In this technology-driven age, a common challenge for companies has been integrating new technologies into their existing business models, marketing and operations. This has been said to remain true for luxury brands. Convention has held that digital commerce is for the penny-wise. Research and consulting firm McKinsey dispels this perception. It reported that nearly 50% of luxury purchases are in fact influenced by digital. Warc’s Darika Ahrens aptly notes, “High-end income earners love high-end technology.”

Recognizing this, luxury fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff, an early adopter of new technologies in retail, is leading the way in immersive experiences that touch upon all senses to resonate with these digital-savvy, affluent consumers. Speaking at the Columbia Business School’s Emily-Culp-BRITE BRITE ’15 conference this past March, Emily Culp, Rebecca Minkoff’s SVP of eCommerce and Omni-Channel Marketing, discussed driving customer lifetime value by delivering multi-faceted experiences derived from technology, insights and organizational structure.

In 2014, Rebecca Minkoff launched its “Connected Stores” in New York and San Francisco with a fully integrated consumer experience. Interactive mirrors entice customers to browse video and content, order complimentary beverages, save merchandise options to their devices via the Rebecca Minkoff app, and check in-store and online inventory. Culp explained that by leveraging beacon technology and RFID tags, Rebecca Minkoff offers an even more perRebecca-Minkoff-Connected-Storesonalized experience. “When [our customer] walks into the fitting room, it recognizes merchandise and gives recommendations on what to wear [the item] with.” Customers can even adjust fitting room lighting to reflect the setting in which they would don the outfit (i.e. “SoHo after dark”).

In developing experiences for their omni-channel consumer, the question Culp asks herself is straightforward: “How do we flawlessly execute this omni-channel marketing in such a complex ecosystem?” At BRITE ’15, she outlined four essential points to succeed at this:

  1. Leadership: the ability to embrace smart risk and experimentation
  2. Expertise: building teams with hybrid skill-sets (e.g. creativity combined with an understanding of metrics)
  3. Linkage: breaking down the silos to align the KPIs of different departments
  4. Communication: sharing insights even when they may seem irrelevant to another team. “Maybe they can take it in a different way that another hasn’t [considered],” explained Culp.

Culp stresses the importance of not employing technology for technology’s sake. It should have a purpose. Rebecca Minkoff’s objective is to use technology to seamlessly deliver value to their consumers, relieving pain-points and empowering them to make informed decisions while shopping in-store and on any device at any time, anywhere in the world.

Through research, Culp’s team discovered that their consumer checks her smartphone, on average, 150 times a day, spiking at different points depending on when she’s at work using her computer or at night on her tablet. “The constant is mobile. So for us, when we’re looking at omni-channel marketing… we start with mobile.”

Rebecca-Minkoff-App

That said, culling data from all touchpoints—mobile, web, events, public relations, in-store—is at the foundation of their approach. “A lot of people think that data is boring,” she explains. “I inherently think that this is one of the most creative and fascinating parts of marketing today.” Quantitative and qualitative insights paint a holistic picture of their consumer. “[W]e can see as she traverses across these different channels what her behavior is and help her make informed decisions when it’s right for her.”

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The Kate Spade signature experience is as bold and colorful as its brand. Its 2013 strategy proved to be ahead of the curve, offering an amalgamation of consumer interactions across all touchpoints for a unified 360° experience.

Last summer, the luxury brand partnered with eBay to create a unique way to bridge digital with the brick-and-mortar world, transforming “window shopping” from a figurative expression into a literal action.

kate-spade-ebay-storeFor one month in New York City, four of its Kate Spade Saturday store locations turned their window displays into a 24/7 interactive adventure. It enabled shoppers to purchase that “must-have” piece in the window, from the window, via touchscreens. And shoppers could schedule that item to be delivered within one hour anywhere in the City (e.g. a last minute present delivered to a party you have to miss, that anniversary gift you forgot to buy for your wife… again).

Mary Beech, Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer, refers to their decorative windows as “a little piece of theater.” “Our store windows are moments of whimsical storytelling that express our core values in every venue,” she explained at The Hub Live 2013 conference. “[T]here’s a sales goal related to these. But we have fun doing it.”

In true kate spade new york innovative style, the luxury retailer ran the first shoppable online video banner during the 2013 holiday season. See an item you like in the digital ad? Simply click and purchase. “The technology provided an immediate, seamless, shoppable element that enhanced the experience, rather than pulling you out of it,” Beech explains in an interview with Design Taxi.

Kate Spade Shoppable Banner Ad

Efforts are paying off. kate spade new york reported a 30% increase in comparable store sales in its 2013 fourth quarter as well as a surge in last year’s stock price. Further, in early 2014, then parent company Fifth & Pacific was renamed to Kate Spade & Company to focus singularly on the Kate Spade brand.

Beech notes that they’ve carefully identified complementary experiences to carry through different social media channels. Facebook is for customers seeking information on products and seasonal designs. Twitter offers the voice of the Kate Spade woman tweeting about local events and other delightful discoveries. Instagram paints a picture her story and NYC lifestyle through the use of images. Tumblr displays inspirations behind the design process while content like fun, foodie cooking demonstrations are presented through its YouTube channel.

kate spade new york is fast becoming a trailblazer in the marketplace, developing unique ways to engage and even entertain its biggest and brightest fans to keep the brand both fashion and marketing-forward.

WarbyParker_playEyeglasses have a new image—from a functional apparatus that 1980s youth cringed over (à la braces) to a fashionable tool that many are proud to don.

This bodes well for Warby Parker. The burgeoning e-commerce eyewear company takes pride in likewise transforming those of us who vividly remember wandering blindly through school hallways into trendsetters for the “in-crowd” without breaking bank. But Warby Parker offers more than a pretty face. The student-founded start-up acted on a deeper vision and managed to hit its first-year sales goals in just three weeks… on a $120k budget.

For a mere $95 you can purchase “fully loaded,” custom fit glasses with anti-reflective, prescription lenses—which, by the way, are manufactured in the same facility as luxury brands that charge hundreds of dollars for frames alone. But the three-year-old retailer embraces an even greater purpose at its core—donating stylish specs for every pair sold to those who have forgone proper vision because they can’t afford to buy even low-priced eyeglasses.

Similar to what TOMS did for the shoe industry, Warby Parker is shaking up the optics market. Co-founder Neil Blumenthal explains, “[Glasses] stand for something…. So it wasn’t just about getting a bunch of cheap glasses and selling them online.”

When Blumenthal and three of his Wharton classmates heard that one billion people worldwide were without glasses, they risked trips to the Dean’s office to embark on this venture. Blumenthal tells Mike O’Toole, host of PJA Radio’s The Unconventionals, “[We wanted] to build… a business that is scalable, profitable, but does good in the world and doesn’t charge a premium for it…. The problems that we face are more complex and larger than ever before. And volunteering on the weekend is not going to solve it.”

Blumenthal says that Warby Parker exists in three distinct worlds—fashion, technology and social enterprise. “We spent a lot of time thinking, ‘What are we?’ and ‘What are we not?’ ‘What do we stand for?’”

Warby Parker, the David in a Goliath world, competes with industry brands like Luxottica (Ray Ban, Oakley, Oliver Peoples) and LensCrafters that monopolize the market. But Blumenthal and his cohorts aim to make their business model an example for small enterprises and Fortune 500 companies alike. “Ultimately businesses can be and should be a catalyst for good,” says Blumenthal.

For many, eyewear is more than utilitarian. It is indeed an extension of the fashion world, a form of personal style and expression. So the founders were challenged with persuading consumers to buy prescription glasses online rather than in-person at a retail establishment where they can immediately try them on.

Warby Parker implemented the “Home Try-On” program. Customers can select up to five different, non-prescriptive frames which are shipped at no cost to their doorsteps. They then have five days to try the frames, solicit feedback from family, friends, and style gurus. After making a selection, customers simply return the frames using a pre-paid shipping label and order their chosen pair through Warby Parker’s website.

The team behind Warby Parker succeeded in building awareness through a well-targeted campaign convincing aspirational media outlets like GQ and Vogue to feature them. After selling out of their top 15 styles in four weeks, Warby Parker accumulated a waitlist of 20,000 people.Warby Parker Class Trip

Warby Parker has since expanded from operating out of Blumenthal’s apartment to selling frames at their own brick-and-mortar stores. More recently they launched the “Warby Parker Class Trip,” transforming a school bus into a mobile showroom for a cross-country road trip to bring the Warby Parker experience to the masses.

To hear more about how this start-up became one of the most talked about entrepreneurial ventures, listen to Neil Blumenthal’s full interview on PJA’s The Unconventionals.

What comes to mind when you hear the brand name “Converse?”

Converse Rubber Tracks Logo

You’re likely to think “sneakers,” “Chuck Taylors,” “basketball,” and even “Nike.” But for many, the word “music” isn’t necessarily top-of-mind. The company doesn’t incorporate music into its marketing, so it’s not surprising that it wouldn’t be associated with the brand.

Why, then, would the sneaker company invest in a 5,200 square foot, state-of-the-art recording studio, with award-winning engineers, and offer recording time to aspiring musicians… free of charge?

Converse CMO Geoff Cottrill tells PJA Radio’s The Unconventionals, “Most brands borrow equity from a musician… to make their brand look a certain way to a certain demographic… to look cool.” Instead, Converse found greater value in celebrating its consumer rather than celebrating itself.

Converse built Rubber Tracks, the Brooklyn, NY-based studio, to give emerging musicians the opportunity to record their music, no strings attached. “For what it costs to run three to four weeks of heavy TV [advertising] in the U.S., a good heavy campaign one time for a month, we could… run a studio for a number of years.”

If you think the intent is to make bands famous and tie the Converse name to them, it’s not. Cottrill emphasizes that they’re not making empty promises. “We’ve been really focused on making sure we keep our feet on the ground and that we don’t get into the music business because that’s not our business.”

The team at Converse wanted to become useful to its Converse Rubber Tracks Studiobiggest proponents by helping those who might not otherwise have been able to afford studio time elsewhere. They channeled their focus from creating a marketing message to turning the experience itself into the message. Doing so enabled them to build more meaningful relationships, and life-long memories for its core consumers—creative individuals. Cottrill notes, “The interactions that they have with you are what they carry.”
The return? Brand advocates.

According to Cottrill, Converse’s Facebook page has grown tremendously over the past few years because they haven’t tried to hook and bait people. In the past year alone, Converse “Likes” have gone from 25 million to over 35.5 million, more than twice as much as Adidas (11 million), and well more than Puma (8.8 million) and New Balance (454,661).

Directly linking these numbers to sales and ROI isn’t scientific. But in a 2012 study conducted by Razorfish, Econsultancy, and Social Media Today, over 34% of Facebook Fans consider the brand when shopping for a product or service. Likewise, about 34% recommend the brand to their family and friends. Jennifer Rooney, Forbes CMO Network editor, eloquently states, “As companies acknowledge the breakdown in brand ownership driven by social media, they are wont to give as a way to get, to let go as a way to hold on.” Brand affinity and relationships are of utmost importance to Converse, a company that sees immense value in giving back to its community and becoming relevant to individuals, whether they don Converse sneakers or not.

“Virtually everyone that’s come [into the studio]… is posting on Instagram, on Facebook, talking to their social media network, their fan base, about this great experience that they’ve had,” explains Cottrill. Converse never asks anyone to “Like” a page. It simply adds content and value to the conversations. And Fans consistently respond favorably towards the brand. According to its Facebook page, Converse has close to 200,000 Fans “talking about this.” Adidas has about 117,750. “We couldn’t be any more pleased with the results. Again I go back to the relationships that we’re creating there.”

Here in the United States, we’re all too familiar with the concept of “road rage,” often finding ourselves lambasting other drivers for their blatant disregard for the rules and safety of the road, only to be met with expletives, hand gestures, and even indifference.

As we know, this problem isn’t unique to the U.S. But countries tackle these perils in various ways. Columbia Business School recently published “Cheyef Halak: Driving Social Change in Lebanon,” a case study on how one country took on this challenge, but with a greater purpose in mind—to build an advocacy program inciting overarching social change.

In 2011, LBCI, a popular television network in Lebanon, with then Interior Prime Minister, Ziad Baroud, and Impact BBDO, created the award-winning Cheyef Halak campaign. Cheyef Halak integrates marketing and social media with sardonic messaging to address reckless driving in Beirut. But it isn’t solely about negligent drivers. Rather it used this topic as a launching pad to address a range of issues encompassing internal corruption and civic responsibility.

Described as a “civic movement based on citizen journalism,” Cheyef Halak is a platform on which Lebanese citizens photograph and report irresponsible and dangerous behaviors of individuals who consider themselves above the law. Pictures and videos of violators in action are posted on Cheyef Halak’s Facebook page and Twitter feed, creating what has been referred to as a “Wall of Shame.”

Cheyef Halak Facebook Page

The phrase itself means “Do you see yourself?” but is more commonly understood in sarcastic terms as “Are you proud of yourself?” Instead of taking a patronizing tone, however, the campaign incorporates commercials and outreach embodying a more satirical personality, using irony and humor to engage its audience.

Through traditional and emerging media, the campaign took off with measurable success. Within its first seven months, citizens captured over 2,300 road incidents and posted 100 videos. By the end of 2011, its Facebook page had attracted 27,000 “Likes” and its videos had garnered 68,000 views, now at more than 41,000 and 131,000, respectively. Not bad for a country with only 4.1 million people, about half the size of New York City’s population. It also won the 2011 Gemas Effie gold award for best use of corporate social responsibility, as well as several awards from MENA Cristal and Dubai Lynx.

Support for the cause has caught on with schools and other institutions. And in December 2011, the collected photos and videos were submitted to the current Interior Minister for potential use in policy initiatives. Columbia Business School Prof. Asim Ansari notes, “[The campaign] had empowered everyday Lebanese to become change agents able to track, report, and capture violators when state agencies were unwilling to do so.”

LBCI and Impact BBDO must now consider challenges as they look towards the campaign’s future. The founders are taking into consideration long-term sustainable impact, keeping messaging fresh and inspiring, raising funds, and whether they can effectively broaden the effort to tackle other areas of political and social strife.

Disruptive Innovation

February 8, 2012

Disruptive InnovationSocrates taught us to question everything. And when it comes to innovation, nothing could be closer to the truth. But Luke Williams, professor of Innovation & Design at NYU Stern School of Business and author of DISRUPT, takes this notion a step further—”disruptive innovation.”

Speaking at Columbia Business School’s BRITE ’11 conference, Williams explained that companies today tend to have a myopic vision when using new technologies to build their brands. Digital magazines, for example, may offer more features, but they’re still giving consumers what they expect in ways that they expect. “As a result, a lot of our brand-building around these new technologies has taken on some pretty predictable trajectories.”

Disruptive innovation, however, is not about technological change. According to Williams, it’s about a revolution in behavior and “changing the way you think about a category.” Brands need to move beyond focusing on what the latest technology can do for their company or product. Williams challenged the audience to break free from conventional assumptions about a category to see from a new perspective. To do so, he reminds us to be careful of cultural influence and to pay attention to context, not just the foreground. As consumers and the marketplace evolve, it is increasingly important to embrace disruptive innovation before it is forcibly imposed by a new competitor or shifting consumer landscape.

To quote Harvard Law School professor, Roberto Unger, “the task of the imagination is to do the work of crisis without crisis.”

To gTLD or to Not gTLD

February 8, 2012

If you haven’t already heard, there’s a new word in town. It’s called “dotBrand” and it’s about to crack the dotcom world wide open.

In January 2012, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the non-profit organization that governs the internet’s naming system, is opening the opportunity for global businesses, communities, governments, and even geographical locations, to apply for generic top-level domain names (gTLDs)—such as .canon, .wine, and .nyc. Many are now weighing the pros and cons of “dotBranding” themselves.

To gTLD or to Not gTLDThe news surrounding ICANN’s new gTLD program, has stimulated a broad discussion raising questions such as “How could my business benefit from this?” to “Do I need to protect my brand?” Like all things, there are a wide range of considerations to factor in when deciding whether to apply, among them trademark protection, brand equity, and cost.

It should be clarified that ICANN isn’t simply handing out gTLDs to the first person or organization that applies. Just because Jane in Arizona is applying for .madonna doesn’t mean that she’ll get it. There are “checks and balances” in place including a trademark clearinghouse providing authentication of trademark information, and an objection-based process enabling rights holders to demonstrate that a proposed gTLD would infringe their legal rights. Of course there are valid concerns for businesses, organizations, and communities who do have common or even similar names. A company like Patagonia may be legitimately concerned about securing the same domain name as the region of Patagonia. ICANN has created a dispute resolution program, and even auction procedures, to handle such issues.

While some brands perceive gTLDs as a risk and may be considering applying for trademark protection, others envision possibilities involving brand extension and brand architecture. For example, a parent company like Unilever with multiple sub-brands could employ “dove.unilever.” B2C businesses like Citibank could create a more personalized consumer experience through their websites with url’s such as “www.michael.citibank.” But this also begs the question about the appearance of a brand’s homepage—is it “home.bmw” or “bmw.bmw”? Brand consultants seem to still be hashing this out.

And many opponents to the new gTLD program feel the financial commitment is a hefty price to pay for a top-level domain system that they feel works fine with its 22 existing TLDs (.com, .gov, .jobs, etc.). The application costs US$185,000 as well as a reported US$25,000 annual fee. Then there are the additional expenses such as technical, administration, and maintenance fees. For big name brands, this could be worth the investment. When compared to the cost of a single, 30-second television spot, it’s not a huge chunk of change. For small to mid-size companies, however, it is an expensive endeavor that may take deeper consideration.

“The kinds of benefits we see from a brand-building perspective are things like controlling your brand and your content,” explained Karl Isaac, Executive Director of Landor’s digital branding practice, during the Center’s webinar. “If you are a business that transacts with your customers or that protects very private and confidential information for your customer, the increased security benefits alone may outweigh the risks of doing this.”

The application process may be preempted, however, as the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has called for a hearing this month to discuss the merits, implications and concerns surrounding ICANN’s new program. If the gTLD application process does move forward as planned, businesses and organizations will need to do due diligence if thinking about applying.