I talked with Brian Beitler to learn more about how he views retail marketing and how the Lane Bryant brand came to this mission.
How did you get into marketing?
For me, marketing was part of my career plan from the time I was young. From the time when I was a child trying to convince others to want the things that I had was important. I went into college not knowing I wanted to work in marketing, just knowing I wanted to lead brands and businesses. When I was in school I was working in a telemarketing service when you had to purchase long distance, so I was making money by selling long distance services at night and going to class in the morning. I loves the process and loved the service that I was selling. While I was working in college, one of the businesses that I worked with was Mattel. I worked in their consumers affairs and direct marketing business, where we sold high-end toys through catalogs and phones.
I transitioned to the retail side of the toy business and ended up at Toys 'R Us for a couple years. What I loved about retail was the speed with which you could affect change. In a brand like Hot Wheels you were careful and took a long time to shape your product and package, and it could take well over a year to bring your product to market. In retail, it's how to make your brand the destination to move products quickly. Toys 'R Us was kind of struggling, so it was how to reposition the business and build success. After a couple years, the company was private. I got a couple calls from other brands, and worked with Bath & Body Works for a couple years. We repositioned it from a country store to the modern apothecary. When I was there more opportunities opened at Kohl's and David's Bridal, and then Lane Bryant.
What are the challenges of being a CMO of a retail brand?
Retail is interesting, one of the largest challenges is the pace at which retail moves. Particularly specialty retail. How quickly consumers fall in and out of love with a brand. With apparel, if you make a few missteps, your consumer can just walk a few steps down the mall to a new store. If you make a few good changes, you can turn the tide and bring back consumers and bring in new consumers. It's an incredible opportunity and challenge.
The other challenge you face is in retail, particularly in malls, are venues that have changed dramatically with the advent of the web and eCommerce. Your traffic has moved to your primary asset, which is now your website. There's a shift in terms of what you invest your time and effort in. It's now a moving target from how the world has advanced from a technology perspective.
Probably the third part of this for apparel retail is the way that apparel manufacturing has been reshaped with fast fashion. It used to be you'd take cues from couture a couple months after the new looks debuted, but today the need to be on trend and in the moment has reshaped the way retailers have to work.
How do you bring what people like about online shopping to stores and vice versa?
What's been most exciting about the adoption of the mobile devices is from a store perspective, a consumer can be in the store where there can be hundreds of choices which can be difficult. But the mobile phone can help out, whether she has a wish list, or when she looks at an item on her phone she can also see recommendations for what she should wear with it. As a brand, we've launched a mobile app to support that process for those who hold our proprietary credit card. We've digitized recommendations for fashion for the season. It's shaping how much info she has at her fingertips. As a retail industry, we're just beginning to scratch the surface with things like geofencing and beacons.
There are two components to what people still love about stores. One, the highly tactile nature of being in a store and touching the product and even working with an associate. So we want to figure out how to bring those elements online, whether it's personalization through chat or better representation of the product through video. You can see how the outfit moves and how the fabric looks on the body. It's how do I find solutions to improve the online environment based on what she loves about stores, and then how do we improve the store with what she loves about online shopping?
Many brands and publications have come under fire for retouching models - what's your take on that?
The perspective we hold is that brands are only important if you matter to the people that you're marketing to. Fifty years ago you built and projected the brand and then waited to see if people responded. There was little room for collecting feedback. You fast forward 50 years and it's different. Brands aren't created in isolation and given to consumers; instead you can get real-time feedback. It's the notion from moving away from being a great storyteller to a place where brands now are very conversational. That's the future of brands.
Specifically to this issue around women's apparel, it's clear that the customer is asking for a different presentation of women and the way we think about women. We see ourselves as responding to that and trying to help champion a conversation that the customer wants to have. When we talked to our customer, we heard very different things from what the media and Hollywood and fashion say about women. Our customers were different shapes and sizes, and they all felt beautiful to the people who cared about them. The world projected to them that you need to change or you need to be changed, and we didn't hear that when we talked to consumers.
We said we can bring these two things together and the customers would embrace our brand. There's a teen brand, Aerie, who does not retouch. Women don't need to be reshaped our retouched to be beautiful. Brands who define sexy or beauty in a narrow way or by retouching imperfections are going to face challenges moving forward. The reality is the customers are speaking. The younger the woman, the more likely she is to embrace her body and not change anything. That's where the market is moving.
We've been working with Ashley Graham for over 15 years. She's fantastic. It's a beautiful thing, that was the Sports Illustrated was ready to embrace women of all sizes. We bought the title sponsorship, which is the first time a women's brand did that. It's time for women and men to change how they see beauty and know that they don't need to change it.
When we measure women, we don't start with the content of their character, we start with how they look. But we don't do that with men. So that's our mission, to sell great fashion to help women feel good in everything that they do.
Brian Beilter is the CMO of Lane Bryant. He has twenty years of experience in marketing, and has worked with leading brands like Mattel, Toys 'R Us, Bath & Body Works, Kohl's, and David's Bridal.