I sat down with the CMO of Macy's, Martine Reardon, to learn more about her strategy to capture attention in a crowded digital space. She believes in letting the customer create her own experience - and that marketers need to bring entertainment back into the equation.

With the pace of digital and social transformation, how do you try to self-educate within the digital landscape?

I have an incredible team whose job it is to keep me educated, so we as a team can make the best decisions in this ever-changing, fast-paced environment. I read a lot. I get probably over 300 emails a day that are me trying to keep in touch with what is going on in the new digital world. I can tell you, it is hard. You have to rely on a great team of people who can stay out there, edit the things they know you'll want to see, and really are customer-facing and thinking about what customers would like. How do we know our customers so well that we'll know the other channels that they'll be in?

What are some go-to sources that you use?

I subscribe to all of the digital sites out there, so every single day I am getting something. I try to understand the top ten newcomers in the digital landscape. Every single day I am seeing something different. We've got an incredible agency who continues to bring me new ideas. I want them to always be bringing something new, that's innovative, that I can look at and say we want to be there. I have lots of connections with VCs out there, who are doing nothing but investing in startups because they're seeing something interesting. Quarterly I do a meeting with new companies that people haven't seen. It's almost like speed dating - not all of them are things that I will use, but it's always interesting to keep myself abreast of them.

How did you get into marketing?

It wasn't what I was thinking of when I was an undergraduate at St. Francis College. I actually started out in psychology with a minor in communications. Then I thought, I need to work, so I changed my degree to business management and had my sights on Wall Street. At the time, Wall Street was kind of hot still, before they started to lose their way. I was studying business and had an internship at a department store. I started in the special events and PR world within the marketing department. It was one of the most pivotal moments of my career. I realized how much I love retail, because I love being close to products, fashion and beauty, but I also loved the marketing part of it.

I spent a good part of my career in the event and PR world because I was fortunate enough when I graduated to have a strong relationship with my mentor from this small department store who said, you can't go to Wall Street, you need to go into marketing. They created a job for me, so I was extremely fortunate. I loved being in events and PR, and realized if I wanted to be a head of marketing I needed to get a lot more experience in other aspects of marketing. That's when I said, I want a growth path so I could learn all of the other areas of marketing. Again, I was very fortunate to have good mentors who created that path for me. I actually went into the media side first - traditional media - TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines. I had fun negotiating with publishers and heads of sales at newspapers and learned all of those media. Then I learned the production side - I really worked my way through all those departments. When Macy's and Federated merged, I came over as part of the merge and became the VP of advertising for Macy's. I continued to ascend, and reached my current position.

Some news came out about Macy's decision to go ahead and phase out department stores and introduce a new brand at a discounted price - I'd love to get your reaction on the intersection between department store, retail and eCommerce marketing?

We were one of the early adopters of omni-channel marketing and shopping. I'd say that four or five years ago the digital world and the physical world were so separated, it was like church and state. We recognized that we don't care where you engage with the brand - online or in store - we like to leave it up to the customers. Ultimately what we've seen is when you're engaging with both channels, you're a really engaged customer. There's a customer who does all their research on a mobile device, but then they come in to touch it, try it on, and be entertained. Then, you've got a customer who just wants to be in that physical space, but now what she's doing is coming in and looking at everything, and then while going home she will go online on the subway and buy that handbag she was looking at. We blend these two worlds to make it easy for the channels you want to initiate and complete your transaction.

We try very hard not to tell the customer how she should do it. We would like her to be the one making the decision - we give her the options and let her decide.

It's no surprise that consumer attention spans are continuing to shrink. How has your team thought about capturing consumer attention in this new era of micro-moments?

There's always room for opportunity. If the customer changes, you have to change. Sometimes we want to show her a new way of doing things and get her to adopt that. One of the biggest ways we've been doing it is through convenience. Because shopping is supposed to be fun and entertaining, we don't want it to feel like a burden. So we create content for her that she can engage with in a very fun and relevant way. A lot of what we try to do is entertain her while she is shopping and not be so overt.

If you think about native, maybe you have a consumer who just got engaged and what's on her mind is planning her wedding. We think about all those places we know she is consuming her wedding content and show her content about the services that we can help her with - we've got consultants that make that journey easy, we show her that we can outfit her entire wedding from her engagement party dress, to her bridesmaid dresses, to her wedding ring, to what she needs at home that her guests will buy her.

One last question - in terms of marketing trends in general, is there anything that surprised you in 2015 and anything you're excited for in 2016?

I think I can say it in three words: mobile, mobile, mobile. What we have seen in mobile in the last year has been astounding. The adoption rate, how much traffic is on mobile - as a trend, that's where we're going. The other place is about being an experiential brand - we're not trying to sell you a product, we're trying to sell you an experience. The younger crowd really demands that experience - we're seeing the trend of combining the experience with the product. This is back to the early days of retail - it's being fun and entertaining and theater for the consumer.

Martine Reardon is the CMO of Macy's. She leads Macy's multi-faceted world of marketing, including advertising, creative development, social, mobile, and digital media, brand public relations, cause and tourism marketing, special events, media planning, consumer insights and data analysis for its 800 stores nationwide.

Published on: Feb 2, 2016