in the space. Retailers and older CPG brands had NCSolutions (formerly Nielsen Catalina) to see how they were faring in stores, without any one participant sharing too much with the others.

But when Google, Amazon and Meta are the new shelves, that rating system disappears.

“There just became this culture of transparency,” Kilroy said, among DTC brand and marketing execs who understand they need data from others to improve their own work.

Help me, help you

While the Foxwells went from agency to educational and membership program, Alex Greifeld, formerly of Tapestry (which owns Kate Spade, Coach and other brands), launched a newsletter-based information resource and consulting business called No Best Practices.

Greifeld was propelled into full-time writing and independent consulting in 2020 partly by the needs of remote work and flexibility, she said. She is also on MentorPass, an online service that pairs founders and entrepreneurs with experts for paid mentorship opportunities. (Which was founded in 2020, too, in case you’re seeing a pattern.)

The No Best Practices business could go in new directions. For instance, Greifeld recently helped co-launch a Kickstarter-based brand called Popsmith, which set out to raise $30,000 and is currently at $350,000.

These young information resource businesses are both diverging and borrowing from old media and trade resources that focus more on news and events.

“One of the things I’ve realized in this,” Andrew Foxwell said, “is that community building is a kind of superpower.”

Foxwell Digital is now dipping a toe into events since its founders began hosting a few meetups and saw the desire people have to meet and learn from others in person.

There isn’t really a trade press to learn from, he said (ahem). There aren’t many events for DTC founders and marketers. Instead, the industry turned inward for support.

And it can get overwhelming. “We’ve had four so far, and there hasn’t been one where fewer than three people cried,” he said.

Especially with the shift to remote work, “honestly, it’s so meaningful to people that it’s crazy to me,” he said. “It’s crazy how much you don’t realize when you’re sitting at your computer screen, and then you meet people and realize that you need this support.”

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