How DTC Brands Are Lending Each Other Their Customers

Services facilitating cross-promotion are cropping up

ClassPass, Everlane and Winc are partnering with other DTC brands. Getty Images

It’s a tough business world out there, and some direct-to-consumer brands think they are stronger together.

Brands like ClassPass, Everlane and Winc are striking up partnerships with other DTC brands to share each other’s Facebook audiences, send each other’s customers emailed promotions or even look for ways to share samples of their products to the other’s customers. Companies that see themselves as complementary to one another are signal-boosting each other and getting their brands in front of more potential customers’ eyeballs as a low-cost customer acquisition strategy.

Take Frey, a DTC laundry detergent and fabric care product brand. The brand is working with bedding brands like Buffy and Cloudten, the men’s personal care brand Hawthorne and the clothing brand Everlane to introduce themselves to potential new customers. Leif Frey, the brand’s co-founder and head of direction, said his company has swapped Facebook lookalike audiences with complementary brands, arranged email message exchanges to swap promotional messages from other brands in their own emails, and disseminated physical product samples.

Combining forces for the benefit of all, in addition to being a good rule of thumb for life, has been a tried and true marketing tactic for a long time, and Adweek has previously written about an ad marketplace that allowed advertisers to distribute inserts in retail partners’ packages. Some companies aim to make it easier for brands to strike up these kinds of mutually beneficial partnerships in the digital world.

Frey, which has reached out to complementary brands one by one to strike up partnerships, is also working with a platform that helps connect brands for cross-promotion. The platform, called Wove, has signed on about 250 brands to its network and offers ways for brands to share Facebook audiences with each other and place their own messages in partner brands’ emails. Wove, which was previously known as the mobile ad platform TapFwd but rebranded in 2018, offers brands information about the audience of the potential partner brand along with data measuring the success of partnership arrangements, said Eddie Siegel, Wove’s CEO.

No money exchanges hands between the brands, and companies don’t get access to another brand’s first-party customer data. The platform recommends partner brands after evaluating the brands’ existing customer lists and determining which brands might have something to offer the other. Both companies must be agreeable to the arrangement before it takes effect, and companies can partner with several brands at a time.

Frey has used Wove to share Facebook lookalike audiences with other brands, allowing the detergent brand to recover from the diminishing returns it was seeing from its own lookalikes, the brand’s co-founder said. Those Facebook lookalike audience-sharing arrangements have given Frey the opportunity to strike up more robust partnerships with certain brands whose cross-promotional efforts were particularly effective.

There’s another benefit to combining forces, too. As part of its strategy, Frey aims to reshape how consumers think about laundry detergent and clothing care. Being able to associate Frey’s products with other brands that have complementary brand identities helps give the detergent brand’s own identity a boost, the brand’s co-founder said.

“We’re working with other cool brands in the space that laundry detergents wouldn’t normally pair up with, which has been massive in how we can position ourselves,” he said.

Winc, the direct-to-consumer wine producer and distributor, has been using Wove to get into complementary brands’ email messages and lookalike audiences as part of its approach to customer acquisition. The company has shared Facebook lookalike audiences and email messages with brands like ClassPass, Parachute and Sunbasket to varying effects, said Rohan Panjiar, Winc’s director of performance marketing and business insights.

“There’s a low risk and a high reward,” Panjiar said in an interview with Adweek. “You have to try a bunch of things for a few to click, but the relative ease of establishing these partnerships makes it a lot more palatable.”

Wove’s not the only platform in the space that promises to connect DTC brands to each other. Ampjar, a marketing platform founded in Melbourne that helps brands translate their social media content into email marketing, in 2018 debuted a peer-to-peer advertising platform that lets brands open up their own email real estate to other companies. Brands on Ampjar, like the children’s clothing brands Bobby Stitch and Just Ray Baby, receive and spend credits based on the kind of placements they want and the value of their own customers. Some big brands like Lululemon use the platform solely as an ad platform through which they can place promotions in microbrands’ emails.

Pete Davis, Ampjar’s co-founder, said he expected a major driver of the platform to be financial since users can cash out credits for cash. Instead, he said, most of the brands on the platform use the credits they generate to invest in more marketing.

“It’s almost like they’re using it like a permissible ads budget,” Davis said. “They host a few things, get out there, and then have a few hundred dollars on the platform that they can then use to get their message out there and spread the word.”

The relationships cropping up across the DTC space are evidence of the camaraderie present among the blossoming industry, Frey and Davis said. As long as there is no risk of cannibalizing of each other’s sales, Davis said, many of the brands he works with are excited to work together.

@kelseymsutton Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.