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Show 166 – Holiday insights to propel your retail strategy forward

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Graham Barrett hosted the sixth episode of our Marketing Futures series of the c-suite podcast that we’re producing in partnership with SAP, where this time, we looked at the holiday season, encompassing staple days in the calendar, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the build up to Christmas.

  • How do brands differentiate themselves in what has become such a crowded and competitive period?
  • What does the backdrop of global economic downturn mean for brand strategy this year?

Our guests from the world of fashion were:

Mood of the fashion industry in the run up to the holiday season.

Robin kicked off the discussion by saying that there’s a lot of conversation about inflation, supply chain as well as the National Retail Federation came out with their predictions for the holiday season, which she was able to get a sneak peek of.   She said that we are still going to see a very robust holiday season. Black Friday is going to be a very good one as well as the week and the month. People are already shopping for the holidays.

There were a couple of things that Robin thinks are going to happen and mentioned that Coach and some of the other retailers already have their virtual metaverse shops out, and so, gifting is going to happen very early, with people looking to spend money on gifts this year. She also thinks that people are going to dress up. So, we’re going to see quite a bit of gifting going on in fashion and we are going to see those of us who like to have the latest and greatest fashion design included in our festivities for the holiday.

Stephanie said she approaches the holiday season with excitement because it’s such a big moment for a brand and they Camuto Group love creating the content that really drives their customers (her) in and gets her excited to shop with them. This does come with lots of pressure as well. But she thinks that working together as a team to build those moments that drive excitement is what powers you through the day.  Stephanie is

responsible for Vincecamuto.com and the company’s D2C presence. The Vince Camuto brand has been around for over a dozen years, and she explained that they are trying to ramp up their e-comm presence.

Sarah said that for Diane von Furstenberg, the biggest challenge is that they are not a gifting brand. They don’t have gifting pieces. They sell women’s clothes, and a lot of their customers think of them for occasion wear. So, they are really excited that this holiday season seems like there are going to be a lot more parties, a lot more events happening and that’s how they are structuring or the angle they are taking with their content as that what their customers come to them for. Sarah said that their holiday strategy is more about having that fun piece to wear for your events.

Lessons from previous Black Fridays

Sarah said that they tried to take a bit of a gifting angle last year and just found that they don’t have the audience for that. They don’t have the right product selection and the customers who they are able to reach tend to be women who are shopping for themselves. So, they saw last year that their content around dressing for holiday events is what did well for them, which is why they are going with that this year and not focusing on the gifting aspect of it. She added that they also have found that in their promotional messaging, if they get too promotional, they tend to have their customers turn off a little bit. One of the things that they found works really well is to actually show their regularly scheduled programming with the promotional messaging added on top and so rather than leading with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, big sale, is to actually lead with regular content and then say and it’s on sale right now.

Robin said that customers are out looking to get out. They want to get out of the house, they want to go to the parties, they want to socialize. So, she thought that Sarah’s strategy sounded really great because that’s what people want to do right now. She added that if we think about it, this is really the first holiday season where we haven’t really had the dread of COVID and those types of things. So, people are ready to get out and have a good time and see people that they haven’t seen it in a long time. And wearing those great outfits is part of it.

Taylor felt that everything Sarah and Stephanie were talking about is completely organic to who they are and the ethos of their brands, and first and foremost, that’s key and core.  He thinks the biggest thing when about brands to consumers, regardless of holiday promotion, is where and how can you offer genuine value to those consumers, and there’s obviously different consumers at different stages of the funnel. There’s consumers that aren’t even in the funnel yet, for example. So, he thinks there’s always those opportunities to think about like, ‘hey, are there ways in which maybe I can personalize a path to purchase’, for example? It could be trying to understand what are those events that the customers going to this year. Is their focus on New Year’s Eve? Is it Christmas Eve? Is it the Christmas holidays? Is it something after that? And being able to guide them to the most relevant product for them is a key and core part of this. Holiday is one component of this. If you acquire a new customer during the holidays, there’s that huge component of ‘how do I then market to this consumer after the holidays?’. He added that oftentimes sometimes people are shopping for somebody else and so, if you can understand who it is they’re shopping for, again, you can start to make that relationship post-holiday much more relevant.  He also considers thinking ahead to post marketing. There’s the retention and LTV component that ties into all of that and how do you maximize those relationships?

Sarah said they sentan email last year for what to wear to the office holiday party, and it was one of their top performing emails of the month and saw a really good response to it. This year they will have New Year’s Eve, Christmas, what to what to wear for the home family time on Christmas and the office party, all of it.

Stephanie said that theirgoal is to be constantly testing and learning what their customer responds to. They recently ramped up the content that they are shooting in their house in studio as well. Some of the content that they originally were shooting more specifically to run on social, organic, social, or paid ads, they have been pulling into email and seeing really great responses there too. They are seeing just that constant animation or something that looks a little bit more elevated and fun, inspires her to click through and see what they have available. They just launched their gift guide and that was a successful strategy for them last year. She also thinks an element of that is treating yourself as well. They are not necessarily all about gifting, but how do they get her excited to come find a pair of shoes that she can’t wait to wear to her holiday party?

Taylor said that they have seen that as their customer base starts to get very close rolling everything out in preparation, one of the biggest trends they have seen, is taking the shift in messaging from ‘hey, we’re going to help you find the right gift or product’, etc. It’s more like, ‘treat yourself right – this is the year to do it’.

Most successful and the best campaigns

Robin said that you have to think about being more personalized. Those are the campaigns that really do rise to the top. We get so bombarded with so much nowadays, consumers are just overwhelmed with how many emails they receive. So, if there’s something that’s very specific and very personalized, those are doing are going to do very, very well. She added that we’re seeing gaming and the metaverse is peeking through. Referencing Coach again, she said that they’ve got a great little game going on. But you can purchase within the game and find dinosaurs and get 15% off and that type of thing. Ralph Lauren also, if there’s not a Ralph Lauren store that’s near you, you literally go through the store virtually and really be involved and engaged. For promotions, she thinks a lot of people lock down what they want to buy for the holidays and they’re making their lists. But she thinks the campaigns that will do well are the ones that make us go, ‘Oh, look at that’. And that’s really what will succeed.

Robin thinks the metaverse is a great opportunity to experiment. She doesn’t know if metaverse is for everybody and there are going to be various levels of the metaverse for everybody. She said Vans has done a great job of putting their Vans World in Roblox, they’ve got the twin product and there’s a whole bunch of young kids now who are running around with Vans. That’s been really, really successful. But she thinks it’s going to be a variation of the metaverse. She think it’s a time to try and it’s a small amount of money for an investment to see if it’ll work for your customer. She added that this is a great opportunity to keep your customers that are getting older or to find the new customers. You’ve got your core customers with a legacy brand. You want to keep those customers happy, but you have to find new customers to really come in behind them. There have been some great legacy brands that are no longer around that she used to shop a long time ago – citing The Limited as an example. She said that The Limited didn’t grow with her as I got older, and so they lost her as a customer, which is a sad thing, and then they lost where they were for younger generations. So, she thinks this is a great opportunity to talk to a younger generation in a different way and really get your brand out there in front of them because they are digitally much more digitally inclined.

Retention – understanding where consumers are in their life cycle stage

Stephanie said this is something they talk about often. She thinks as a brand that’s over 15 years old, they constantly have to keep an eye on that core audience and retain them over time and then focus on where they are going to grow new. That’s a big piece of their strategy. She think they are moving more and more towards having a dual path strategy, and they are not there yet, but it is part of the acquisition play that they are running on paid social and what they need to do is really ramp that up across all of their channels over the next year or two.

Sarah said that as a 50-year-old brand, they have customers who have been shopping since the 70’s and they know what they like and what they expect to see from them. They value those customers, and want them to always feel like they have product for them. But they are definitely thinking about how they also bring in a younger generation.

Taylor said it’s a dual track. He said that Emarsys’ Black Friday playbook had a few interesting things, including fine tuning your messaging based on your audience. With your existing audience, ideally there’s some type of segmentation that they’re in that maybe informs the messaging that they’re getting, versus just that broad range message, but also leveraging automation, progressive profiling.

Offline to online components

Sarah said they now only have one flagship retail store, so they do have presence with our wholesale partners, but don’t have much of an IRL presence at the moment. That’s been something that in the last few years that has been a shift in them convincing their customers to move online after shopping in their stores throughout the country. They are trying to think backwards. How do they also have a presence in the real world and make people feel comfortable shopping online?

Most important channels

Stephane thinkswithin digital marketing, email is still the core center place where they can tell their stories to the most people at once. And within that then how do you branch out and do the personalization or change things up and test and learn again based on segmentation and who can they drive in? And also from a promo standpoint, how can you run promotions via email exclusive so that you don’t have to be running global promotions ongoing? So those are all strategies that they ramp up in Q4. She also looks at what is that post-purchase flow and experience for the customer coming out of holiday after you’ve had these big acquisition moments. So really building out the customer journey in Q1 to make sure that you’re engaging and retaining those new customers and keeping them coming back to the site in a less promotional timeframe. She thinks that that is key to keeping that growth within that email channel. She added that they are going to be launching SMS in Q4 as well. They will probably be running some exclusive offers just to start kicking off that list growth right away and then hopefully really differentiating the messaging strategy between email and SMS because the overlap is so big.

Sarah said that they have incorporated SMS and it is actually grown a lot for them in the last year. But as Stephanie mentioned, there’s a lot of overlap. So, when they are planning out, especially for these promotional periods where they are going to send people a lot of messages making sure that the messages they are sending via channel can stand alone if someone is only on one of them, but that they never contradict or are directly repetitive for the customers who are receiving both. They are really trying to think about how they stagger even just in scheduling the messages and don’t want to bombard people. It’s the season where they’re being bombarded by every brand, and probably the season that people feel the most fed up with email marketing or SMS marketing. So, they do want to be careful that they are not making them feel like they can’t get away from them. They are working on making sure that their email and SMS work together. She sees their US audience is very engaged with it and really engaged with the brand.

Taylor said sometimes there might be a pop up on a website and it’s 15% off. He’s now seen the flow start to change from where it used to just be an email capture and now it’s email plus SMS. Those are opportunities to understand if there is a preferred method of communication, just by asking the consumer a very simple question before they opt in or at some point during the opt in process to think about how you communicate. Is there a differentiation of messages or do we think about how do we create this in a way where it doesn’t matter because they should be able to stand alone on their own and the consumers can make a choice.  He also talked about creating moments of education and being able to tell consumers a little bit more about who you are as a brand are really interesting and doing that to supplement those non-promotional moments because there’s of course a time and a place for transaction. You can also sometimes weave the two together, you can make it transactional without the messaging of the actual email itself having to be super transactional.  So,when there’s moments to truly create a very human moment with them, it’s valuable because once that data flows back in, it can really inform if it’s a net new lead, for example. If you also have a little bit more information about them, you might be able to automate a specific journey flow versus your traditional welcome series on board series type of flow. He thinks that’s just what consumers are looking for. He added that Joanna Milliken, CEO of Emarsys, told him there’s a difference between personalization and relevance. For personalization, people might think about as your first name in an email subject line. Relevance is, am I sending you the right message the way in which you want to receive that message?

Keeping the momentum going through the holiday season post Black Friday, Cyber Monday

Robin thinks there’s a couple of things here. This is a great time to acquire new customers. However, we cannot forget about that list that’s been dormant that’s been sitting there. Chances are there are some really good gold in that list. And perhaps you had somebody who was interacting with you and buying from you, and they got distracted. Now’s the time to bring them back. So don’t forget to go to that dormant list and start to target them and see what you can do to bring them back to and get them going. You’ve already acquired them. You don’t really know if you’ve lost them. The second thing is about how are you going to treat them moving forward, and it really does mean personalization relevance. She added that personalization is not just about putting Robin at the top of your email or text message. She said if she bought the Diane von Furstenberg dress in a certain color, don’t send me that color again, if I’ve already bought those boots or I bought a pair of boots, don’t market boots to me again. Those are things that unfortunately, fashion brands still struggle with. The data is there, but sometimes they just don’t get to the data. And so really relying on that machine learning and the AI underneath to be able to help. We as human beings are only as good as we are. We can’t do everything. And so, let’s rely on some of that. Let’s go ahead and take the step and let the AI run and let’s really see what happens. And then, of course, you can always go in and tweak, test and learn, test and learn. We all know that it’s the core of everything that we do in marketing. So she thinks those are the things that once you’ve acquired the customer, how are you going to treat them? They need to go into a different funnel, especially if they’re new and you acquire them over the holidays. They need to understand who your brand is. They need to understand the values. Are you into sustainability? What are events coming up? These are all things that we really need to remember to segment them off and treat them differently. Because in the first 12 months, that’s really how you are going to start to grow that customer and the lifetime value. And if you don’t have a different road that you are sending them down, you do run the risk of losing them. She said that segmentation gets even more tricky. You have to be even more creative. How many things do you offer customers and how different are they and then how do you treat them? It can get really difficult, but it can be done. And in the end, we know that customers really just want to be treated special. And what’s special to each of us is a little different than everybody else.

Stephanie thinks you also as a team have to be really intentional about laying out the groundwork of those strategies, because the thing with digital marketing is you can always do more, but how do you make the most out of your time and your team’s efforts? So really strategically laying out we’re going to run X amount of tests per month and they’re all going to correlate back towards each other before we then iterate and move forward with those learnings the next month. And so, making sure that you’re prioritizing by revenue impact is something that they do and they are trying to be really planful on a quarterly basis to say this is how they are going to approach this new strategy or segment and see how they can impact the business before moving forward. Because otherwise she thinks you can get into a scenario where you’re just, well, let’s run a test, let’s run and test. But then how does that all tie together at the end of the day? And so, if you’re more planful, it pays off.

Sarah said she has a really small team, and they all want to do everything and try everything but it can sometimes be hard to be intentional about, okay, what do we try first? Because they can’t test everything. They can’t make as many changes or as many different iterations of something as they would like to immediately. So that is something where they are trying to test and learn all the time, but also be very conscious of trying to test the most valuable things or the things that they think the information they get from that test will actually be able to action on, it’s a challenge.

International Women’s Day

Sarah said this circles back to that brand content that’s not necessarily transactional. International Women’s Day happens in March. It’s something that the brand does a lot of non-transactional content and programming around, but they do tend to also do a promotion globally for that day and it does usually have a charitable component as well. That’s really successful because it is very aligned with what their audience expects from them but also wants to see from them. Black Friday, Cyber Monday historically have not been their largest shopping days. Their twice-yearly friends and family sale and International Women’s Day events tend to be see their most engagement. So, she thinks they are trying to look at Black Friday, Cyber Monday, more through that lens of these, a little bit more branded content, producing something about the brand, not just the promotion, tends to have more impact for them.

Stephanie added that they run friends and family twice a year, so that’s an important acquisition moment for them as well. And the only time of the year that their customer can really get that discount. Beyond that, Cyber Week is their Super Bowl. So just making sure that they are showing up and are competitive in the marketplace.