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The Data Difference: Less Data, Bigger Opportunity with Content and Community Acquisition

The era of highly specific ad targeting across the web has been crumbling for a decade, with a significant blow coming just earlier this year. GDPRCCPA, and the European ePrivacy Directive have made it easier for consumers to opt-out of cookie tracking, which makes data-based acquisition more challenging. But Apple’s recent “Ask App Not to Track” feature in iOS 14 was a final straw, completely rearranging the economics of online advertising. In one fell swoop, Apple decimated a massive data trove that powered some of the most lucrative marketing strategies including lookalike audience targeting, low-CPM social media acquisition, and retargeting.

But with significantly less consumer data available, ecommerce companies are realizing that they don’t actually need that much of it to acquire quality customers. For direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies especially, effective acquisition now relies on building relationships and connection with consumers through content and community platforms—not cookies. Content and community create a deeper, longer-term connection with customers than any traditional advertising can.

Building content and community properties requires time, capital investment, and specialized talent. But for companies offering physical subscriptions, the high level of connection they offer is what fuels long-term customer relationships. Plus, customer content preferences and interactions offer an entirely new set of data to help ecommerce companies personalize their marketing to both prospects and customers.

Building an Audience through Content and Community

Content and community are a longer-term acquisition strategy than targeting consumers on social media. Marketers are most often seeking conversions with social media ads, while the initial goal of content is often to just expose consumers to a brand. Though content marketing dollars don’t always yield customers right away, DTC brands like Glossier and Away have shown that content engagement builds something even stronger than purchases: ongoing, trusting, vibrant relationships.

Beauty brand Glossier was built entirely on content and community, with a commerce play emerging after years of community growth through founder Emily Weiss’ blog, Into the Gloss. Upstart DTC companies have taken inspiration from Glossier by investing in content and community before launching new products. While reaching the success and scale of Glossier may not be in the cards for all of them, the proliferation of the content and community strategy signals that customer connection is now at the core of the entire DTC business model. And it’s clear why: 76% of consumers say they would buy from a brand they feel connected to over a competitor, and consumers are twice as likely to stay loyal to a brand they trust.

Not all brands need to start with content ahead of their products, though. Luggage brand Away launched its first luggage product and then realized the power of content early on. Founder Jenn Rubio noticed that other luggage companies and publications were talking about zippers and materials, but missing an opportunity to have a clear point of view on a bigger, more exciting topic related to their product: travel. And so Away’s travel magazine and podcast, Herewere born. “Our customers will actually call our customer service team and ask for travel tips and advice,” Rubio says.

For subscription brands, customer connection is essential. Subscriptions are built on relationships and trust—customers need to know the brand on a deep level. Companies that have established their brands through content and community have already clearly shown the world who they are and what they believe, making them well-positioned to earn that trust from customers.

Using Content Preferences for Personalized Marketing

With so many third-party data resources no longer offering the value they used to, some of the richest data for DTC companies now comes from their owned platforms and content efforts. Companies that have built an audience and community around their brand can tap into individual audience behaviors to personalize marketing and increase the likelihood of converting followers into customers.

Data can come in various forms: topic preferences, on-site behavior, mini-surveys, or even a more qualitative review of blog and social media comments—a key strategy that Glossier used. The result is a clear view of customers’ intent and interests, what type of content is resonating, and what products would be the best fit for them.

Less Data, Bigger Payoff

The decrease in customer data on the web and in apps forced DTC brands to pivot to prioritizing content and community as a core part of their acquisition strategy. The shift has not only weaned them off of the social media marketing rat race, but has also exposed new opportunities.

For example, Glossier’s Weiss says 80% of the company’s growth and sales comes from peer-to-peer recommendations. A strong relationship and connection with customers yields more loyal and vocal customers who become powerful brand advocates.

Signing up for a subscription—an ongoing relationship—is inherently a bigger commitment than the average online purchase. That means potential customers need something more impactful than a flashy social media ad to take the leap. Subscription companies that can build a connection through content and community are well positioned to acquire those customers at a higher rate. And, if they keep that connection strong, they can lower the risk of churn. The ultimate payoff? A long term, profitable customer that wants to tell the world about your brand.