Dandruff shampoo, at least in the eyes of former private equity fund manager Ross Goodhart, was long overdue for an upgrade. Nearly half of all men and more than a third of women globally suffered from flaky, itchy scalps, but shampoo options were mostly funky and medicinal-smelling drug-store products, and not terribly great for hair.

In 2017, Goodhart met former marketing executive Robbie Salter, who had the same idea about what was missing from the dandruff shampoo sector, and the two founded Jupiter. The direct-to-consumer personal care brand offers “spa-like” products which treat and soothe scalp conditions while also smelling nice and making hair look good.

Now the challenge is getting the products in front of the right consumers. Jupiter had success with one inexpensive form of marketing, earned media. Its shampoos, conditioners and serums have been featured in Vogue, Allure, The New York Times, Refinery29 and Popsugar. But cultivating more consistent brand awareness is another matter, one that requires tech-enabled tricks that helped fuel the rise of roughly $18 billion DTC e-commerce market.

In short, they need to use the multitude of digital footprints and traces of data people leave online to find potential customers.  With mechanisms available through Google and social media platforms, they can show targeted advertising that complements the messaging in their own content-generation efforts and in the press.

“We are playing in a stigmatized category and space, and we don't believe it should be,” Goodhart told us. “We’re working really hard to break through that stigma and allow people to understand that it’s a very common condition, and you can treat it with really beautiful products where you will actually have a really good experience.”

Direct-to-consumer e-commerce brands, names like Casper, Peloton, Dollar Shave Club and Curology, took off over the past decade, driven in large part by friendly venture capital environments and social media-based marketing. Prices for ads or influencer campaigns on those platforms were initially low, although they have risen significantly in recent years due to an influx of competition, according to Harvard Business Review.

Social platforms like Facebook and Instagram can provide various levels of targeting, sometimes by general interest categories, sometimes based on previous ads consumers have clicked on, or recent purchases, or items customer they thought of purchasing but left in an online merchant “cart.” Information is usually gathered through the placement of cookies, bits of code that tag users as they conduct various online activities.

According to Thinknum data, growth in Instagram followers appears to have moved in the same general direction as web traffic for some DTC companies over the past year. Home exercise company Peloton was a particular standout, with its Instagram following more than doubling over the past year to 1.5 million. DTC dieting program Noom showed a somewhat more modest 40 percent growth rate in followers over the same time period, while older DTC mattress brand Casper increased its following by only 4 percent.

Meanwhile daily page views for both Peloton and Noon both trended upward over the past year, while Casper stayed about even, Thinknum data shows.

A person might encounter an ad for Jupiter on social platforms if they have a general interest in fitness or clean living (Jupiter boasts largely natural products that include some FDA-approved medical ingredients), or in other hair care brands and hygiene items. Google searches for particular words, or online purchases of certain products could also cause Jupiter ads to populate your Facebook or Instagram feeds. (A visit to Jupiter’s website does the same, which I discovered while writing this article.) 

“[If] you’re looking into clean beauty in general, or clean food, searches like that, there are certain kinds of keywords that will be kind of linked to what our brand stands for,” Goodhart explained. Although its customers skew toward women, Jupiter strives to be inclusive and gender-neutral. The products are vegan and cruelty-free, and the company has committed to donating a portion of its profits to mental health initiatives. 

“A lot of algorithms on Google and Facebook and Instagram are effectively learning the customer, what the customer is really looking for, and serving them those ads that they think are best suited for that.”

But things are getting tougher for DTCs than they used to be. In addition to the higher advertising prices, tech firms are making it harder for advertisers to gather data on consumers through their Internet activity —  implementing those moves in response to an increasing drumbeat of consumer privacy concerns.

Last month, Apple said it was providing an update for Safari on iOS and MacOS that would fully block third-party cookies. Google has said it would do similar for Chrome within two years.

The shifting landscape means that new brands have to work harder to develop effective marketing strategies than some DTC firms did in the past, Goodhart said. Success stories from a few years ago do not necessarily provide a model for what will work today, he added.

“We're continuously trying to talk to our customers learn more customers are, so that we can continue to upgrade and elevate the brand to meet what our actual customers want to see,” he said

“There are a lot of brands that do not leverage Facebook and Instagram and are still very successful by leveraging more affiliate relationships or other channels,” he continued. “I think every brand is different. I don't think there's a perfect playbook anymore.”

About the Data:

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online, jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings, and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.

Ad placeholder