Interest in direct-to-consumer brands lags big rivals – but maybe not for long

The biggest direct-to-consumer brands still only achieve around half the search volume of established competitors, according to exclusive data from Google, but the fastest risers are catching up quickly.

dollar shave clubDirect-to-consumer (DTC) brands remain well behind their established competitors in the retail and FMCG sectors in terms of online interest from shoppers, according to new data on Google search trends provided exclusively to Marketing Week. However, the gap is closing for a number of brands.

DTC brands have garnered huge amounts of attention in the business press for the threat they could pose to multinational brand owners, Dollar Shave Club’s razor subscription service being the prime example. Online direct-response marketing has become crucial to their efforts to scale up quickly and cost-efficiently.

Most are still a long way from catching up with their big brand competitors’ search volumes, suggesting years of building brand equity and significant advertising investment still provide an advantage in terms of the potential market that can be reached. But if current trends continue, some market leaders may soon find themselves falling behind in search.

The brands under attack

Dollar Shave Club earned less than half the search volume of Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) Gillette in 2018, according to research on UK-based searches that Marketing Week commissioned from Google. But Dollar Shave Club has increased its search volumes by 432% this year, while Gillette’s have dropped 2%. The eight-year-old US startup, purchased by Unilever for $1bn in 2016, launched in the UK in January.

According to Google’s data, another DTC razor brand, Harry’s, beat both its rivals’ search volumes in 2018, with Gillette getting just 76% as many searches. But this is likely to be primarily because the results are skewed by searches for the name ‘Harry’. Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle was a key event of 2018, for example.

Other rivalries are more clear-cut. Aside from Harry’s, the DTC brand making the biggest inroads against an established competitor in the UK is the meal replacement drink Huel. It earned 65% of the search volume of SlimFast in 2018. Huel launched its first TV ad campaign in October, to accompany its online advertising presence, and has grown UK search volumes by 92% this year while SlimFast’s have risen 16%.

READ MORE: Mark Ritson: The threat of direct-to-consumer disruption is seriously overblown

Laundry pod brand Smol also fared relatively well against P&G’s Ariel. The former earned 53% as many searches as the latter, growing volumes by 44% as Ariel’s shrank by 11%. Interflora could also be facing trouble ahead, as it lost 28% while DTC flower delivery brand Bloom & Wild grew 14%, earning 29% as many searches as its competitor.

Pact Coffee saw its fortunes head in the other direction, however. The online subscription coffee brand was searched just 11% as much as supermarket staple Taylor’s of Harrogate, and search volumes declined by 26%. This may reflect a shift in strategy; Pact CEO Stephen Rapoport stepped aside into the role of chairman at the end of 2017 as the company shifted its focus towards B2B sales.

Among the other markets that Google and Marketing Week investigated, DTC mattress brand Casper earned 35% as many searches as high street brand Dreams, while got 18% of DFS’s volume and Glossier 22% of L’Oréal Paris’s. Tesco and Specsavers need not be troubled at present by DTC competitors Able & Cole, Riverford Organic and Waldo, none of which managed to gain 1% of their respective rivals’ search volume.

Further notable risers in the search stakes among DTC brands in 2018 include toothbrush subscription service Brushbox, which grew search volumes by 403%, and beauty brand Glossier, up 85%.

Top 10 fastest-rising DTC brands in search

Brand Percentage UK search volume increase in 2018
Dollar Shave Club 432%
Brushbox 403%
Huel 92%
Glossier 85%
Simply Cook 45%
Harry’s 45%
Smol 44%
Waldo 41% 34%
Cubitts 31%

Methodlogy: Marketing Week and Google selected a list of 20 direct-to-consumer product brands serving the UK market, measured their UK search volume growth in 2018 and compared their total UK search volume against that of an an established competitor. The criteria used to qualify as a DTC brand for the research were:

  • They sell physical products
  • They sell only their own products
  • They sell only through their own channels
  • They sell in the UK, priced in sterling

To read more of Marketing Week’s 2018 marketing year in review, sponsored by Salesforce, head here.



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  1. Derek Rocholl 2 Jan 2019

    Given relative sizes some of these penetration numbers are amazing for start ups. It would however make a lot of sense for these brands brands to test some other channels and target their offers at consumers who have the profile they are looking for. If you want to sell your products Direct to Consumer doesn’t it make sense to use Direct Marketing and in particular Direct Mail which has the significant additional advantage of letting you send samples for prospective customers to try.

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