The traditional B2C supply chain — manufacturer to distributor to wholesaler to retailer to consumer — is alive and well. And the reports of the imminent demise of brick and mortar stores seem to be more hype than reality as it turns out people actually enjoy shopping.
So the traditional ways people bought goods will continue to live on, but the modern era is presenting innovative ways to cut out the middle man.
Defining the Supply Chain Acronyms
Let's start by clarifying some acronyms.
B2C — business to consumer. The supply chain mentioned in the first line is an example of the B2C supply chain. Before the "C" part comes in, there’s a whole lot of B. From the manufacturer, to the distributor, to the wholesaler, then to the retailer, that’s all B2B sales. It’s not until the retailer sells it to the consumer that the C comes in.
B2B — business to business. The supply chain for B2B is a bit simpler, often it’s as easy as a business buying a product from another business and being sent the product directly. (Of course there’s the fact that a business itself is not capable of buying a product but rather the people in the business making the purchase, making them not only consumers but professional consumers, but let’s leave that aside for now.)
D2C — direct to consumer. Any grade schooler who's run a lemonade stand understands this business model. A manufacturer makes a product then sells it directly to a consumer.
You probably already see a connection between the B2B and D2C supply chains. They don’t have a middle man. In both cases they simply do what they do best: build a product, then sell the product. No fuss, no muss.
The Content Is the Middle Man
But … there is a middle man. And the middle man is the content. (You could also argue it’s the marketer, but it doesn’t have quite the ring to it). The fact is, whether you are selling B2C, B2B or D2C no one is going to buy your product if they haven’t heard about it. Somewhere along the supply chain you have to utilize content before you can expect to move your product from point A to point C.
Let’s start with B2B. According to the CEB (now part of Gartner), 70% of buyers want to speak with a rep, but only 8% trust the rep they are working with. As a marketer it’s bred in me to blame sales for every deal not working out. As a realist, I know I’ve worked with some amazing sales people.
So why the disconnect? I’d argue that the content the professional consumer is given during the research stage of their buying process might be putting the salesperson at a disadvantage.
Point B of the supply chain is content. If it’s not delivered as seamlessly as the product itself, you’re putting yourself at a grave disadvantage. And content for content’s sake doesn’t work. We used to send press releases loaded with keywords then bold those keywords in blog articles. Ten years ago (maybe) that worked. Five years ago, we'd just create a bunch of ebooks and whitepapers (there is a difference, trust me) and put those on the resource page after the initial promotion via email and social media — and that was enough. Now it’s not enough to simply create quality content, you have to make it for the right person at the right part of the sales cycle and be able to put it in front of him or her.
Related Article: Transform the Global Supply Chain With Multi-Party Innovation
Why D2C Is a Popular Trend Today
D2C is probably the oldest form of selling. Someone probably chiseled a tool in the Early Stone Age and traded it for food. But in more recent times, LL Bean and Abercrombie and Fitch were both catalogs selling directly to consumers before they were retail — and having a brick-and-mortar presence has no effect on the acronym. (This blog post calls Abercrombie a "D2C original.")
But when discussing D2C in 2019, we must consider the ease of being found today. That explains in part why D2C has become a popular trend. No longer are manufactures reliant on the traditional B2C supply chain. What they rely on is having a means to be found online. That can be easier said than done. In the case of D2C, content plays an even bigger role as the second step of the supply chain. In many cases, without the traditional marketing mechanisms of the B2B world behind them, getting their product message in front of the right person at the right time is critical. Social media plays an outsized role here — Facebook and Instagram especially —but Google Ads and other channels, including email also are relevant. Just as importantly as the channels you advertise on, the platform you use for your products (PIM) and the ecommerce host you use is vital to getting D2C right.
Technology has opened up new ways to get a product from the manufacturer to the consumer, but that doesn’t mean it has made it easy. There’s a middle man between you and sending the buyer the final product. Placing your content in front of the consumer is needed to seal the deal.