DTC Retail and the New Customer Journey: How Brands Can Deliver a Better Experience All Along the Purchase Funnel

Creating great customer experiences is integral to the success of direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands. It’s in their DNA: “Direct to consumer” means, well,

By Lee Zucker

Jul 9, 2020

5 min read

Creating great customer experiences is integral to the success of direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands. It's in their DNA: "Direct to consumer" means, well, serving customers directly — and a huge part of that is making sure the experience customers have is one that keeps them coming back for more.

As a result, digitally native and DTC businesses have significantly innovated the ecommerce model. How? As Ricky Joshi writes for CMSWire, "They have used data to enhance the customer experience at every step along the purchase journey. In addition to offering products and services that people want, these companies understand that delivering consistency and engagement is critical to converting customers. A company focused on a quality digital experience across all channels also comes across as brand authentic and is often better equipped to maintain long-term relationships with customers."

Converting customers and maintaining long-term relationships with them is something every brand wants. So what lessons can newcomers learn from more established DTC players, and how can they better serve customers at every step of their journey?

Understanding the new customer journey

In the pre-internet era, the old customer journey started with a trip to the store. The *new*customer journey starts online — and more specifically, it often starts with search. And with the rise of search, the new journey has become less linear and more complex.

"Today, people are no longer following a linear path from awareness to consideration to purchase. They are narrowing and broadening their consideration set in unique and unpredictable moments, [and they] turn to their devices to get immediate answers," a Think With Google post explains. "Every time they do, they are expressing intent and reshaping the traditional marketing funnel along the way."

Because they originated online, digitally native DTC brands are pros at both managing their *digital front doo*r (their website) and driving high-intent search traffic to it by crafting targeted content that helps them win the organic search game at every stage of the purchase journey. Traditionally, this was done through paid search and social media, but DTC brands see high engagement through meeting customers' intent more organically.

You can see examples of how several digital brands have done this successfully. Check out Casper's content marketing strategy, and Glossier's approach to digital content and community. Successful DTC brands understand the role of search in driving website traffic and subsequent ecommerce sales, and they capitalize on it — everywhere consumers ask questions.

In this new customer journey model, consumers expect experiences that are consistent across every touchpoint. And according to Salesforce, 76% of customers now report that it's easier than ever to take their business elsewhere — switching from brand to brand to find an experience that matches these expectations.

The takeaway: In the new customer journey, search experience has become foundational to customer experience. So, how can your DTC brand craft a search experience that truly prioritizes the "customer" part of that acronym — serving customers all along the marketing funnel?

1. Create a content-rich website, complete with individual landing pages to capture organic local search traffic.

When customers start their journey with a search — whether via Google, Alexa, or any other discovery service — you need to make sure your brand shows up in the results to deliver an answer.

Here's an example: If your customer would be likely to ask a question like "what is the best mattress type for side-sleepers?" then the content on your website needs to:

  1. Answer this question

  2. Be properly marked up so that search engines can "read" the page and understand it

  3. Have a CTA for the customer to "act" on their search query

That's the minimum requirement for showing up in search results as the answer to queries that show intent related to your brand.

As we've written before, a robust website that's built to perform well across search engines will quickly become difficult for visitors to navigate without a way to cut through the mass of pages to find what specifically they're looking for.

As a result, most websites' strategy will eventually encounter the same content paradox. "The more quality content your site has, the more useful it is, but the harder it becomes to find that content," Jes Scholz writes for Search Engine Journal. "At a certain point, well-designed site navigation alone is not enough."

A great online experience is one that's easy for customers to find the information they want — when they want it. Think about whether or not that journey is simple and intuitive when it takes place entirely on your website.

Without great site search, it probably isn't. (Keep in mind that 68% of people would not return to a site that provided a poor search experience.) Invest in building a site search experience that delivers the answers your customers seek, streamlining the process from question to conversion. Better answers also help you avoid search bounce. A lower bounce rate helps your search ranking, but it also keeps potential customers from turning to competitors.

3. Use data: Learn from the questions customers ask on your site.

Creating a great on-site search experience that serves your customer directly means understanding exactly what they are asking about your brand. The questions your customers pose should play a critical role in informing the custom content you develop — and how you provide relevant answers, optimize the click path, and help customers convert.

Make sure you can tap into your site search provider to see what your customers are searching for, including popularly answered questions — as well as when they're clicking (or not) on a CTA. Then you can use those insights to improve your search strategy from a customer's first question through to their eventual conversion.

Curious? Learn more about what to look for in a search experience platformhere.

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