I sat down with Steve Fuller, the CMO of L.L. Bean, to talk about marketing to short attention spans, industry challenges, and what it takes to go international.

How did you get into marketing?

I'm actually one of those people who kind of always wanted to be here. I went to work for a magazine publishing company based in New Hampshire - Yankee Publishing. They transferred me to Boston and I lived there for eight years and worked there and went to grad school. My time at Yankee was really spent in a way that set me up for coming back to Maine and coming to L.L. Bean. I had spent a lot of time on the advertising side, so it was a natural fit to come back to L.L. Bean.

What attracted you to the opportunity at LL Bean?

It's a remarkably transparent entity - if you like what the brand stands for you like working here. It's the customer service value, it's how they treat the employees. I wanted to work here right out of undergrad and couldn't get it. I am grateful for my time working in publishing, but am so happy to be back here.

Any challenges that you've faced while at L.L. Bean?

One of the biggest ones is the evolution from being a catalog and phone business to an eCommerce business. We've done eCommerce for ten years now, but we had an organization that was built around catalogs and talking to customers on the phone. Then that changed into an eCommerce company. Search is now our single biggest revenue stream. We even talk about it in the customer service area - the evolution from talking to typing, and keeping our service standards up even with a big change.

Consumer attention spans are so short now - how has that affected your strategy?

I think the first piece is we have to recognize the contextual element of mobile. Some of the early folks, they tried to think of this as a browsing device - and that's not what it is being used for. It is truly a search device - it's exact and intentional, sometimes temporal. They're in, they're out - it's microseconds. For us, the first step is recognizing what that device is being used for. That's why we rolled out wifi across our stores. A week doesn't go by when I want to use a retailer's app in their store and I don't have reception. I thought that was unacceptable.

The second thing is, we want to really meet that moment. If you're in the store and looking at a product, one of the most popular parts of the site are the customer reviews - they believe them, they're useful - and in our site those reviews are transparent. We gave customers the ability to scan a code to immediately get the reviews in the store.

We also built in some little things on the app. We leveraged our partnership with The Weather Channel so you can always see the weather where you are. We want things to reflect that moment when you're in the store and trying to do something. Personalization plays a big role in this, too.

The bigger challenge for mobile, I think for everyone, is that it's really tough on broad assortments. Someone on a desktop might have searched for pants, but they'll see other recommendations as well. But on mobile, you see a pair of pants and that's it - so it's helping customers see that there is more. It's showing more products on a device that's meant for a single search.

You've also overseen the international expansion of L.L. Bean. Can you talk about the experience of introducing a brand to a new market?

We have 25 stores in Japan. We've been there for 20 years, and for us it's a great market. The way that we do business - the service, quality, and guarantee - resonates with that consumer. In our stores in Japan, you would feel very much at home. We went through a period of making products that we thought would be more suited for that marketplace and it was a mistake. When they're shopping for L.L. Bean, they are searching for that Western element and the authenticity. If you're trying too hard to adapt to a market, it's not quite authentic. For us, we said, our products are the same thing that we have in the US and here they are. We'll adapt the fit, and that's it.

Looking forward, any big opportunities or trends that you're really excited about?

I think attribution is still an area that's undiscovered - especially on mobile. Attribution science is evolving slower than the market is. We try to avoid black boxes, and try to be sure that the attribution is correct. I think we still have a ways to go before we get to something that is really good.

After years of talking about mobile, this last year is really the one in which you could see it happen. The growth we are seeing right now in mobile is truly remarkable. It has implications on search - you go from a platform that has eight search spots to two.

The other piece is that it's a lot easier to talk about omni-channel then do it in a way that consistently works for customer service for the company. Whether it's personalization to reflect someone's experience in the store or online - making sure that it is active.

Steve Fuller is the CMO of L.L. Bean. He's responsible for the company's omni-channel marketing efforts, including demand generation, eCommerce, brand communications, partnerships, retail traffic generation, and customer satisfaction.

Published on: Feb 4, 2016
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