The big brand reset: Ignore DTC at your peril

Chris Gokiert, CEO at Critical Mass highlights the importance of DTC for every brand and why there needs to be a reconstruction of the brand ecosystem around the customer.

Chris Gokiert

CEO Critical Mass


Have you noticed that there are some truly fantastic brands out there that simply don’t want to change? Brands that talk about becoming more customer centric, but never seem to go that extra mile to actually make it happen.

As simple a concept this is, it can’t be overstated enough: if your company isn’t able to act like a direct-to-consumer brand on some level, then you’re not going to be around for very long. And no one wants to see that happen.

Philosophically, this is a straightforward issue. Brands need to centre their ecosystem around their customer. But it’s also true that change isn’t easy, and a DTC Reset can’t be masked by digital transformation or a quick response to a trend. Instead, there must be a complete deconstruction of the infrastructure and existing organisational alignment as well as a reconstruction of the brand ecosystem around the customer. In other words, the ecosystem needs to be rebuilt from the ground up, enabling self-service, social commerce, and anything that puts the customer in control of their own experience.

That’s a steep challenge, but the payoff is significant. Brands will get direct line-of-site into how their customers think and behave from awareness to sale, which is something they almost certainly don’t have now. Through this, brands will be able to stop relying on isolated groups to operate the silos that make up their business and start streamlining the way they manage their own end-to-end ecosystem. Making these DTC-focused changes doesn’t mean that the brand will lose its voice or become unrecognisable to itself or its customers. What it will lose in legacy structure, the brand will gain in great opportunity and deeper customer insight.

So, if you find yourself trying to convince a legacy brand to roll up its sleeves and join the Big Reset, here are some ideas and insights that are worth keeping in view.

DTC isn’t necessarily what a brand is, it’s what a brand does.

Chris Gokiert

DTC isn’t a state of being

Media, tech, and engagement opportunities have changed for everyone. DTC isn't just for a razor company or a mattress business. It’s for car brands, hoteliers, service companies, or anyone with a customer, which is practically everyone. In that sense, DTC isn’t necessarily what a brand is, it’s what a brand does. As such, brands shouldn’t discourage themselves by saying, ‘this isn’t who we are.’ Instead, they should step back and say, ‘let’s talk about what we can do, in the short term and the long term.’

This time, it’s different

The world changed overnight when the pandemic struck. Brands and companies had no choice but to perfect their DTC strategy, many for the first time. Those that did will now be better prepared for an impending second shutdown. Those that did not can still get it right with smart preparation and a relentless focus on the customers who care about their products or services. A best-in-class digital experience was a valuable strategy five years ago. Today, it’s invaluable.

Data isn’t optional

If a brand isn’t making decisions with data, it’s probably not moving with enough speed and certainty. While setting up new and powerful data platforms and tools is a great solution, a perfectly good interim solution is to do more with whatever is available: collect more data and do more with it. In the right hands, customer business intelligence acquired through a mix of qualitative and quantitative research, as well as data-driven insight generation, can point to the right opportunities. While every brand is different, it’s important for a specific brand to be able to provide something that their customers value but currently aren’t encountering in the category at large.

Use your strengths

Despite some uphill challenges, legacy brands have a lot going for them. Even though digitally native DTC brands can manoeuvre quickly and are well positioned in today’s marketplace, legacy brands have scale. They have cachet and recognition, more resources and more depth. And while there are a plethora of resources to be used to their advantage, deep insight and expertise can’t be created overnight.

The takeaway for legacy brands: it’s not about a single experience or campaign, but rather the ecosystem as a whole.

Chris Gokiert

Get inside the head and heart of your customer

It’s not just about cutting out the middleman and offering a seamless and direct sales experience, which is great by the way. The real impact is in creating truly customer-centric ecosystems that are fuelled by customer-focused insights. It’s crucial for brands to stay up-to-speed with both the trends and triggers that create intense customer loyalty. Here are some notable ones:

  1. Challenge category legacy. DTC brands are popular with consumers because they bring change. It’s more than convenience and price. It’s a fresh perspective with new ideas. It’s being part of a revolution against the old ways of doing things. Conventions, especially legacy conventions, have led to pain points that become accepted as truths, until a challenger comes along and shakes things up.
  2. Put performance over price. Dollar Shave Club doesn’t talk about how cheap their blades are; they talk about how great their blades are. American Giant called their hoodie ‘the greatest hoodie ever made.’ DTC brands talk about how their products are made with care, quality, and thinking. They point out how streamlining saves money, which is invested back into the product. It’s not about product parity at a cheaper price. It’s about care and generosity and giving customers something better.
  3. Appeal to our unreasonableness. We complain about Wi-Fi if it goes out for 30 seconds. Some days, same-day shipping just isn’t fast enough. The impatient and unreasonable nature of today’s consumer has been fuelled by our connective technologies and brands that have mastered their supply chains. It’s also led to the rise of things like social shopping. where brands tap into popular platforms like TikTok or Instagram Stories, enabling customers to purchase instantly and in the moment. Even if supply chain mastery isn’t possible right now, what can you do to answer unreasonable expectations?
  4. Rethink retail. Traditional retail matters, but not in the traditional way. DTC brands are building flagship retail locations to complement their brand and digital channels; think of Casper opening a brick-and-mortar location. A store is a physical embodiment of what the brand is all about, a touchpoint driving people into the shopping ecosystem, which is powered by, on, and through digital. Retail is about building a connected messaging platform, not just about sales and having a store on every corner.
  5. Be purpose driven. Modern consumers care about purpose and values, and they’re more likely to form a relationship with a brand that stands for something. A purpose-driven brand leads with their ideals, and they genuinely contribute to the culture in which their audiences live, work, and exchange value.

The takeaway for legacy brands: it’s not about a single experience or campaign, but rather the ecosystem as a whole. Pivoting to DTC is difficult, but where there’s a will, there’s a way, especially if you have the right partners. You can get there from here.


Chris Gokiert is the CEO of Critical Mass, an award-winning digital marketing and experience design agency. Chris is the driving force behind the development of the agency’s capabilities and integrated client offerings and leads the team to consistently innovate and advance Critical Mass’ strategic vision. Since joining Critical Mass in 1998, he has been instrumental in the growth and success of the agency, expanding the team from just 35 people in one Calgary office to over 1,000 employees across 11 global offices. Chris leads key client relationships across continents, including the launch of major multidimensional initiatives for Nissan, INFINITI, adidas and AT&T.

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