“The future of digitally-native brands lies at the interlocking of two movements: Content and commerce.”

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times — when it comes to direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands’ content, that is.

During his breakout session at this year’s Content Jam, Aaron Orendorff, founder of iconiContent, shared the following data on brands’ content marketing plans:

(The best of times…)

  • Over half of brands (55%) expect to increase content creation budget in 2020
  • 64% extremely or very committed to creating content
  • 74% more successful than last year
  • 86% use content marketing

(The worst of times…)

  • Only 33% have a documented strategy
  • 55% have a small or one-person team
  • 57% do not measure the ROI of content

So how can B2C brands better use content to connect with customers in a measurable, profitable way? In his talk, Aaron explained that the future of digitally-native B2C brands lies at the “interlocking of two movements:” Content and commerce.

Content: Half strategy, half storytelling

“The power of content resides not so much in its direct ability to sell, but from galvanizing an audience, entering its heart and mind through a consistent story well-told.”

Aaron defines content as “Product-agnostic media that addresses the heads, hands, or hearts of a brand’s core audience.”

Content falls along two lines: strategy and storytelling.

Part 1: Strategy

When it comes to content, less is more.

Aaron gave this example: Consider the keyword phrase, “How to apply eyeliner.” Moz reports search volume of 9.3k-11.5k for the phrase. For cosmetics brands, it makes a lot of sense to try to rank for this phrase.

But when you look at the SERP for “How to apply eyeliner,” none of the legacy cosmetics brands show up. The only cosmetics brand on the SERP? Blog-turned-DTC-brand Into the Gloss.

A SERP analysis on Moz shows these top 5 organic results for “how to apply eyeliner.” Check out Into the Gloss at #4.

Into the Gloss has:

  • A lower domain authority than every other result on the SERP
  • 7x less content matching the phrase than legacy cosmetics brands

But they still rank 4th for the phrase “how to apply eyeliner.” How?

Less content + Disciplined keyword use (Regardless of the domain authority!) = Higher ranking posts

When you create less content — and instead focus on creating high-quality content that can be repurposed again and again — you see better results. That means ranking more highly, bringing in more organic traffic, collecting more leads, and making more sales.

“Build a content engine that isn’t so much focused on creating, but on repurposing and seeding existing content because content is a terrible thing to waste.

Part 2: Storytelling

Aaron knows that storytelling has become a loaded buzzword:

“Storytelling is as mysterious as it is ubiquitous. I like to think of it as any Christopher Nolan movie that doesn’t star Batman. Everybody talks about it, but nobody really knows what the hell is going on.”

Please make storytelling less confusing than Memento.

At the same time, we know (and have the numbers to prove) that consumers care about the narrative behind what they buy:

  • 73% of consumers say that buying from socially-responsible companies is important to them
  • 61% of millennials are willing to pay more for products from socially-responsible companies
  • 88% of business-school students saying social issues are a priority
  • 90% of CEOs say the same
  • 62% of consumers want brands to take a stand on current issues
  • 42% stop buying from a brand when they’re frustrated with its words and actions — and 20% never come back.

So how do you make storytelling work for your brand?

Tell a story about your customers — not about yourself. Organically link your product with a story that your brand and customers are already a part of.

“Every piece of content you create has to do two things: (1) rescue its audience from their own personal hell and (2) deliver them unto their own personal heaven. Great copywriting is about salvation… not sales.”

Remember Nike’s Emmy-winning ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick? Or Gillette’s “The Best Men Can Be” ad?

Both pieces of content were polarizing, but “both built deep and meaningful brand equity with their core audience,” explains Aaron.

Bombas built their brand off of helping homeless people. It also happens to be Daymond John’s most successful Shark Tank investment.

ThirdLove took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to write a scathing open letter to Victoria’s Secret, calling out the latter’s “outdated ideas of femininity and gender roles.”

Each of these examples “unites purpose to people by organically connecting the story a brand is part of to a story the customer is already a part of,” Aaron explains.

He calls making your content all about you “a fundamental sin of brands in content.” When you tell the right story, your brand isn’t the hero — the customer is. Your brand is “a vehicle to let the hero get the thing that they want, regardless of what we’re selling.”

Take a look at Chubbies’ and Purple’s video content, for example. In Aaron’s words, “they’re not just selling deliverance from cargo shorts and sleepless nights, but deliverance from boredom.”

“B2C runs on value. With content, we’re not replacing the necessity of selling something worth buying, but augmenting it.”

Commerce: 5 tactics to boost ROAS and AOV

You know your story, and your customer is the hero. Now how do you… well… make money?

Aaron’s DTC commerce strategy: “Merging return on ad spend (ROAS) and average order value (AOV) in deal structures that do not undercut brand value.”

In other words, make more money from your ads and get people to spend more on each order — without making customers think your brand is worth less than full price.

Here are five tactics Aaron shared to boost ROAS and AOV — plus killer DTC examples of each.

1. Tiered discounts for AOV

For Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Brooklinen offered a free gift and a percent-off tiered discount determined by cart value. (For example, if you spent $150, you got $25 off; if you spent $200, your discount was $50.)

Offering larger discounts for bigger orders increases AOV. To nudge shoppers into the next discount tier, Brooklinen presented personalized upsells in the shopping cart.

2. Tiered discounts + product bundles

With help from the “brilliant folks” at Common Thread Collective, Axe Bats began bringing in Black Friday and Cyber Monday traffic via paid campaigns during the weeks and days leading up to the shopping holidays (when ad costs are lower). They added a pixel to their landing page, then retargeted customers with ads not just for the sales, but for special product bundles only available during the sales.

With this tactic, they sold people on raising their AOV, not on the discount. The results? A 193% increase in conversions.

Rhone Apparel uses a similar tactic with kitting. They offer curated product bundles that ease decision fatigue and increase AOV.

“The way we think about the business is return on ad spend. We focus on that more than we focus on a lot of the detailed terminology.” –Nate Checketts, founder of Rhone

3. Story-driven ad sequences

Speaking of Rhone Apparel, the brand recently ran an ad campaign that offered 34 different possible ad experiences depending on where a customer was in the funnel. Depending on how customers interacted (or didn’t) with each ad, they might see:

  • Content offer
  • Training content
  • Product ads
  • Product interest pieces
  • Reviews
  • And more…

This tactic led to a 5.3x increase in ROAS for Rhone.

4. Post-purchase upsells (and down-sells)

“Native Deodorant owns this one,” Aaron says.

Native offers a great mobile experience:

  1. Product pages show a universal blue banner with a discount offer
  2. After 30ish seconds, you get hit with a pop up: A chance to win a year of free Native deodorant in exchange for your email
  3. When it comes time to add to cart, two options: One-time purchase or subscribe-and-save
  4. Regardless of what you pick, you get a popup saying “why don’t you bundle with these products? Are you sure? You can save money on subscribe-and-save.”
  5. After purchase, immediate “down-sell” offer: Add a full-size green tea and blackberry deodorant for half price — with just one click. You don’t have to reenter your payment or shipping info.
  6. Then, the confirmation email: an “amazing narrative email” with a link to a free mini deodorant as part of the referral program. The share buttons pre-populate all the information, so you can refer friends in one click.

As Aaron says, “The entire process is a thing of glory.”

5. Damn near everything in one

According to Aaron, Pura Vida Bracelets are “absolute direct-to-consumer beasts. Why?

  • They have a low AOV product — but are still incredibly profitable
  • They are the most-liked jewelry brand on Instagram
  • They build relationships with influencers to create co-branded, collaborative content
  • They leverage that influencer content through both organic and paid social
  • They advertise their Black Friday and Cyber Monday discounts through email, SMS, and social

The most-liked jewelry brand on Instagram (in no small part thanks to influencer content)

During Black Friday and Cyber Monday last year, Pura Vida offered mystery bracelet and ring down-sells in the shopping cart. They did 350k BFCM orders — and over one-third contained one of those mystery items.

“Do not sleep on AOV.”

Aaron closed with this quote on the importance of connecting content and commerce from David Hermann:

“In paid, it doesn’t matter how good your strategies are. Your audience needs to connect with your content first. It’s the kindling. It’s what drives inspiration. I can’t make people money unless they keep feeding me content. If sales are down, if traffic is more expensive, blame content.”