Six habits of a modern fashion CMO

This article was originally published in Glossy on August 15th, 2016

Marketing at fashion brands has never been considered exactly en vogue. The industry has long marginalized marketing at the expense of creative directors and designers, in turn attracting poor marketing talent.

It’s a vicious cycle, which Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld has noted: “We don’t do meetings, we don’t talk about marketing. Maybe they [Chanel] have marketing people but I never saw them. I have never gone to a meeting in 31 years.”

Thirty-one years is a long time. In the last three decades, we’ve seen a changing marketing calendar, rise of direct-to-consumer models, crowded collections schedule and social media, all of which made the fashion marketing puzzle infinitely more complex. The top talent is now vying for CMO positions, and here are the habits of those who will win.

1. Keep your customer in mind at all times.
The fashion marketing landscape used to be simple: Write a press release, call Vogue, buy print ads. Now, fashion consumers find inspiration and shopping opportunities in places and at times that brands find baffling. Behavioral segmentation ensures that a CMO knows exactly who their audience is, where to find them, what they are influenced by, why they gravitate to their brand and how to compete for their attention.

2. Bond with technology.
Two years ago, Andrew Chen, who heads growth at Uber, wrote in a blog post that today’s top brands rapidly grew thanks their engineering, not marketing. While a fashion CMO doesn’t necessarily need to know how to write code, the lesson is clear: Understand the front-end user experience and back-end technology. Know the difference between Demandware and Shopify, spot a great PDP, recognize user flows and scenarios and understand what makes a great e-commerce experience.

3. Make the “customer decision journey” your mantra.
Users today create expectations based on experiences with companies like Uber or Airbnb. To meet those expectations, a fashion CMO needs to understand how their customers move through their shopping experiences and connect the key decision-making points into a customer journey. Their job is then to design their organization’s functions to deliver on it.

4. Bond with data.
The best CMOs know what shopping times are the most popular, how regions and locations differ on their product preferences (does a search for a black dress mean the same thing in Des Moines and in New York City?), when to send a newsletter and mobile alert and which content and product imagery gets the most results. All of this data informs merchandising decisions, focuses the company and helps shorten the product development cycles. Thanks to data, CMOs can now have impact on the production process and the value chain — not only on communications and messaging.

5. Practice being strategic and tactical.
A successful fashion CMO has to be able do everything from coming up with a modern brand vision, figuring out a tactical execution, a rollout plan and metrics for success. Gone are the command center days: Fashion CMOs have to get their hands dirty and stay involved throughout the entire global brand and marketing strategy. That is the only way for them to keep abreast of the constant stream of customer learnings and interactions, and to spot new growth opportunities and design the right process to deliver on them.

6. Get comfortable with the P&L responsibility.
The biggest myth in fashion marketing is that there is no way to know what works and what doesn’t. This belief prompted majestic dinner parties for “influencers,” lavish gifts for bloggers and using magazine ads to reach young audience famously averse to print. The truth is, digital allows companies to measure the sales and brand building impact of everything from product marketing to direct marketing to brand marketing. It also lets them optimize these efforts to increase customer acquisition, retention and affinity. In this context, CMO is responsible for connecting all marketing efforts directly to the bottom line.

Designers of the moment like J.W. Anderson, Demna Gvasalia or Alessandro Michele know that a killer product, strong brand attitude and an intimate community of fans are the best marketing. They are both strong creative directors and savvy marketers. To successfully compete with this new breed of talent, others may want to arm themselves with an outstanding CMO.