Embracing the DTC Business Model for B2B2C

New ways to view content, community and commerce can help reframe outdated business models.

Reframing a direct-to-consumer business model for a B2B/B2B2C enterprise will uncover customer growth and loyalty.

Brands engage directly with your customers, no matter who they are or what your business is. Through social media and Ecommerce, everyone from buyers at enterprises to end consumers see direct channels as table stakes. So, how are you directly engaging with your customers to transform and grow your business? And if you still haven’t gone direct, there’s no day but today. Here’s why.

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) businesses have disrupted many legacy business models. For example, Lemonade took on the insurance business, a high-margin industry, armed with intermediary agents and salespeople, and took it directly, without the dependency on channel partners. And they were welcomed on Wall Street with a stellar IPO. Even more impressive is how they figured out a way to make SEO work for them with a brand name like Lemonade.

With new players coming up fast, even in commercial industries, like energy and manufacturing, legacy businesses need to understand the challenges of DTC brands (which I have covered in previous pieces here and here). Then, they need to look to apply a DTC model to a highly scaled, operationally savvy business. Applying DTC principles and tactics to your business might be the secret sauce you’ve been looking for in transformative growth.

Here’s why B2B companies need to embrace a DTC model. 

Your customers are consumers, too

With the massive growth and adoption of digital-native companies like Amazon, Uber and DoorDash, the expectations around customer experience have shifted. Ease of use, transparency, high accessibility and availability are part of the digital customer experience. So why would the same person who tracks their dinner delivery en route, not have the same expectation of transparency and updates with critical business transactions?

Innovate or die, but at least go down fighting 

In the very near future, the next generation of DTC businesses will reach a level of growth and maturity because they’ll have out-innovated incumbent companies. They will catch up on brand portfolio management, optimization of the distribution and operational scale and strategic inorganic growth. These new entrants will be positioned where long-standing companies will no longer have much leverage to compete.

However, there is still a window of opportunity for incumbents to act; but, fast innovation must be the mandate. There aren’t any fancy tricks in innovation, but embracing a design-thinking and strategic-testing gut will be necessary to turn a big ship. How much are you investing in innovation? What criteria are you using to consider companies to watch, partner with, invest in or buy?

Help me help you 

The common concern we hear with B2B and B2B2C companies is the fear that going direct will cannibalize channel business and hurt long-standing, trusted sales partnerships. However, if done right, owning and bolstering your direct channels should actually improve the overall brand experience, which helps your sales and retail. Applying a DTC mindset doesn’t require launching a direct commerce business. It does require the utilization of DTC business tactics in customer acquisition, performance marketing, branding, communication, customer service, etc.

“If done right, owning and bolstering your direct channels should actually improve the overall brand experience, which helps your sales and retail.”

At the end of the long day, the brand experience is on you. Customers place the burden of the brand—to deliver, to live up to the brand promise—on the brand itself, and not on intermediaries. Foregoing direct channels allows your channel partners to own conversations with your customers. A DTC model helps diffuse that dependence and rewards you with the customer data that can identify essential behaviors. Once you have these customer insights, you must create an environment where partners can learn from your data and further strengthen the partner relationships.

Speaking of first-party data…

Ain’t no party like a first-party data, ‘cause a first-party data is first.

One of the biggest benefits of going direct is owning, controlling and learning from direct customer data. The learning is key. The immediacy of readily available data is key. Customer insights to be applied, tested…rinse and repeat. It equips you to expedite learnings by shortening the feedback loop, to observe and listen to your customers, and to raise critical business decisions, faster and earlier. Annual customer insight reports are interesting, but oftentimes it’s too late. It reports history. You want your data to work for you to inform your next steps. A DTC mindset means looking at your data daily, even hourly, in performance-based operational models.

The DTC Trifecta – Content, Community and Commerce

The undeniable power in direct-to-consumer is when you have the winning combination of content, community and commerce in a beautiful orchestration. Being a great storyteller to a devoted brand tribe will deliver on customer loyalty. The DTC Trifecta is the goal, and building each muscle does not require all three to be there to start. Don’t have direct commerce, don’t think you ever will? Then build your content and community. Don’t have a dedicated brand tribe or community yet? Then build your content to attract an audience so you can nurture and grow a community.


Hopefully, you are persuaded by now. And sure, the words are straightforward, but we know that the process and path for change are windy. If you’re wondering where and how to start applying a DTC mindset, we’re here to help. We’re happy to share with you what we are seeing in your direct industry and competitors. And can help determine how to get started. Let’s chat.


Achieving the Next Level in DTC

Amid growing pains, even digital natives are learning the value of hitting the “refresh” button.

There may never be a better time for incumbent companies to prioritize DTC, even for just a single product line. Pandemic disruptions to retail channels and supply chains mean people are more open to new ways of buying everything— from potato chips to manufacturing equipment. However, it’s not just about launching a new brand with a sans-serif modern logo using an outdated DTC playbook.

Going direct-to-consumer is hard. It requires a new mindset that embraces a performance-based approach. Many digital natives are experiencing challenges to reach that next level of growth. And the scale and operational rigor that incumbents can bring might be the combination to unlock that next level of DTC magic. Let’s break down how to achieve the next level in the DTC ecosystem.

DTC Through the Lens of the Pandemic

There’s no arguing that these are dark times for many direct-to-consumer businesses, especially for some formerly high-flying digital natives. But while the era of the DTC unicorn and massive acquisitions may have hit some roadblocks, more significant changes to the marketplace are underway. Despite the pandemic-induced decrease in consumer spending, those digital natives with the strongest communities, such as Peloton and thredUp, are thriving and among the top DTC brands. And many legacy companies, especially those in the CPG and B2B arenas, are adding DTC lines. Companies like Pepsi and Ocean Spray are going direct not just to recoup revenues lost to COVID-19 disruptions, but also to gain vital insights that inform the rest of their business strategies.

“These companies are learning that the direct channel is a game-changer that deepens customer relationships.”

These companies are learning that the direct channel is a game-changer that deepens customer relationships. It’s not just about digital channels and sales, but about cultivating meaningful engagement through DTC branding and marketing. By building communities with relevant content, help and services, customers interact with them again and again. And with the data these companies glean from DTC channels and transactions, they’re finding ways to innovate throughout the entire enterprise. The benefits of real-time access to direct consumer data and communications just weren’t achievable before with traditional B2C and B2B models.

Digital Native Growing Pains

But first, it’s worth taking a close look at why so many of the DTC companies are struggling. Even before the pandemic, the DTC market was shaky. The cost of customer acquisition had been increasing at staggering rates. DTC marketing on social media in a diluted digital marketplace was less effective, so brands began leveraging physical and traditional platforms such as billboards and subway stations. And in growth-at-all-costs mode, many rushed into physical retail, either with their own storefronts or pop-ups with retail partners.

For many, the goal wasn’t near-term profits, but a near-term exit. And that worked for some, including Unilever’s $1 billion deal for Dollar Shave Club in 2016 and Amazon’s $1 billion purchase of Ring in 2018. But megadeals in recent times have been scarce.

Others hoped to cash in by going public. But the harsh reality is that Wall Street measures financial health differently than venture capitalists, with well-known DTC brands like Blue Apron and Casper struggling after initial public offerings. Others, including Airbnb, have delayed IPO filings.

And then there’s the bad behavior. Toxic leadership at places like Uber, WeWork and Away was a problem before the pandemic. But the worldwide crisis is shining a bright light on how businesses treat employees. Against the backdrop of illness, layoffs and widespread suffering, that kind of toxicity is especially damaging.

These visible meltdowns of a few call the organizational performance of the entire category into question. Once revered within DTC circles, Brandless’ demise and Outdoor Voices’ shakeup are sending strong reality checks to the venture capital funds supporting them. And the sharp downturn in consumer spending has sparked massive furloughs at top brands like Everlane, ThirdLove and Rent the Runway.

Refining DTC Acquisition Efforts

Some companies will come through this period stronger than ever, and this upheaval is creating many opportunities. Lululemon’s recent $500 million acquisition of Mirror proves that there are still deals to be made when the fit is right. For private equity and investment organizations, this may be an excellent time for acquiring undervalued DTC assets and putting cash behind those that have a differentiated offering and deep customer engagement.

For digital natives, it’s time to hit the “refresh” button. Top DTC brands should focus on optimizing organizational operations for sustainable growth, building with profitability controls. Painful as they are, furloughs can offer breathing room for companies to reset priorities for growth in this recovering market.

And it’s crucial to rethink customer acquisition. Before 2020, the focus had been on getting as many customers as possible at all costs. Now, it’s time to refine acquisition efforts with a retention and profitability filter. There is no standard DTC acquisition playbook. It’s taking a next-generation performance-based mindset of quality over quantity, anchored with a relentless focus and patience on customer value.


There are perhaps even more significant opportunities for non-digital natives. Many have seen during this pandemic how disruption with intermediaries has stonewalled their business, with a breakdown in sales channels, impacts to inventory and distribution, and a gap in knowing their customer sentiment and outlook. And with the grim outlook for retailers and outlets, the gap in a direct-to-consumer conversation is exposing their immediate need for a direct customer relationship.

For those contemplating a DTC launch within the business, this may be the ideal time.

But the underlying principles are the same for all companies, whether they are a century old or a new digital startup. Brands that are authentic, relevant and genuinely helpful win customers over. DTC channels allow them to show up for people throughout the purchase journey. And at a time when many consumer behaviors are laced with fear and uncertainty, these brands build strong bonds through purpose, transparency and empathy.

Want to learn more about partnering with us on DTC marketing? Let’s chat.


Four Priorities for CMOs to Reimagine and Reignite Marketing

Stoke growth by building at two speeds, feeding every initiative with a continuous stream of customer insights.

Even before the pandemic, chief marketing officers had been navigating a complex and shifting digital landscape. And due to COVID-19, according to Gartner 76 percent of marketing leaders expect to be working with drastically reduced budgets. While some may view that as a doom-and-gloom scenario, we see it as an opportunity.

The CMO role is more important than ever, playing an essential part in guiding companies as they respond, reignite and reimagine themselves in a post-pandemic world. Here are four shifts we see as urgent priorities for CMOs today:

1. Accelerate Digital Transformation

Marketing leaders have long known, of course, that customers are shifting to digital across the entire journey. But the resiliency and dexterity shown during stay-at-home orders provide dazzling proof that customers are ready for much more than they’ve been given credit for.

The current disruptions in all parts of the value chain create breakthrough opportunities for digital to drive success in marketing and customer experience. They can stoke demand, build relationships, optimize customer data and predict channel shifts.

Yet many digital transformation efforts leave CMOs outside of the decision-making circle. The upcoming State of Digital Transformation report from our Altimeter research team finds that CMOs only “own” 4% of digital transformation efforts. CMOs can play a greater role by supporting the corporate digital transformation agenda in any manner they can.

2. Continuously Fuel and Feed Customer Insights

To determine how to win, CMOs need to understand their customers’ needs–and accept that much of what they used to know is no longer true. Continue to collect and use customer data to augment existing market research, address market uncertainties and go one step further to create an insights engine. Look for new ways to capture more information on how customers and intermediaries are feeling and behaving. That intelligence will add value not only in marketing but through the entire enterprise.

Nike is a powerful example. While it built its reputation with great products and relevant marketing, business growth is powered by digital insights that it embeds into every part of the company. Its Nike Direct division hasn’t just fueled sales. It provides data on fast-changing tastes and preferences, informing decisions in everything from innovation strategy to product design to community building. And it’s led to breakthroughs like the Nike Fit app and the 30-day wear test.

3. Build at Two Speeds

To succeed, CMOs need to throw themselves into two-speed thinking. First, they must adapt and innovate marketing and sales to meet the short-term realities of business in this radically disrupted environment, while also planning for things that drive return in the long run like purpose and customer experience. The second speed requires reimagining different scenarios and which bets will be successful. Armed with customer insights and investments in digital, it can be done.

“Even as the world waits for a “new normal” to emerge, reinventing marketing for immediate challenges looks different for each company.”

Even as the world waits for a “new normal” to emerge, reinventing marketing for immediate challenges looks different for each company. According to our State of Digital Transformation research, the majority–64%–of companies say revenue has fallen since the pandemic began. And for 15% overall, the drop is significant. For these companies, marketing is all about restarting the engines. But a lucky 17% have seen revenues increase. And while that’s nice for now, they face short-term challenges in retaining those new customers.

Starbucks has been perfecting the art of operating at two speeds. Short-term, it is taking advantage of its mobile app and loyal base to keep relationships and drive growth. For the longer term, the company is revising the experience for both customers and employees, investing in new drive-through stores, pick-up windows and better machines. All will allow Starbucks to continue to increase and meet demand.

4. Re-Define and Re-Execute your Brand Purpose

Purpose, a brand’s reason-for-being, means so much more today, as consumers demand better corporate behavior. They want to buy from ethical companies that are trying to do the right thing. They expect businesses to be empathic, responsible employers–and recent events have shown us they are willing to walk away from brands that mistreat people. And while they’ll forgive many missteps, they expect transparency.

Amazon, for example, has come under shareholder and employee fire for its refusal to disclose how many workers have contracted COVID-19. In response, the company went beyond mere words, committing an astonishing $4 billion–about a quarter of its annual profits–to make Amazon workers safer and fulfill its mission.

“Providing for customers and protecting employees as this crisis continues for more months is going to take skill, humility, invention and money,” founder and CEO Jeff Bezos says in its statement. “If you’re a shareowner in Amazon, you may want to take a seat, because we’re not thinking small.”

It’s not enough to be trust-worthy. Consumers expect companies to make an impact on society. They want assurances that the brands they buy are protecting people’s health and the environment. And they want to see them promoting social change, such as addressing racial bias. Procter & Gamble, for example, had already established itself as an outspoken advocate for social justice. As a result of recent protests, it stepped up its commitment with a $5 million pledge and compelling new content in its “Take On Race” challenge.

Building a New Action Plan

To act on these new priorities, recalibrate marketing plans. Accept that these are no longer annual documents, but works-in-progress to review monthly, if not weekly.

Make sure plans…

  • Get ahead of budget cuts. Do more with less, re-evaluate marketing ROIs, setting up more frequent reviews to challenge assumptions.

But more importantly…

  • Show marketing as a value creator. How can marketing contribute to the organization versus being seen as a cost center? How can it use brand purpose to increase relevance?
  • Create or recalibrate a continuous customer insights engine, to understand shifting customer needs. How and when should the CMO initiate new market pulsing?
  • Ensure the production of intelligent content, relevant to the moment, contextualized for the consumer.
  • Make sure operating models can execute data-driven test-and-learn efforts.
  • Audit the marketing technology stack to make sure the best moves are automated.


It’s still too soon for any CMO to predict the months ahead. A vaccine could change the landscape, as could a second or third wave of infections. But planning for the known unknowns–and building in good behaviors now for marketing teams–will help ensure success over future horizons.

Are you setting the right priorities for business growth? Reach out now to chat with our experts and get exclusive insights into the work of other marketing leaders.


Webinar Replay: “How to Win at B2B Digital Transformation” presented by Prophet & INSEAD

In key ways, B2B leads B2C in digital transformations, finding more effective ways to connect with customers.

61 min

Watch the webinar replay to learn about the three transformative shifts that need to be taken by B2B businesses to build operational resilience and sustain profitable growth today.

Arming growth leaders with the steps needed to move ahead, this webinar is based on the insights from ‘The Definitive Guide to B2B Digital Transformation‘ – a book co-written by Fred Geyer, Senior Partner at Prophet and Joerg Niessing, Faculty Member at INSEAD. Get your copy of the book here.

If you have any questions or would like to learn how our Marketing & Sales practice helps clients identify a clearer path to a digital transformation that powers growth with real and measurable results, contact us today.


Social Distancing Doesn’t Have to Interrupt B2B Customer Relationships

With the right tools and skills, remote selling can be just as effective as meeting face to face.

Firms reluctant to make the shift to digital selling are finding that their hands are being forced as social distancing makes traditional interactions between suppliers and customers impossible.

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the ways suppliers and customers interact with remarkable suddenness and scale.  B2B companies that rely on large sales forces, networks of intermediaries, call centers, and visits from technical support teams are particularly vulnerable to having their customer relationships interrupted. Making a shift to digital selling is an important way to sustain supplier-customer relationships throughout the pandemic and to exit it with capabilities to accelerate revenue-building once customer demand improves.

B2B companies that have successfully made the shift to digital selling – organizations such as integrated logistics giant Maersk and the commercial arm of ING bank – have reoriented themselves and are now using data and digital tools to acquire new customers; sustain and grow share of wallet among established customers; expand the number of buying centers within existing customer organizations.

“Making a shift to digital selling is an important way to sustain supplier-customer relationships throughout the pandemic.”

These companies have taken advantage of recent B2B advances in digital targeting, personalization, outreach, content creation, account-based marketing (ABM) and always-on marketing, to position themselves well in today’s uncertain times. A digital selling shift involves moving to a selling approach that relies extensively on digital marketing and data-driven selling. It integrates sales and marketing in a tightly linked partnership that is data-driven, digitally powered, and foregoes the need for person-to-person contact.

During a digital selling shift in the current environment, B2B leaders pursue revenue-generating paths to address the parts of the sales funnel that at immediate risk and provide the greatest growth opportunity once recovery begins. The risks and the opportunities will vary by company and industry. For established leaders in mature industries, the greatest risks and opportunities will often occur in the parts of the funnel dealing with renewal, cross-sell and supporting existing relationships. For insurgent companies or rapidly growing sectors, the opportunities and risk may reside primarily at the top of the funnel in acquiring new customers and encouraging them to make an initial or trial purchase.

Our study of successful digital transformation in B2B has uncovered several paths leaders can take to reduce their risks of selling disruption and boost their opportunities to build demand as economies begin to recover:

Demand Generation to accelerate customer acquisition

The explosion of data and a rapidly expanding set of vehicles for reaching B2B decision-makers is making it possible to create direct relationships with end customers without cutting out their sales representatives, channel partners, distributors, advisors, or other middlemen. These channel and content alternatives are enabling established sellers to generate leads for their sales as well as for their intermediaries. Engaging in demand generation provides an added benefit: it creates a direct relationship with the customer that enables suppliers to learn from users and buyers, test alternatives, and more effectively probe for new opportunities. This path may be particularly important to insurgent companies or companies in rapidly growing sectors.

Digital Sales Enablement to accelerate cross-selling and boost value

Here, companies use digital tools and digitally collected data to sell more effectively. Sales engagement and relationship management platforms, including those of, Oracle, and SAP are so well established that Gartner reports that the market reached $48.5 billion in 2018 and represents a quarter of all corporate purchases of enterprise software. Sales enablement platforms, networks, and apps help individual salespeople achieve more and help sales teams work more effectively together. In the past few years, these platforms have shifted from individual customer relationship management to helping the sales teams engage more fully with their customer’s entire decision-making team. The payoff is immediate: better equipped and coordinated sales teams perform better. They generate more revenues, strengthen customer relationships, and stay with companies longer. This path may be particularly relevant to leaders in mature industries.

Digital Relationship-Building

New, more targeted vehicles, such as LinkedIn advertising, along with compelling content (such as video and virtual reality) have paved the way for Account-Based Marketing (ABM). ABM is more personalized and tailored to the needs of individual decision-makers than traditional push email and digital advertising campaigns. As an integrated approach, it combines salesperson interactions and digital engagement for maximum efficiency and impact. Its digital components extend engagement into an anytime, anywhere experience through the 24/7 advantage of online and mobile vehicles. This path is likely to be relevant to all companies with sales teams whether they are leaders or insurgents.

Digital Customer Support

Companies are also using digital technologies to shift more of the routine chores online. B2B companies are now using advanced AI bots in combination with live person-to-person chat to enable customers to easily order parts and accessories and get problems resolved online. Companies are also shifting their technical support and client-learning functions to digital formats. These new tools boost team efficiency and effectiveness through improved resource deployment and enable customer 24/7 customer support. This path is helpful in any industry where technical support or customer training is an important part of the supplier value proposition.

Direct Digital Commerce to accelerate acquisition and cross-selling

One of the biggest opportunities digital has created for customers is allowing them to make purchases directly from suppliers and bypass intermediaries. As more customers demand 24/7 access, intermediaries’ have become increasingly open to allowing suppliers to directly engage with customer segments that are hard to access, fulfill offers that are costly to serve, or supply information directly that enhances the customer experience. Direct commerce can be valuable at renewal, upgrade or cross sell occasions in addition to initial purchase. It’s important that suppliers determine how they will integrate direct digital commerce solutions with their intermediary relationships or their own salespeople. This path has broad relevance for both incumbents and insurgents but the scope of bypassing the intermediaries will vary based on the power of the intermediaries and the willingness of the supplier to challenge them.

Our 4 Step Approach

By examining case studies in successful transformation by B2B companies we’ve identified a step by step approach to following each path and generating measurable impact:

  1. Choose where to play by understanding where in the sales funnel to sustain or grow customer demand and by understanding the barriers customers face in achieving their goals.
  2. Determine how to win by building a compelling digital strategy based on clarifying the target, capturing the target’s attention, cultivating their interest, and converting them to buy, buy more, or recommend to others.
  3. Accelerate what to do by using scrum agile methods to conduct a series of sprints to pilot new digital selling approaches, scale previously piloted approaches, or build capabilities required for digital selling.
  4. Ensure you have who is needed by setting up and enabling a customer data team with the resources they need to put in place a system to undertake the shift and maintain progress through continuous customer-driven improvement.


Making the digital selling shift makes sense in ordinary times.  At a time when in-person contact is extremely difficult it is even more important.

Joerg Niessing, a faculty member at INSEAD and Fred Geyer, a consulting partner at Prophet, are authors of  The Definitive Guide to B2B Digital Transformation upon which the conclusions in this article were based. Visit this website to learn more and get your copy of the book here


The Definitive Guide to B2B Digital Transformation



Sustained, profitable growth is increasingly uncommon for B2B companies as they face changing market dynamics and the threat of digital disruption. This book guides B2B leaders along a step-by-step path to uncommon growth through three transformative shifts:

  • The Digital Selling Shift to digital demand generation
  • The Digital Experience Makeover to digital customer engagement
  • The Digital Proposition Pivot to data-powered, digital solutions

Prioritizing customers over technology is the key to success.

The current paradigm of technology-led transformation is a recipe for failure. Successful digital transformation puts technology at the service of customers.

Rich case studies from Maersk, Michelin, Adobe and Air Liquide with best practices from IBM,, Johnson & Johnson, ThyssenKrupp, and scores of leading B2B companies to illustrate in this book how putting customers at the heart of digital transformation drives uncommon growth.

Order Your Copy Here

Why B2B Leaders Need This Book


Vincent Clerc
CEO, Maersk Ocean & Logistics

“A thought provoking exploration of three crucial transformational shifts for B2B companies.”

David Aaker
Renowned brand strategist and bestselling author of Owning Game Changing Sub-Categories

“This book illuminates the secret sauce of digital transformation in the B2B space: the thrust should come from customers and how digital could improve their experience and relationship with the brand.”

Dr. Lars Brzoska
Chairman of the Board of Management, Jungheinrich AG

“This is a great guide to applying best practices to the formidable challenge of digital transformation in complex markets and supply chains. It provides the tools leaders need to move ahead.”

Lindy Hood
Chief Customer Experience Officer, Zurich Financial North America

“By providing case examples and step by step assistance in determining where to play, how to win, what to do and who to win, this book fulfilled my need for inspiring and pragmatic transformation guidance.”

About the Authors

Fred Geyer is a senior partner at Prophet. He has helped B2B clients in the financial services, healthcare, and technology industries – including Zurich Financial, AXA, Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices, Medtronic, and Avery Dennison – undertake customer-first transformations and address the challenges of digital disruption. Fred’s prior experience as president of Crayola Canada and chief marketing officer, North America, of Electrolux Floor Care, enables him to bring a practitioner’s perspective to making digital transformation work in the real world.

Joerg Niessing is a member of the faculty at INSEAD and is a globally recognized expert and strategic advisor on digital transformation, digital strategy, customer-centricity, and data analytics. He is the program director of INSEAD’s flagship programs “B2B Marketing Strategies” and “Leading Digital Marketing Strategy.” Over the past five years, Joerg has engaged with more than 3,000 executives from a wide range of companies in Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, and Asia, including Google, Kone, Roche, Maersk, Michelin, IBM, Thales, PwC, and Kion.  Joerg’s prior experience as head of Prophet’s Insight and Analytics practice, along with his previous work as a marketing data scientist, inform his insights on ensuring that digital transformations are data-driven, customer-centric, and drive sustainable growth.


Want to speak to Fred about how to become more consumer-centric and implement the essential shifts needed to unlock growth? Contact us today. And if you’re a leader looking for more insights into the B2B sector then visit the B2B Digital Transformation resource hub here.


Adjusting Your Marketing Priorities: Levers You Can Pull

Targeting, messaging, content and sharper value propositions can all trigger growth.

This is a time for every organization to re-examine its priorities for the next few weeks and even the next few quarters. Your customers’ needs, your partners, your employees, the world overall. Marketers, in particular, may choose to shift messaging, spend or delay initiatives, but it doesn’t mean to stop communicating—or to stop leading. Now’s the time to find your voice, demonstrate empathy and reinforce relationships you’ve worked hard to build. This is marketing’s time, so let’s take a look at how to adjust your marketing priorities.

Every Choice Should Flow from How You Can Help

Take this time to reflect on how you can help, and then take action. Help both your customers and employees acknowledge and manage their primary fear: staying healthy and keeping loved ones safe. Support them by providing structure and ways to fill time. Encourage them to connect to one another. Provide ways to practice gratitude for those guiding us through this. And finally, help people remember we will persevere.

Tapping Your Existing Marketing Skillset

While we haven’t experienced a moment exactly like this before, through our work helping clients transform their marketing strategies we can identify at least eight levers every marketer has, and shifts one might make now:

  1. Value Prop: Revisit what you offer and supplement with a service, incentive and channel distribution that could make a difference and be relevant in this moment. Universal shifted distribution channels, accelerating shift of in-theatre releases to online rentals.
  2. Pricing:Sensitive to customer needs, you might cut prices, waive fees, or offer rebates. Seamless removed delivery fees, instead giving them to drivers. CreativeLive made streaming health and wellness classes free. Burger King is offering free kids meals with purchase via its app. It’s promotional, but one can argue it helps parents joyously feed their kids.
  3. Targeting: While your plan may have had a customer acquisition posture, this might be a better time to refocus on your core: existing customers who know you and need you more than ever. Is there a special group of people or need state you can demonstratively help?
  4. Messaging: Refresh your messaging to focus on relevance, perhaps with customer updates on what the brand (and your people) are doing during the crisis. Ford replaced national product advertising with a coronavirus-response campaign, which includes mention of payment relief.
  5. Content: Information, entertainment and utility all can be powerful levers. How can you serve the primary need of staying healthy, while managing anxieties about finances, need for everyday supplies, and many other general uncertainties that will be with us in the coming months? Many brands are shifting their services and are offering up support in open, honest – ultimately very helpful – ways. Zola, a go-to resource for wedding planning has provided updates and resources for couples whose weddings will potentially be affected as well as set up a hotline. Is there a timely video, article series or ebook that will help solve a customer need?
  6. Spend: Pressured for cost savings or for an inappropriate context, you may drastically cut media or sales promotion spend. What will you do with those funds? We also expect to see shifts in media buys to reaching people at home including digital display, social, direct mail, TV, and video including OTT.
  7. Measurement: Re-evaluate what matters and what success will look like. Put raw revenue and profit in context with human costs, reputation and relationship metrics. What you do for customers and employees has the potential for amplification via media and social more than ever.
  8. Team Organization: Is your marketing team set up for this situation? How is the relationship and coordination with corporate communications, service, sales and product? Do quick pivots need to be made? Notice any skill gaps and needs to shift roles towards better listening and faster servicing.

“Now’s the time to find your voice, demonstrate empathy and reinforce relationships you’ve worked hard to build.”


Whether you are re-evaluating your marketing across one, five, or all of the above measures, remember this is a shifting situation. It’s important to be agile yet calm. Steadfast and strategic.

If you need help prioritizing which levers to pull, and what your moves might be? We’re here to help. Drop your questions, or ideas, into the comments or reach out directly here.


How Dove Real Beauty Uses Digital Marketing to Stay Relevant

This long-running campaign has converted an authentic and inspiring purpose into tens of millions of shares.

In 2004, Dove provocatively widened the definition of beauty through its landmark Real Beauty campaign, challenging airbrushed stereotypes established by the personal care industry and rallying around the “real beauty” of women everywhere.  Originally positioned as a functional soap brand, Dove’s campaign leveraged digital marketing to provide a new opportunity for social discourse and community building, elevating the brand beyond the product line. Dove didn’t just sell beauty, but self-esteem and acceptance, becoming a brand grounded more in social and emotional benefits than functional ones.

How Far Dove Real Beauty Has Come

A primary reason for the success and resonance of the Real Beauty message was its deep rooting in digital activation at a time before digital marketing was commonplace.  For example, Dove used compelling and provocative videos to provide energy around the campaign, including its 2006 “Evolution” video – one of the earliest viral brand videos on YouTube. Its “Real Beauty Sketches” video also became one of the most-watched videos of all time.  It also launched the Dove Self Esteem Project, a web portal intended to improve the self-esteem of young people by engaging viewers in forums, workshops, articles and videos that educate on topics like body positivity and bullying.

“Digital engagement has become table stakes, audience touchpoints and expectations are changing in profound ways”

Now, nearly 15 years after the initial Real Beauty effort, Dove exists in a digital world that looks very different from the original.  Digital engagement has become table stakes, audience touchpoints and expectations are changing in profound ways and the “cause marketing” space has become increasingly crowded and noisy.  It would have been fair to question whether Dove’s brand message was at risk of fatigue.  However, Dove has continued to maintain energy around its brand and sustain relevance as we enter 2020 – using digital to continue to power its message and positioning.

Improving Brand Relevance Through Digital Transformation

The numbers back this up.  In the Prophet Brand Relevance Index® (BRI), Dove remains the most relevant brand in the Household & Personal category – a position it’s held since reclaiming the top spot from Crest in 2017.  Additionally, the gap between Dove and its category is growing, with a 2019 Brand Relevance score that is 35 percent higher than the category average, compared to 32 percent higher in 2016.  Dove’s score for “Customer Obsession” puts it in the top 10 percent of all brands and above noted customer-obsessed stalwarts such as Chick-fil-A and Southwest Airlines, validating the continued strength of the brand’s emotional connection with its audience.  The brand has also seen a steady increase in purchase consideration from 2014 to 20191, and as more and more brands position themselves more explicitly around a cause, Dove has managed to stand out, with the highest association with a social cause among all brands2.

Examining the moves Dove has made the last few years, it’s clear that it has accomplished this in part by investing in unique, thoughtful and more sophisticated digital marketing strategies.  These digital marketing campaigns – which range from stunt marketing to larger content creation strategies and partnerships – continue to reinforce Dove’s brand positioning, while leveraging more digital touchpoints that audiences interact with.  The approach allows the brand to build off of its earlier momentum by broadening and deepening its exposure with audiences.

Some of Dove’s Best Digital Marketing Strategies

  • In 2015, Dove partnered with Twitter to identify negative tweets about beauty and body image, and then respond to these tweets in real-time as part of the #SpeakBeautiful campaign. This was coupled with a creative advertisement about the ramifications of body shaming during the Academy Awards pre-show.
  • In 2017, Dove teamed up with award-winning photographers to take striking pictures of “real women” – pictures that spotlighted women’s strength, grit and talent. Through a digital back door, these pictures were uploaded to Shutterstock with a search tag of “beautiful” that flooded results for a search term that historically had yielded photoshopped, airbrushed pictures.  Dove then encouraged other photographers and brands to join the cause, and in turn, created a host of informal ambassadors for the Dove message.
  • In 2018, Dove introduced its “No Digital Distortion” mark – a symbol indicating that a picture hasn’t been digitally altered. This symbol runs across all branded content – digital advertisements, social media content and print – and serves as a consistent reminder of the Dove message across both digital and non-digital channels.
  • In the same year, Dove announced a two-year partnership with the Cartoon Network series “Steven Universe” to educate young people on body confidence and speak to the next generation of consumers.
  • In 2019, in partnership with Getty Images, Dove collected over 5,000 images on the Getty website that featured 179 different women, all of which were women from a variety of underrepresented backgrounds. These images were made available for public use, and like the Shutterstock stunt marketing campaign from 2017, created a sense of ambassadorship for users of the pictures.

1 YouGov

2 Do Something Strategic: A Social Impact Consultancy


Dove originally built strong brand equity by repositioning around social and emotional benefits, capturing topical consumer concerns and executing on an integrated marketing approach with a distinguished digital strategy and content.

Now, Dove has broadened its digital footprint through multi-channel campaigns, new-age content creation strategies and partnerships and crowd-sourced stunt marketing, all while maintaining its singular focus around its support of “real beauty” in an increasingly loud “cause marketing” space.

These strategies have been flanked by its legacy digital marketing touchpoints like viral YouTube content and the Dove Self Esteem Project web portal, creating a rich, layered marketing strategy.

Looking ahead to a new decade of digital possibility, Prophet’s team of digital marketing experts will be keeping a close eye on how Dove and others continue to build relentlessly relevant brands through excellence in digital marketing. And we’re excited to see what 2020 will bring.


Organizing for Digital Marketing Excellence

Armed with our key questions, leaders can evaluate how effectively digital marketing teams are organized.

Executive Summary

In the last few years, marketers have had to adapt to the increasing demands of their businesses and customers alike. Customers now demand compelling, personalized content and experiences to be delivered to them on an ever-increasing list of digital channels, while CEOs now expect marketers to deliver results that go beyond brand awareness and ring the cash register. As a result, marketers, especially digital marketers have had to learn new skills, adopt innovative new technologies, and fundamentally reassess the role they play in driving the business.

While learning new skills and deploying sophisticated technology are key drivers of digital marketing excellence, their effectiveness is limited if the digital marketing teams aren’t structured or organized in the best way possible. Many businesses struggle with this crucial step as it could mean breaking legacy hierarchies and defying embedded cultures.

In our research report, we’ve defined four essential steps to help marketing leaders understand the key elements of a modern digital marketing organization and the choices they have in positioning them to best deliver on the needs of the business and its customers.

In this report, you will find:

  • A four-step process for organizing your digital marketing team
  • Three organizational models, with accompanying case examples
  • Recommendations for building out the core functions of your digital marketing team
  • A list of key questions to help you begin evaluating how your digital marketing team is organized

Download the full report below.

Download Organizing for Digital Marketing Excellence

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Thank you for your interest in Altimeter’s research!


Partner Mat Zucker’s Podcast “Rising”

There’s a lot of focus in our industry on those already at the top, but change is driven at all levels.

Rising highlights the builders, the shapers and the doers across marketing, media, and innovation — the ones tagged to be our future leaders. Each episode showcases a leader rising up and what they see ahead. Hosted by Prophet Partner Mat Zucker and Direct Agents’ Josh Boaz. Zucker and Boaz talk to guests about career trajectory, the people who helped them, skills gained along the way and the trends they’re watching.

Listen now. 

Rising Podcast Logo Hosted by Prophet Partner Mat Zucker and Direct Agents' Jeff Boaz


Who Will Win the Streaming Wars?

Binge-watching has revolutionized entertainment. But only the platforms with the best content will survive.

Prophet is obsessed with helping our clients win with their customers. We are a global consulting firm, helping our clients unlock uncommon growth in this digital age. Contact us to learn more about what we are doing in all things direct-to-consumer.

Eunice Shin, Partner

sources: 1) Nielsen report; 2) eMarketer; 3) Motion Picture Association of America


Digital Marketing Priorities in Financial Services for 2019

Our research shows that lead generation and customer experience top the list. And hiring is a major headache.

It’s clear that emerging Fintech and Insuretech entrants are shaking up financial services. Across the board – from large to small-scale companies – we’re observing an accelerated need for more digitally fluent marketing organizations to tackle new challenges in an evolving market.

To understand the challenges and priorities impacting the insurance and banking industries today, we turned to Prophet’s digital analyst group Altimeter surveyed 68 global financial services executives as part of their industry-wide 2019 State of Digital Marketing report that spoke to over 500 executives in North America, Europe and China.

“Altimeter surveyed 68 global financial services executives as part of their industry-wide 2019 State of Digital Marketing report.”

The report surfaced three primary digital marketing insights specific to where financial services executives are betting their marketing investments to address business challenges:

  1. Lead generation and customer experience are the
    top digital marketing priorities.
  2. Scaling marketing innovation, the right talent and proving impact
    are the greatest challenges.
  3. Data analysis, marketing automation and UX design are the
    most sought after skills.

Let’s dive into the results.

1. Lead generation and customer experience are the top digital marketing priorities.

Lead generation and customer experience came out on top (see Figure 1) – ranked higher than brand awareness and brand health – a top priority across other industries.

To measure digital marketing success, financial services companies are placing greater emphasis on customer loyalty/customer lifetime value (CLTV) – even before direct revenue (see Figure 2).

We see these forces working within financial services companies that are investing more to acquire customers through digital demand-building activities. Specifically, with the increases in the promotion of banking, investment and insurance products going more digitally direct-to-consumer. We also see loyalty as a rising metric to diagnose and resolve potential attrition challenges before being confronted.

2. Scaling marketing innovation, the right talent and proving impact are the greatest challenges.

Financial services marketing organizations are navigating several challenges with their focus on lead generation and CX development, particularly around scaling, hiring and proving business impact (see Figure 3).

In addition, we learn that compared to other industries, financial services companies are experiencing a much greater challenge in seeing a return on investment for their marketing technology spend with 32 percent saying that it took a long time before they saw any return. Consequently, it is now considered to be their top Martech challenge.

3. Data analysis, marketing automation and UX design are the most sought-after skills.

Financial services companies are now focused on building capabilities in data analysis, marketing automation, and user experience design (see Figure 4) to enable the scaling of marketing innovation across the full enterprise and ultimately to prove business impact.

Financial services companies as a consequence are finding the need for capabilities to apply digital marketing in new ways previously not considered.

These evolving digital marketing priorities are making way for the future


What’s clear from the findings of Altimeter’s 2019 State of Digital Marketing report is that as financial services companies place greater emphasis on driving customer acquisition and shaping customer experiences, marketing must bring in new capabilities formally nascent within the organization, invest in the right marketing technology, and prove business impact on a small – yet scalable – way.

At Prophet, we help our clients drive uncommon growth through transformation. We work with leaders across the insurance and banking categories to understand where to play and how to win to unlock the full potential of the brand and customer relationships. Learn more with our guide to digital marketing excellence here or get in touch today. 

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