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DTC & E-Commerce Media Planning & Buying

The vital difference between DTC & e-commerce in media planning

Finding the right fit is vital for high growth businesses when picking a DTC media planning & buying agency. Frequently used terms like direct-to-consumer (DTC) and e-commerce have become interchangeable for some. Their differences are crucial to recognise in ensuring effective buying and planning of DTC media.

Understanding the Direct to Consumer business model

With DTC still one of the buzz words in the startup sector, the term is often misused and erroneously attributed to the whole e-commerce sector. It is sometimes mistaken anything sold via mail order where the transaction takes place online.

The difference versus the broader e-commerce is vital to recognise when planning DTC media strategy for clients. Ensuring this difference is understood is essential for clients when ensuring they pick the right media agency.

DTC businesses specialise in one particular product, or a narrow category, looking to disrupt a specific market or purchase journey. They sell directly to consumers via their own, generally ignoring traditional offline retail distribution channels or via online partners like Amazon or Ocado.

They often own the means of production or at least sell their own branded products exclusively. This can help sustain higher profit margins - allowing them to support a higher cost per acquisition for new customers than other business models.

How this applies to DTC media plans

DTC media plans are often very single-minded, to reflect the fact they are encouraging consumers to change their purchasing habits around one product or category. For example, encouraging moving to a razor subscription service (Harry’s or Dollar Shave Club) or personalised vitamin service (Vitl) rather than buying the products via a chemist or supermarket, or buying Nike or Adidas products directly from the manufacturer website rather than a specialist highstreet retailer like JD Sports or an online retailer such as ASOS or Sportshoes.

Generally, they then look to promote immediate action and focus on direct response and is reflected in DTC media selection – with channels such as DRTV (see our guide on how to use DRTV effectively) & tube card panels often using a strong call to action with an incentive to push users immediately to the site. Understanding the business then is vital to ensure a high growth DTC media plan is aligned correctly with the business model and driving appropriate directly to their site.

DTCs develop a direct relationship with consumers, rather than selling via an offline retailer or e-commerce site. This allows more effective use of data retargeting via on-site or CRM data, creating an ongoing direct relationship with their customers. The direct connection established means longer-term DTC media and CRM planning can differ significantly from manufacturer brands - that rely on third parties to sell their product for them and own the customer communication channels.

The role of media for e-commerce marketing plans

Other e-commerce businesses (excluding DTCs) generally sell a broad range of products and services to consumers from a range of manufacturers or partners. Retail marketplaces such as Amazon, Not On The Highstreet and OnBuy all sell a vast range of products throughout the year sourced from third parties. Travel search engines like, Cheapflights and Trainline sell an extensive range of third party inventory to consumers and businesses. Compare The Market and are examples of financial service comparison sites that don’t sell their products; instead, they aggregate other business quotes and earn a commission for referrals. These are businesses that aren’t in the DTC space and often have different e-commerce media plan requirements.

Critically from a media planning perspective, they are often less single-minded in driving an immediate purchase or action – generally relying on digital acquisition channels like PPC to fulfil this.

E-commerce media plans often focus on driving brand awareness and consumer consideration – acknowledging the consumer might not be in-market immediate for their broader range of product or services. Ultimately their objective is still web traffic and sales in the long term, but they recognise that driving brand attributes can be the most effective starting point, where they aren’t selling one narrow product or service.

Picking the right agency for DTC media planning and buying

There is no one size fits all approach for DTC or e-commerce media plans. But acknowledging and being aware of the difference is critical when creating a media plan for a media business. At Chamber, we understand these differences and have worked with a range of DTC and e-commerce businesses like Vitl, Musclefood, StoryTerrace and Net-A-Porter in the past year. Please get in touch if you’d like to explore the best route for your DTC or e-commerce brand.