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The Empowered Marketer: Harnessing the Power of Direct-to-Consumer


Is your B2C brand shifting to direct to consumer?

If so, you’re not alone. As the so-called retail apocalypse continues, many brands in consumer product goods have realized that traditional retail is not necessarily the most reliable business model.

Today’s customers want options — they want to buy products in-store as well as directly from their favorite brands online. Brands have to adapt to their buyer’s needs, which is exactly what John Ryan is working on today.

John is the Director of Enterprise Ecommerce and Digital Marketing for Combe, the personal care company that owns a number of brands including Just for Men. He previously worked at 1800Flowers, and has extensive experience in customer acquisition, optimization, and CRM management.

With that background, he’s helping Combe move more of the business to ecommerce and really optimize their processes. The CPG brand has traditionally sold their products through retail or wholesale but realized there was a huge opportunity to deliver personal products directly to customers at home.

In this exclusive interview, John shares:

  • The biggest challenges of moving from wholesale to direct-to-consumer
  • How Combe has optimized their website for ecommerce sales
  • How to think about the customer journey across channels
  • …and much more




1. How is Combe making the transition from primarily wholesale to an ecommerce, direct-to-consumer business? What has been the biggest challenge of making this change so far?

Part of running a digital business is just really understanding where the opportunities lie and making sure they complement your existing businesses. The benefit that we see, and I think most online businesses see, is the ability to measure our marketing. But we think it’s part of a more holistic approach to making sure we have our products where our customers would like them.

2. Have you changed your company website to improve online conversions and optimize it for ecommerce?

The real trick is in the education to conversion continuum. We want to make sure that we provide landing pages and content that stimulate and educate, but we also understand that we have customers who are looking to buy. It’s finding that balance of ease of use with something like auto delivery or the exposure to adjacent product lines that they didn’t know about. For example, we’re working on products that help men regrow hair. As we get out and test it and offer it to people, we can find response rates and then we can do a better job of serving the people that would like more information on that product.

3. How are you engaging that existing customer base, and driving them to the site? How have your customers responded so far?

One of the more classic and direct approaches to communication is clearly email, which has mass adoption and allows for you to scale fairly quickly. Depending on your customer base, it also allows you to come to data-driven conclusions fairly quickly if you wish to do some testing. With any type of D2C progression, we ask, how much do our customers value this as an option? We’ve found that they do value it, and we’re exploring the ways how we can best provide that value to them. 

With email, you can break it up into segments of new prospects that could possibly like your product lines. We have the ability to break up our existing list into cohorts to offer different messaging, and then see how people reply. As we get deeper into communicating with our customers, I think the closer we want to get to understanding their personal problems. I mean, we’re a personal care company, and so it makes a lot of sense for us to get closer to getting them the information that they need for what they deem is their issue, and then also offering the product that we feel might be the solution for it.

4. How do you understand your customer journey today? Is it challenging to connect online actions with in-store purchases? How are your approaching it?

If you have the data on your best customers, that’s a really good way to start. The existing data will tell you a lot about where you can grow into the future. I’ve spent a large amount of time working on our customer files. We’ve acquired these email addresses and are pretty sure that people are interested in our products or have purchased previously, so we work to engage them more. It’s how to really identify the trends within those consumers, and then we can extrapolate from that and test what we think new consumers look like in different types of demographic brackets or people at different junctures of their consumer journey. Going back to that, I think you can classically start from awareness, and then get into acquisition funnels, some retargeting methods, and then hopefully at some point, they take action. Is it a video viewing? Is it a purchase? Is it an add to cart action? Then you can kick in some deeper down-the-funnel actions, then, of course, you’d love to get them into some type of repeat purchase cycle. You just want to keep them engaged some way — either opening emails, or communicating to you via surveys, or clicks, or some other way.

5. What are your top three metrics to measure success across all of your marketing?

Conversion rates are always the obvious KPIs that you want to look at. I tend to look at churn rates or the time between when somebody shows an expression of interest in your products and when they buy. We make sure that when we’re seeing interest, we capture that moment of interest by explaining a product line, introducing why it ought to help, and more. That time to second action is one we’re particularly we’re interested in. We want to know, how do we take them deeper in the funnel so they’ll convert?

6. What advice would you give to another brand in your position, looking to make the move to direct-to-consumer?

I think often times, you want to run immediately and you’re going to mimic everybody else’s really strong services and the way they’ve configured things. That’s smart to look and emulate things that you believe to be working. But while you’re doing that, you should also try to get to a real conclusion on where you see your customers now, and what your predictions are for how they will interact the future. The better you can get at predicting things, the data will just allow you to get better at formulating the hypotheses or thinking through the creative solutions.

7. So looking to the future, what do you think is going to be most important for Combe in 2018? What do you predict will be the biggest driver of success for your direct to consumer business this year?

We’re an innovative company that’s focused on doing a few things in a meaningful way. We do have new products coming out and others will be coming in a pipeline. We want to continue to respond to our customers and give them what they’re really calling for. That’s really reliable products and avenues to purchase that easily. We’re on all kinds of platforms and we’re in all major retailers, and that’s where we want to be. We want to make sure that we’re doing the little things to stay on top of our business and make it beneficial for the customer.

If you’d like to learn more about Combe, visit This post originally appeared in the publication, The Empowered Marketer.

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