The direct-to-commerce space has grown immensely over the last decade and will continue to do so in future as well, as per Kartik Khanna and Rehan Dadachanji, Co-founders of The Starter Labs, which was recently acquired by Zoo Media Group.
In their view, most brands today have evolved to the extent of taking a 'native-first' approach, instead of a 'native-only' approach, which essentially means that marketers are realising the benefits of ensuring availability at as many digital touchpoints and the added brownie points of credibility that some of the e-commerce platforms provide.
“It is the new wave of digital-first brands that are only getting better at the game of engaging, capturing and communitising their audiences using direct means with support from vendors, agencies, and freelancers who really understand the evolved requirement of D2C and how it differs from non-D2C or legacy brands,” they said.
The co-founders also pointed out that social commerce, as a concept, is also on the rise with new tools making it possible for shoppers to make purchases without even leaving their social media or instant messaging apps, resulting in an immersive, and personalised purchase experience.
In fact, the pandemic also played a part in the whole process, as it influenced brands and shoppers to switch to and get more comfortable with digital platforms, as per Khanna and Dadachanji.
Commenting on what led to the inception of The Starter Labs in 2016 - a time when the D2C ecosystem was very niche - the co-founders shared that since the goal was to impact brands' growth, the D2C space had not only drawn their attention but it was the D2C brands that yielded the best results for them, owing to their digital marketing approach of working as an extension of the brand, rather than an agency that merely gives the brand a fixed set of deliverables.
Both the co-founders also pointed out that right from the start, the specialist agency operated as an extension for all of its D2C brands, and hence toiled not just to impact their digital presence, but also to aid their clients in the development of new and existing products while exploring new avenues for engagement, and optimising every touchpoint.
“Over the last six years, we’ve grown brands from simple ideas to international players, from small media budgets and mandates to spends in crores (and returns well beyond that), but it was never just about that. We’ve also supported several brands to grow their product catalogues, enhance their logistic functions and even raise rounds of funding (including investments from VCs, angel investors, and even Shark Tank India),” they added.
Upon being questioned as to whether D2C brands should prefer working with D2C agencies over generalist digital marketing agencies, the co-founders said that while traditional digital agencies can contribute to building D2C brands, specialist agencies often tend to work better as they are better suited and structured to impact a brand's sales.
This, in their opinion, is mainly because the D2C first agencies are required to keep up with the evolutions/transformations taking place in the ecosystem while being agile enough to make the most out of the opportunities offered, and even create new ones for the brands in the space.
“The D2C brands require impact across their books of accounts, so a lot more of the ‘vanity’ metrics do very little for such brands, and that’s precisely how a D2C-focused agency adds value and helps the brand achieve its business objectives rather than being a vendor that is hired just to execute deliverables,” they said.
Sharing the reasons behind the Zoo Media Group expressing interest and ultimately acquiring The Starter Labs earlier this year, the co-founders stated that it was the ‘culture’ of the D2C-focused digital-first agency that played a key role in the acquisition, along with the start-up’s approach to the industry, the growth rate and its expertise across eight departments to build its four pillars of excellence- data, content, media, and tech.
Throwing light on the changes that happened within the agency following the acquisition, the co-founders stated that primarily the agency has been able to ‘level up’- above and beyond the pace at which it was growing earlier as it has now been able to make the most of the processes, and even the talent within the network to improve its workflows, frameworks and also the final output for the brands that it handles.
Additionally, they also confirmed that the USP of the D2C specialist agency hasn’t changed, as the association with Zoo Media Group has only opened the doors to do a lot more for brands, in a lot less time and with significant improvement in quality as a lot of the intelligence, softwares, and tools that are available at the network level have contributed to improvements in the agency’s efficiency, productivity and creativity.
“At a strategic level, the most significant takeaway from the acquisition is that we now have a greater focus and ability to increase talent density and the ability to achieve the set targets owing to the changes in our internal operations. In just a few months, the acquisition has already put us well ahead of our pre-acquisition growth trajectory, and we believe that curve will only get steeper over the next 24 months,” they said.
Explaining The Starter Lab’s philosophy of being macro-focused via a microlens, the co-founders expressed that while the agency co-creates a path for the business in terms of improving sales, it also builds on the brand’s storefronts, logistics, products, and packaging which thereby enhances every touchpoint along the user journey.
“We look to impact and achieve the final metric (sales), but we ensure it happens through the staggering of smaller, more short-term, and input-oriented goals. Basically, we help brands realise the big picture by creating, tracking, and achieving smaller and staggered goals as well as attaching benchmarks and targets to our brand funnels which further allows us to optimise each step of the user journey, before moving to the next and maximising it,” they stated.