Issue No. 267: On DNVB Branding


What’s next in DNVB branding? Every vertical brand story has its beginning. For lifestyle and fashion DNVBs that are fortunate enough to work with the finest branding agencies, this story often begins with its founder’s biography, the problem that product x begins to solve, and proclamations of the brand’s inevitable staying power. It’s a short history, as most are in online-first retail. But it’s also a forward-thinking approach, one designed for: eCommerce, Instagram and Google advertising, and third party delivery. Less “we’ve been” and more “we will be.”

According to the godfather of the term, “DNVBs are maniacally focused on the customer experience and they interact, transact, and story-tell to consumers primarily on the web.” As brands begin to focus on off-line retail, you’ll begin to find that the packaging around the brands will change with that focus. Whereas technology and futurism appealed early on (2010-2014), the brands that succeed over the next ten years will focus on heritage as much as they focus on futurism.

Phase One (2010-2014): Technology

Warby Parker is the best example by a mile. The brand grew by implementing a practice that other direct-to-consumer companies had not. The company worked to eliminate all barriers to purchase by implementing tools designed to facilitate an ingenious customer experience. For this first phase of DNVB marketing, the eCommerce brand’s technology was the draw. The product is nominal and affordable but the access to it became just as much a part of the brand as the eyewear itself. Take this excerpt from a 2013 Wall Street Journal article co-written by Kevin Lavelle and me:

We are now in the age of e-commerce 3.0, where entrepreneurs can launch companies with few barriers to entry. eCommerce 1.0 consisted of crude online shopping in the ’90s offered by a few businesses met with significant consumer skepticism. This evolved into the more sophisticated interactions of e-commerce 2.0 in the mid 2000s, when most companies realized that if they weren’t online, they were endangering their future.

A new time is here — and the power no longer lies in the hands of a few buyers at large stores. Bigger businesses can be upended by an upstart competitor with a superior product. And retail startups no longer have to endure the long, slow road of trade-show hopping to get their product in front of a handful of buyers, or giving away a hefty portion of each sale to distributors.

Phase Two (2014-2018): Comedy

Dollar Shave Club’s 1m33s “Our Blades Are F***ing Great” video was developed to promote the launch of a (since-acquired) brand and has now been viewed over 25 million times. This internet ad is considered one of the premier examples of top funnel marketing and DSC’s brand of humor has since influenced other mens-focused brands to pursue humor as a means of brand differentiation: Chubbies (no. 67), Untuckit (no. 48), Tommy John (no. 54), and Mizzen+Main (no. 86).

Capturing one customer by way of a top funnel direct-to-consumer ad can cost upwards of $20 per click on Facebook. Digital advertising can be costly. To counter these steadily rising costs, brands have been stimulating awareness, interest, and consideration cycles by promoting a viral brand video. It achieves awareness, consideration, and intent.

Most importantly, introducing mainstream users to your brand and getting them to clickthrough for more information allows marketers to use tools like Facebook’s pixel to retarget casual visitors, moving them further down the sales funnel. Appealing to casual customers was an effective way of increasing top funnel traffic.

Phase Three (2018-forward): Heritage

Brands that began as the embodiment of online-first retailers are now expected to rival age-old incumbents. These incumbents are still around and some are even stronger than they were before the emergence of vertical brands. All the while, new brands are beginning to compete on old-aged ground: mall retail, brick and mortar shops, and traditional advertising. The internet was supposed to completely eliminate these channels.

Fashion eCommerce has matured and physical retail has evolved into a more effective channel. As such, we’re beginning to see brands take on the traits of heritage companies. But if you’re eight years old, you won’t have a heritage story. For every Abercrombie, Filson, Ralph Lauren, Lily Pulitzer, Ray Ban, and Tag Heuer, there is a digitally vertical brand like Harry’s, Allbirds, and Outdoor Voices that is trying to accomplish the opposite.

Heritage brands work to maintain heritage, while striving for futurism through of product and channel innovation (see Cole Haan). For heritage brands, presenting an aura of staying power means that the products and channels will present as forward-thinking for a millennial-driven, omni-channel age.

Vertical brands work to establish their products as an evolution of heritage products, while holding on to as many of their technological advantages as possible. For digitally vertical brands, longevity is projected by tethering to heritage brands steeped in tradition.

The next wave in DNVB branding is heritage-based. Brands will deepen their roots by way of product collaborations, messaging, and unique origin stories of their own. Look no further than this example of a heritage maker and vertical brand accomplishing both of their messaging objectives with one collaboration.

Messaging: “Legacy brands approve of us, they want us around.”


Long before designer dad sneakers infiltrated fashion hot spots across the globe, the New Balance 574 set the gold standard for what a well-designed, chunky, retro runner should be. It looked great when it launched in 1988, and in 2018 it manages to look stylish on just about anyone who wears it—actual dads included. Over the years, the 574 has become the go-to New Balance model when it comes to collaborations, too, so it’s seen a fair number of upgrades and interactions. But the latest collab—with the high-tech clothing label Ministry of Supply—brings the 574 into the ultra-performance future.  – Tyler Watamanuk, GQ

Messaging: “The finest legacy brands trust our platform.”

This month, Mr. Porter launched a tongue-in-cheek collaboration with Prada. As luxury continues to grow online, Mr. Porter is pushing to become the destination for such wares. This type of heritage nod goes a long way with consumers.
Since the 1990s, the brand has maintained an enviable position firmly at the forefront of fashion, to the extent that it has become a household name, a byword for sleek elegance, forward-looking design and, yes, a lot of fun print shirts. So great is the admiration for the brand’s wares in the MR PORTER office that there was something of a festival atmosphere when, in September 2016, we became the first online store to offer Prada’s much-coveted menswear collection.

Continue reading “Issue No. 267: On DNVB Branding”

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Successful commerce companies and vertical brands want to know how to generate authentic happiness with their customers. A customer kept > a customer gained. The attention stack is a buzz phrase that you’ll hear quite a bit about as brands try to solidify their standing in a quickly evolving market.

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Issue No. 257: Snap Inc. and eCommerce


Snapchat, Nike, Darkstore and Shopify teamed up to pre-release the Air Jordan III “Tinker” on Snapchat with same-day delivery. There are a few implications to consider here.

In the United States, eCommerce is dominated by consumer search. Product discovery still lags behind. While Amazon continues their efforts to insource a tried and true discovery mechanism that is currently outsourced to digital publishers (in exchange for affiliate revenue), the hole in the system remains. So, leave it to the embattled media company known for discovery to attempt the leap.

Perhaps Snapchat is attempting to lean into this role? There might just be a product market fit.

Snapchat’s push into eCommerce is a long time coming and it couldn’t happen at a more appropriate time for the Los Angeles media company ($SNAP). Here’s what Jason Del Rey noted about the the partnership between Shopify and Snapchat for Nike’s Jordan brand:

Over the All-Star weekend, Nike hosted a special concert in Los Angeles, the host city of the game. Attendees were guided to use the Snapchat camera to scan a code displayed on a basketball-hoop backboard to view the new Air Jordan III “Tinker” sneaker in the app.

Guests were then able to purchase the sneaker right within Snapchat with the help of technology from the e-commerce software company Shopify. And most of the kicks were delivered to customers on the same day, thanks to a logistics startup called Darkstore.

@DelRey, Recode (read here)

May 2016’s 2PM Issue No. 46 was entitled “Snapchat, the eCommerce Giant.” It was titled as such because it featured a now-noteworthy article by Maya Kossoff that preceded much of the conversation that you will read about Snapchat’s recent experiment with Shopify and the Jordan brand.

The ability to buy tickets without leaving Snapchat is the biggest coup for Snapchat and Twentieth Century Fox, which placed the ad buy, and it suggests the company is making serious moves toward expanding into the e-commerce space.

@MeKosoff, Vanity Fair (read here)

Snapchat’s potential to combine advertising campaigns with ease of purchase sets itself apart from Instagram who has yet to develop a partnership with Stripe or Shopify. I was excited about that direction before Snapchat focused on their Spectacles campaign. But even with Spectacles, Snapchat began honing the ideas that we’re now seeing.

Here’s what I wrote in 2PM Issue 191 (2017): 

The most successful marketing campaign that Snapchat has led in the last two years wasn’t through traditional advertising, it was through traditional retail and eCommerce. […]  There is a virtuous cycle in modern digital media and eCommerce that shouldn’t be ignored. Consumers want to go where they are influenced to act. And advertisers would be smart to create content in those same spaces.


With Jordan, Snap is dipping its toe into the possibility of monetizing just about anything via app-integrated sales channels. Snap openly classifies itself a camera company, rather than a social media app. That’s why it’s explored products like Spectacles, which turned sunglasses into a video camera. And while right now, Snap is only selling one limited edition sneaker drop for Jordan through a live event, it’s easy to imagine Snap leveraging the close relationship that its 187 million daily active users have with its camera to any number of third-party brand partners.

Mark Wilson, Fast Company (read here)

Facebook has done a marvelous job of iterating around Snapchat’s original ideas, all but trouncing the high flying Snap, Inc. Only time will tell if this flavor of content x commerce is another one of those ideas that we’ll find reimagined for Instagram.

Read more of the issue here.