November 6, 2019
Joining us on the Marketing Mix Podcast is Kristen D'Arcy, CMO at PacSun. In this episode, Kristen discusses her incredible career in marketing that named her in AdAge’s 40 Under 40, how she has revamped multiple global brands with a digitally-driven eCommerce strategy, and why brands shouldn’t apply a one size fits all approach to creative moving into 2020. In addition to describing the most effective balance between brand and performance marketing, Kristen discusses the use of short form versus long form video in social media advertising today, AE’s holistic back-to-school x Lil Wayne campaign on TikTok, and the decision to take American Eagle’s social media teams in-store.
Jeff Ragovin: Kristen, You've had an incredible career. First off, congratulations! You were recently named in AdAge’s 40 Under 40, as well as in Brand Innovator’s Top 50 Women In Marketing. We met when you were at American Eagle running integrated marketing and you have just started as CMO at PacSun. You’ve spent most of your career specializing in the luxury, fashion and beauty industries and have completely led the charge on brands like Oscar de la Renta, Coty and many more. I’d love to start off by hearing more about your career path and overall journey in the marketing world so far that’s led you to where you are today?
Kristen D'Arcy: When I entered college I really started thinking about what I loved and all of my marketing courses were by far the most interesting because they seemed to exercise both left and right brain. I knew that I wanted to get an internship in marketing so I actually bought the Princeton’s Review’s Top 100 Internships In The US and I dog-eared every single company’s profile that sounded interesting and I guess I believed that wherever I landed location wise I could figure out how to live there somehow and if I actually called all of those companies then eventually I’d find one HR department that would consider me for their internship program.
What I learned through that experience at 20-years-old is that in business truly nothing beats tenacity, and I actually landed an internship at Arther Anderson in their global brand marketing group through that exercise. That’s where I saw what I thought would be a great left brain, right brain career come to life. I wanted to be on the rebranding team at Arther Anderson, but my manager at the time, Pam Dayton, actually put me into a CRM project group and I went a little bit kicking and screaming, but I have to thank her for it because truly that’s what this career has been built upon in digital marketing.
After graduation, I moved to the agency side of the business starting in Chicago and then went to San Franscico before New York. The move from Chicago to San Francisco truly was another business lesson for me in that you had to be fearless. I grew up in the Midwest, went to school in the Midwest and really could've stayed comfortable there forever, but I knew that this would be a great career move so I left at the chance and then eventually came to New York with R/GA. R/GA had the best clients and the best creatives that I’ve ever worked with so all that said, great experience but I knew I wanted to move to the client side. The reason being is that I wanted my finger on the pulse a little bit more with the financials behind the business. Sometimes, as you know, you can be once removed when you're in the agency world.
Another lesson that I’ve learned throughout my career which is you're going to have great days and you're going to have bad days, but you have to believe that everything works out for the best and stay pretty centered, otherwise you're going to move in whatever direction the wind blows. I say that because in trying to move from R/GA to the client side, I was up for a big job, I was totally underqualified for it and somehow I made it to the final round and I was so excited. I loved the brand, and I didnt get it. I remember thinking this could be the end of the world or I can just stay grounded and know that something better is coming along, and sure enough 6 months later Ralph Lauren called and offered an incredible role running digital marketing in the US for a brand that I still really love and respect. That was my first move to the client side, and then from there over to Oscar de la Renta helping them build out their eCommerce business and then to the first ever global digital group at Coty and then as you said most recently over to American Eagle where I really loved the two very different business challenges between what AE was facing versus say Aerie as I worked across both.
Jeff Ragovin: You brought an amazing eCommerce strategy and system to Oscar de la Renta and Coty. Can you tell us a little more about the strategy and how you operationalized it?
Kristen D'Arcy: They are two very different companies. On the Oscar de la Renta side of things, I remember Alex Bolen, the incredible CEO, when he was interviewing me asking ‘Do you think you can settle $10,000 gowns online?”, and I said “You know, I think I can try!” The strategy there was a bit more bespoke in that the idea was to sell the lower priced items like fragrances, accessories etc. direct to the customer so they would just go, shop, click and buy. Those higher priced items, like the $10,000 gowns, we actually put something in place called a personal shopper, where somebody could hold your hand through the entire experience. There was a live chat with him, you were able to get him straight on the phone, he was a former Oscar salesperson - one of the best in the business. That bespoke approach made people feel much more comfortable with regard to spend because they were able to talk to somebody in real time, which also worked to help lessen returns.
At the same time, with the help of the Oscar PR girl we were really trying to draw in a younger crowd into a brand. She was on fire in regard to social, and then we started developing a lot of eCommerce assets - photoshoots for product pages, digital marketing, emails etc. It really was a little bit of a startup from the ground up under the guise of this very, very well known brand.
When you look at Coty, what was really different is that they knew they had incredible brands, such as Calvin Klein Fragrance, Marc Jacobs, Sally Hansen, and they did a good job with marketing, but they knew that they needed to leapfrog when it came to digital. So, I came in and did a ton of listening to both global and local marketing teams and I set up, from a strategic perspective, the group in 3 different areas.
The first area was a digital marketing strategy. I wanted to make sure that there was a team that partnered with the global brand teams right at the start when they were just beginning to think about their product pipeline and the creative concept, and that they started briefing the ad agency making sure that digital had a seat and a hand in shaping all of those things. So there was a team in New York, Paris and London that again partnered with the global team to do that.
The second was around analytics. There was never one place where analytics had sat centrally ever before so how could you normalize KPIs beyond sales if you didn't know what success looked like? So we built out a team to help global and local do just that.
And then the third was technology. I think you'll find this interesting… Each team would create their own website one-off. Each team would capture emails one off. They would use social media tools one off. So what we tried to do was consolidate all that, each of the teams used a consistent social media platform and consistent backend technology so that there were tons of savings and synergies realized.
Jeff Ragovin: Let’s talk a little bit about the omnichannel experience. Why is it so important for the modern consumer to have a variety of options for shopping?
Kristen D'Arcy: The omnichannel experience is important because customers don’t think in channels per se. Whether they go to your store, they visit your website, they follow you on social - to them it's just an experience with your brand and it needs to be consistent no matter where they are engaging with you. Why multiple channels or options are important is because you actually need to meet customers on their terms, and not force them to behave in an environment where you want them to be.
Jeff Ragovin: Are there any new, innovative ways to ensure that customer has a really great omnichannel experience?
Kristen D'Arcy: I think it actually starts with having an integrated strategy, which we are going to talk about soon, but that is kind of the first and foremost the most important thing. The second thing is that with the advancement of AI frankly I think it will allow marketers to be smarter with how they are going after customers and making sure that they understand where their customer is in the purchase cycle.
Jeff Ragovin: As well as specializing in the eCommerce space, you also have amazing expertise in integrated media & marketing. Overall, the term “integrated media” is thrown around a lot nowadays, so can you tell us a little more about what integrated marketing means in 2019 and moving into 2020?
Kristen D'Arcy: It's a really good question. I think great integrated marketing starts with a deep understanding of the customer in order to create a unique solution to sometimes old business problems. And I say that because I don't think there’s any business problem that throws us through a loop, it’s usually pretty consistent even if you're looking at different industries - we all face the same problems. So how do you create that unique solution? And I think the answer is that a solid strategy comes from the clear understanding of the customer, a clear understanding of the goals, the KPIs, the targets that you have to hit, and then you have to make sure that those are communicated across the internal team as well as the agency partners in order to successfully align expectations.
What happens next, of course, is producing great creative that cuts through the clutter, and then a clear content map that shows how the strategy comes to life across every single consumer touchpoint. I think it's not a one-size fits all approach, especially with regard to creative and messaging. Because of data we can now personalize the creative and message based on location, gender, where the customer is in the purchase cycle. I’m a really big fan of making sure that there is a balance between performance and brand marketing. Now it's totally dependent on the health of the business, the category etc. but the general rule of thumb that I try to keep in mind is the 60-40 rule, which is 60% brand marketing and the other 40% is performance marketing. I say that because I do think that you can performance market a brand to death despite the magical and sometimes immediate results that you get.
Jeff Ragovin: You did an amazing program recently with TikTok at American Eagle. Can you tell us more about the partnership and its goals?
Kristen D'Arcy: I think it goes back to truly understanding your audience. We knew our kids were spending tonnes of time on TikTok. Given the contextual evidence of our back-to-school campaign which featured Lil Wayne we thought it would be the perfect media partner to bring the campaign to life. We had a hashtag encouraging users to film their dances in AE clothes for a chance to be featured on AE’s social media. We used TikTok’s new in-feed video ads to showcase the brand’s anthem spot which then drove to AE.com where customers could purchase the product. I was really excited about the partnership because I think we were one of the first to do it in such a holistic way, especially the first in specialty retail. Looking back, the goal was equal parts engagement as it was qualified clicks to the website.
Jeff Ragovin: Is TikTok here to stay?
Kristen D'Arcy: I think its a moment in time that is very relevant right now for that target audience, and you have to be there because that’s where kids' eye-balls are.
Jeff Ragovin: Short form video has dominated marketing in the last few years. Snapchat announced that they're going to be extending the length of video ads from 10 seconds to 3 minutes. What do you think about this?
Kristen D'Arcy: I think it's interesting. I think great content has a place on multiple platforms, regardless of the length. Going back to AI for a minute, I think as enhancements in data and the automation of data improves the marketers ability to be more creative. I think it was smart to create a platform to allow for longer form video because again with a focus shifting more back to the future where we are focused on the strength of the creative and the right type of storytelling, I think you'll see engagement deepen with longer form video for sure. I also go back to the point about there's no one size fits all and it depends on where the customer is. That’s not to say that snackable, short form content will go away at all, I just think there’s a role for both in today’s landscape.
Jeff Ragovin: Let’s talk about social. At AE, you essentially brought the social team to the store?
Kristen D'Arcy: We decided to bring social into the physical store because we really wanted them to sit, live and breathe with the target audience in order to get a better pulse on what’s relevant with kids nowadays. There was a ton done all the time in regards to customer research, but to get something in real time we thought would be opportunistic. The team engaged with kids on the second floor of the Union Square store literally every day, interviewed them, put them into our social feed. As a result, we saw our followers increase and our engagement rate deepen, which was great. I think the learning in this overall is that you can’t be stagnant in specialty retail.
Jeff Ragovin: Did you always want to be a CMO?
Kristen D'Arcy: Absolutely. I’ve been really fortunate enough in my career to work with some really amazing brands and some really inspiring leaders. Ultimately, after all of that experience, I wanted a role where I could be in a senior leadership position on the exec team helping make decisions about the broader business, having an impact on internal culture and working across all facets of marketing almost as a coach, if you will, making sure that we’re always in tip top conditions for games. The analogy I think of with business to sports is that we have seasons in retail (so those would be games) and then the Superbowl, for me anyways, has always been holiday season so I’m really excited to be here at PacSun.
Jeff Ragovin: Thank you for joining the Marketing Mix Podcast.
Please note, the above has been paraphrased for editorial purposes