On Friday, I spoke with a brand we had worked within the past, and the topic was mainly centered around launching into retail and how to drive sell-through, as a DTC brand. If you've ever gone into retail, you know that getting into retail is like raising money. It's a great first step, but if you can't drive sell-through (similar to driving investor returns), then it's still a failed venture. So the million-dollar question becomes: what all can you do to have the best possible at-bat when going into retail?
I want to dive into a case study from when I helped bring Hint Sunscreen into Target, but also some more things we've been doing with clients over the last 12 months, and plan to do going into the new year.
At Hint, we were well-known in retail for the flagship product, Hint water, a fruit-infused beverage. The second product line was Hint Sunscreen, which had the best scent of any sunscreen, and also didn't have Oxybenzone or parabens, two ingredients that are harmful to most people's skin. After a very successful online debut on the DTC website, it was time to go into Target, nationwide.
Getting close to launch, most of the budget was driven by the brand team creating beautifully animated assets with the Hint sunscreen bottle on a video loop that would then drive to the Target website or a store locator. The idea was to target 5-10 miles around each Target store we were selling in, and ideally, these should drive people in-store to get a bottle, right? So we launched, the spend started going up, and week over week, looking at the Target sell-through reports, we saw no change. Sure a couple of bottles, but nothing significant enough to where we could say, "This spend is really making an impact."
So, next, we switched on FM radio in Florida. The thought was that we will test FM radio in an isolated part of the country, and see if that would move the needle to drive sell-through. If it did, then we can launch nationwide. It launched, we monitored Florida sales, still nothing. Finally, the DTC/performance team got the budget in their hands to see what we could do (and this is still what I'd focus on today).
We wanted to encourage validation by others, and also put the product in places where people were consuming, not trying to pitch it to them ourselves, which is what just running ads by your brand on paid social does. To do that, we went three main routes:
- Sponsored publisher content
Sponsored Publisher Content
Instead of us telling people that Hint's new sunscreen is the best thing since sliced bread, I felt it would be better coming from the places that people actually consume their content. We engaged with publishers like Refinery29 and BuzzFeed to do full in-depth reviews on the product, and then make sure that we mentioned it was available at Target. We ran some paid media behind those, and it drove a noticeable lift in sell-through. Sure, it was a sponsored review, but it was still a very honest review. Consumers smell BS a mile away, so it was important to us to ensure they were also honest. If they didn't like the way it felt or the way the cap worked or the price, they should be upfront in their review about it.
Pushing publisher content with paid media goes much further than just pushing a cute animation with paid media. You're leveraging the brand equity built by POPSUGAR, Refinery29, and others.
Going outside of the influencers that we had always seeded with product normally, we worked with Liz Eswein to put together a really solid, six-figure influencer campaign of moms and creators. The goal here was to identify creators that had large percentages of their audience as Target shoppers, and then from that, go into who is trusted for their skin care, beauty, personal care, and wellness opinions. This campaign absolutely crushed. The reason it crushed is that it didn't have much of a brief to it, other than, "We want people to really understand how awesome this smells & make sure they know to buy it in Target."
It allowed them to get creative, knowing how their audience would understand best. Sometimes that was a simple video of their daughter smelling it for the first time and you see her face light up. Other times it was showing on darker skin that the product doesn't have a pasty white finish on your skin. Each creator had their own way to show it, and the collection of all of their ways to wear the sunscreen made it special to different audiences.
I remember sitting in a hotel lobby in Austin, TX, and realizing that everyone has two things in common: they're all reading email and they all have AirPods in their ears. So I thought, let's try podcasts and newsletters. We didn't end up doing podcasts, but newsletters did well. We sponsored TheSkimm doing a full takeover and saw it work well. From there we started testing more niche newsletters and found their engagement rates to be even higher.
The punchline of all this that led to a successful launch for Hint sunscreen is: We went to the places where people were already getting their advice, being educated, and consuming content.
Now today, working with clients who are already in retail, or want to enter retail, there are a few things I would add to this mix:
- Zero party data collection
- A digital sell-sheet
Zero Party Data Collection
The reason that we love DTC as a sales channel is because of all the data we get throughout the process — who's buying what, what flavors sell well in different regions, etc. With retail, in most cases, you'll never see that data.
Going into retail today, I would set up my brand website to be hyper-focused on collecting zero-party data to attach to profiles. If you're selling a body wash, you might want to learn about their favorite fragrances, what they're currently buying, and more. Having all this data allows you to direct specific cohorts to retailers or shopping destinations (pop-ups, experiential activations, etc) to drive sell-through.
Most retail buyers, especially in certain categories, don't see much of this data, so coming to the table knowing all the information of what variants sell better, what else your customer might buy, other brands your customer shops from, and more, helps lower their anxiety of, "If I put this on the shelf, will it sell and drive more products into a customers cart from around the store?"
Lastly, even if retail doesn't happen, having this data helps you create marketing campaigns in the future that resonate better, launch better products, find more fruitful collaborations, and overall level up the way your brand resonates with people. More data equals more power.
A Digital Sell Sheet
This is more tactical, but still an effective one. When going into accounts, most people go in with a paper listing all the SKUs, pricing, minimum case order quantities, and other info. I would turn this digital for two reasons. One, it makes it easy for a buyer to save a link like bodega.co / wholesale vs keeping track of a paper or a PDF file. Two, you can customize it to each buyer. If you know that the way tequila is consumed in Texas, is different than the way it’s drank in California, then you can cater the copy, imagery, and product selection differently.
One last advantage is you can track how many times they would visit the sell sheet, and also run some retargeting ads to the buyers who visit the sell sheet. It gives the perception that your brand is everywhere. I've done this before, and we saw a higher conversion rate of wholesale accounts.
If you read my newsletter about Jolie's launch, you'll quickly understand why this is just an obvious one. Your TikTok cost would just be the cost of a creator to crank out content, no cost on ad spend. You can see how JT manages creators for his brand clients in his deck here.
Publisher content — This gives you third-party validation. When combined with first-party data, audience, insights, and media buying, you can create a strong funnel to convince people to try your product in retail.
Influencers — You want to leverage pre-existing audiences that are already many people's go-to destinations for advice. The key is to make sure you're letting them tell the story how they feel it would resonate with their audience.
Newsletters — The eyeballs are here and it's a little more intimate than just reading what's on the open web. The right newsletters and their communities can drive serious sell-through in retail.
Zero-Party Data — The best way to think of zero-party data is similar to adjectives. They help you with all the personality traits around your first-party data. First-party data = Nik from New York. Zero party data = Nik also likes Upside Pizza in Soho. These traits help you create better marketing material to drive retail velocity.
Digital Sell Sheet — An easy-to-use destination for your retail buyer to find out what's for sale, why they should stock it, and some tailored messaging. To get fancy with it, you can run some ads for those who visit the digital sell sheet.
TikTok — It's free and it takes less than 1 minute to create a TikTok when you get good at it. Try to look up a product next time it comes on your For You page... I bet it'll be sold out.