January 22, 2020
Joining us on the Marketing Mix Podcast is Ghadi Hobeika, US CMO & Group CDO at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield. In this episode, Ghadi discusses digital, data and customer engagement strategies, the role of Silicon Valley in retail spaces, and the top technologies and trends reshaping in-store experience in 2020.
Jeff Ragovin: Can you tell us more about your role?
Ghadi Hobeika: My background has always been in marketing with a very strong bias on digital, data and customer engagement strategies. When I joined URW 3 years ago, it was still just UR at the time, Westfield was added 18 months ago. One of the reasons they wanted me to join the company was to bring that digital knowledge and ability to manage customer data and loyalty schemes. They had that progressive view that they were more than just a real estate landlord. Closer to a marketplace or a social network, they really had that ambition to transform their marketing and infuse some eCommerce techniques into their model. When the merger occurred with Westfield, I was one of the first professionals out of the Paris office to move to Los Angeles and they thought that keeping that digital hat for the group made sense, especially being close to Silicon Valley here in California.
Jeff Ragovin: How did you move from the strategy consultancy world into the role of the CMO?
Ghadi Hobeika: When I left Bain & Company it was during a time of economic recession so everything was focused on cost-cutting so I wanted to move into something a little more dynamic with an emphasis on growth. I figured at the time that digital was the big thing happening. In the ’80s the US economy was the focus, in the ‘90’s it was China and the 2000’s it was digital economy booming so I wanted to be a part of that wave. My natural bias was in retail. So combining digital and retail led me to eCommerce. A year into the company a new manager came and was reorganizing the teams and told me I would be taking on marketing. When I asked him why he told me “Out of all the interview I conducted, you were the only person who mentioned the term “customer” so you might have a higher customer sensitivity for all of us and that’s key for marketing”. So that’s how I got my first CMO role - it wasn’t even an expressed intent or will, it was just an opportunity that I ceased.
Jeff Ragovin: A lot of digital-first brands are now turning to brick and mortar. Do you think that malls are back on the rise and people are craving more in-store experiences?
Ghadi Hobeika: Yes, I think malls are definitely back on the rise at least for those who have understood that stores have evolved along with what consumers are looking for. Consumers are looking for experiences, but also for convenience. The role of the store has largely evolved over the last few years. Traditionally, retailers would look at a store as a highly productive place just for sales. Now, some brands see stores as a media - a place where you can tell your story and engage people in different experiences beyond selling. Others will see stores as a logistical hub, a place where you can pick up an online order, make returns or test products. And others will see stores as a more effective way of building awareness and acquiring customers. As online costs of acquisition have risen quite dramatically over the past few years, the store has started to appear as a good alternative to building brand awareness. Any retailers that have understood the evolution of stores are now viewing the store as a lot more valuable than before, and some of the landlords have even understood that so when approaching some of these brands, we’re having a much more interesting and strategical conversation than we were in the past.
Jeff Ragovin: Westfield malls, in particular, create great customer experiences. How re you staying ahead of the trends?
Ghadi Hobeika: Our CEO says “retail is not dead, malls are not dead, boring retail is and if you want to stay relevant today and you've understood how customers and shopping trends have shifted there’s no reason why you can’t succeed. If you combine gut feeling a strong process then you are able to identify how best to position your mall and what it should cater for. You then have to be good at selecting the brands that are on the rise, who is selective to your market and relevant to your customer. We look at ourselves as a lifestyle center rather than a traditional mall. If you visit some of our malls then you will forget that you’re in a mall. You'll be in a social, vibrant space with a collection of events going on and popup stores around you with a great level of service and useful technologies.
Jeff Ragovin: You are already utilizing tech trends like virtual reality with Dreamscape in your Century City mall. Any other retail trends to look out for in 2020?
Ghadi Hobeika: I think there are 3 or 4 of them which I think are particularly interesting and prominent. The first one is around creating more experiences in-store and we’re seeing a growing trend where more retailers are building demo stores or are allocating more store space to demos or immersive product experiences.
The second one I think will be around the growing number of sustainable brands. Examples include Everlane and Allbirds. Those types of brands are opening more and more store locations and I think they’re growing fast, they are in demand and we will see more and more brands address these issues around sustainability throughout the year.
Third trend to watch is around the idea of local. More people are looking for more local and authentic experiences and brands. This applies very well to food but also applies to other concepts as well. For example, in our Westfield mall in New York, we have opened up a Taco Dumbo which is very strong in Brooklyn. It was highly requested by our customers and it will be opening in Spring 2020.
The last one is around entertainment. As malls and retail spaces are becoming more social and as people are looking for more exciting things to do and we will be addressing that need by doing a couple of things including inviting new types of brands to come to the mall. We spoke about virtual reality and Dreamscape at the Century City mall in Los Angeles, but we have also opened a Dream Aero in Maryland. We also will keep seeing more events. We have 2 very successful markets for the holidays and I think we will continue expanding upon those strategies too. I think we will be seeing more immersive events like those coming more and more into malls.
Jeff Ragovin: Thank you for joining the Marketing Mix Podcast.
Please note, the above has been paraphrased for editorial purposes