Patagonia sells refurbished garments online and in select stores.

In 2018, the industry saw the largest number of retail store closures in U.S. history while 2019 will be noted as the year of the “everyday consumer,” and by 2022, one out of every four U.S. shopping centers could be out of business. All the while, digital shopping shares have grown and introduced a new type of “direct brand” competitor that is stealing market share from incumbents.

In an effort to increase foot traffic, traditional retailers have been using digital-first brands to bring consumers into stores. Nordstrom partnered with Allbirds to create five exclusive colors only available at nine locations, while J. Crew features Summersalt as one of the “Brands We Love” campaigns.

Digital-first disruptors are seeing success because they are marketing-led and are highly responsive to consumer needs, obsessing over every touchpoint with their target audience and are masters at storytelling-putting the story ahead of the product. But how can these disruptors keep disrupting? And what will prove their success? That’s what we’re going to look at today.

Taking a step back, we have to first understand what a disruptor brand is. They’re the brands who are game-changers in their industry. They’ve spotted a challenge in the market and created a better way to deliver what the customer needs. Think Everlane, Uber, Airbnb, Patagonia and Purple. While these brands might not be the first to do something, they’re the best at it. Which has traditional brands and marketers scratching their heads wondering why this works so well?

Open Web, Meet Disruptors

The copious amounts of marketing messages and ads consumers see on a daily basis are enough to cause them to turn a blind eye. But for brands who live online, this can pose a real challenge. After all, how can you build a relationship with your customers if they’re not engaging with your content?

The answer to continued success lies in incorporating non-disruptive, organic experiences to not only tell but also introduce their brand story in an authentic way. There’s a disadvantage of being relatively unknown in an already saturated market. Banner ads and pop-ups can be extremely disruptive to the user experience, making it even harder to break through the noise. Through native ads on the publisher’s content, brands, both new and old, can directly connect with audiences through seamlessly integrated experiences.

Relationships Matter

With greater access to everything across the open web, today’s consumers want more than mere transactional experiences — they want to build connections with their favorite brands. Everlane is a great example of a digital-first disruptor who understands the need for transparency and personalization amongst consumers. By offering dynamic pricing, the brand highlights the importance of paying fair wages and brand value. The concept not only educates shoppers on the reasons for a product markup, but it also creates an open conversation around fair pricing, authenticity and consumer participation.

Transparency is important, but so is a physical connection — something brick-and-mortar stores excel at, and digital-first brands are now adapting. Casper, the mattress disruptor, offers a 100-day free trial. They understand that mattresses are an expensive and long-term purchase, and have cultivated an environment to build trust amongst new and current buyers.

Remember, relationships start at the very first touchpoint and continue to pave the path to brand loyalty. Trust stems from the time brands put into building that connecting.

Can Digital-First Disruptor Brands Thrive in 2020?

While digital-first disruptor brands might be thriving today, it is important to understand how to translate this into success in 2020. We live in a day and age where consumer’s attention span changes daily with their outfits. In a time where most consumers watch TV while scrolling through Instagram and listening to podcasts, making an impression is critical.

Today, and every day, utilizing data properly can lead to success. By removing the middleman and having a direct relationship with consumers, digital-first disruptors have access to rich data which can easily be integrated into personalized marketing efforts.

Sarah Baird is the general manager, U.S., at Outbrain.

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