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The Unique Challenge of Finding Outstanding Leaders for Direct-to-Consumer Brands

The Unique Challenge of Finding Outstanding Leaders for Direct-to-Consumer Brands

March 2023


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Direct-to-Consumer companies have disrupted the traditional retail industry and transformed the way consumers purchase goods and services.

With the ability to bypass traditional retail channels and sell directly to consumers, Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) companies offer a more convenient, personalized, and seamless shopping experience.

However, the swell of DTC companies has come with an increased demand for leaders with the unique skillset required to excel in the direct-to-consumer space. Unfortunately, as many DTC brands are learning, finding skilled and experienced leaders can sometimes feel like searching for a unicorn.

With DTC ecommerce sales in the United States gearing up to reach over $160 billion, hiring the most effective executive leaders will be paramount.

Direct-To-Consumer: An Environment Unlike Any Other

The DTC leadership challenge is part of a larger vacuum confronting the entire retail industry. A recent New York Times article noted that several high-profile consumer companies are operating without a permanent CEO.

The article notes that there has been a shift in the skills needed for retail leadership positions. “For decades, retail executives have been expected to be expert sellers—knowing what people wanted, how much of it they wanted, and how to get them to buy it. Now, top executives are also expected to understand how many resources should go to e-commerce operations compared with brick-and-mortar stores, how to troubleshoot issues in global supply chains, and when to invest in emerging technologies like the metaverse.”

As true as that observation is for retail talent, it is magnified for DTC talent. Even though a DTC leader might not need the same brick-and-mortar experience as a pure retail executive, they still need a wide range of skills to do well in a DTC setting. That makes finding talent exceedingly difficult.

A successful DTC leader must be able to deliver on four key customer expectations: convenience, personalized experience, high quality products, and the opportunity to interact with the brand—each of which demands specialized skills and experience.

4 Customer Expectationsand What They Require from a DTC Leader

Direct Interaction with the Brand: DTC companies depend on customer engagement. That requires the strategic use of email, social media, and other omni-channel marketing approaches to reach their audience. Without relevant marketing and customer engagement experience, a DTC leader may not be able to sustain the level and type of interaction customers expect. With customer loyalty at the forefront of the success of the brand, retailers are looking for executives who have deployed strategies that have proven their respective brands have been effective in creating a type of “staying power” in the eyes of their customers.

Convenience and Ease of Purchase: One of the biggest advantages DTC companies offer customers is the ability to shop from their own device, whenever they wish—a preference that the pandemic only amplified. However, that requires that DTC leadership be highly experienced in creating and maintaining a quality online presence that meets customers’ high expectations. One of those expectations is the ability to make a purchase through an easily recognizable payment processing platform such as Venmo, PayPal, AmazonPay, CashApp, or Zelle. Having to pull out a credit card and input it during checkout can cause your buyers to pause or send them to another shop where the process is more streamlined.

Personalized Experience: DTC brands have the ability to control the entire buying process. Building a personalized experience is critical for a DTC brand. It helps a customer feel valued and engaged, which, in turn, leads to increased loyalty and brand trust. To offer each customer a fully personalized experience, an effective DTC leader must be familiar with data and technology (and how to use both) in order to create an exceptional experience and see their customers more holistically.

High-Quality Products: DTC companies like Warby Parker and Chewy are as well-known for their outstanding product lines as they are for their customer service. That means a DTC leader must have marketing, production, and supply chain chops to ensure products remain high-quality and available. Given the recent supply chain challenges, navigating and identifying creative solutions is critical.

Direct-To-Consumer Unicorns Do Exist

Executives with a diverse background in customer loyalty, supply chain management, and data analytics are on the market, you just need to know how to find them. Paradoxically, the pandemic has shed light on leaders who weathered the COVID storm, maintaining the confidence of their employees while pivoting to meet the ever-changing demands of their customers.

“Executives with a diverse background in customer loyalty, supply chain management, and data analytics are on the market, you just need to know how to find them.”

These are the types of leaders who will take your DTC business to the next level. When you find one of these unicorns, remember that you are not hiring a resume. You are hiring a human being. Assess, evaluate, and fully understand the motivators, behaviors, and competencies of that individual when bringing them on to lead your DTC efforts.

Click here to reach out to one of our consultants if you need help finding your next DTC executive.

About the Author

Emily Plahanski is Stanton Chase’s E-Commerce and DTC Global Sector Leader. She works with leading technology, private equity, and consumer products firms. Emily brings more than a decade of professional search consulting and leadership experience to Stanton Chase, along with an extensive background that includes working within the areas of employee engagement, leadership and culture, as well as diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

Click here to learn more about Emily.

Executive Search
Consumer Products and Services
Board Governance
Leadership Development

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