How do you stay ahead of trends, ahead of a market that is moving so fast?
We asked five leaders in high-tech, high-touch categories outside of the beauty industry, for their insights on staying ahead of the curve.
This story first appeared in the February 16, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Chief Marketing Officer Equinox Holdings
Carlos Becil is the chief marketing officer of Equinox Holdings, which owns and operates fitness clubs in the U.S., U.K. and Canada including Equinox Fitness, Pure Yoga and Soul Cycle. He joined the company from Starwood Hotels and Resorts in 2013, and oversees consumer engagement programs, brand partnerships and growth opportunities.
Daniella Yacobovsky Cofounder
Daniella Yacobovsky is cofounder of the online jewelry retailer BaubleBar. She and cofounder Amy Jain conceived the company for a Harvard Business School project while earning their MBAs. Previously she worked in finance at American Capital Securities and UBS Investment Bank.
Cofounder, Chief Executive Officer, Chairman Jet.com
Marc Lore founded the innovative e-commerce company Jet.com in 2014 and has since raised more than $200 million for the venture. A serial entrepreneur, Lore founded Quidsi Inc., the parent company of sites such as Diapers.com and Soap.com, which Amazon.com acquired for $545 million in 2011.
Cofounder, Chief Executive Officer YR Live
London-based Tim Williams worked in the software industry before he and a partner founded the event company, Luma, which offered live event printing. That technology lead to the creation of YR, the modular digital design and print studio that allows users to create personalized clothing instantly. YR currently has outposts in Macy’s and TopShop.
Cofounder, Chief Executive Officer Rebecca Minkoff
Uri Minkoff and his sister, Rebecca, founded their company in 2005 with the launch of a handbag collection. Since then, Minkoff has overseen the company’s growth into a full lifestyle brand. With more than 14 years of experience as an entrepreneur, Minkoff has also successfully cofounded health-care companies, including LifeWorks Wellness Center and Bodyhealth.com, and technology companies Fortis Software and Loop.
How do you stay ahead of trends, ahead of a market that is moving so fast?
Carlos Becil: I’m always looking outside of the fitness category for trends. We are in the service business, so I draw inspiration from luxury hospitality and retail brands, and by thinking about in-store and in-hotel experiences. Secondly, I have a team that comes from a diverse background—fashion, technology, hospitality, retail. You have to get people who are close to consumers from different businesses to be part of the process in identifying what is going on.
Daniella Yacobovsky: Our speed-to-market is incredibly quick. Most fashion retailers are producing product six to 12 months ahead of when they are selling in-store. We are doing six to 12 weeks, so we’re able to think carefully about what we produce, how we produce it and react quickly to trends. Our merchandising and design process is a blend of traditional trend forecasting combined with data and analytics based on what customers are looking for in real time.
Marc Lore: At a high level, do less reading and more thinking. There are only a limited number of hours in the day and any free minute I get I spend thinking about the future and new ways of doing things. I spend a lot of time thinking about what has happened historically, how and what the megatrends are and where they may go. A lot of people spend a lot of time reading to give them an idea of where things are headed, but by that time it is too late.
Tim Williams: We are quite keen to employ fashion-conscious young people to keep our brand fresh and to benefit from their knowledge and their personal style. We like to think we can work with lots of different people and brands and genres, so that we stay ahead of styles and fashions, and can shape ourselves to match any brand that uses our technology.
Uri Minkoff: I have a technology background, and there are different disciplines that I’m able to apply here. Sometimes in fashion you are looking at what is happening in fashion, but there are a lot of technology publications and sites and blogs that have relevant information for me that I look at and then figure out how to apply that to what we are doing.
Who, on a global basis, do you find the most inspirational/innovative in digital marketing and why?
Carlos Becil: Burberry. They seem very committed to investing in digital and they have continued to expand their platforms and content strategy. They’re not afraid to test new ground and keep expanding digitally to see how it impacts their business.
Daniella Yacobovsky: Sephora is very creative at finding ways to be relevant in your life. We love their how-to content and how clever they are about the format in which they surface that content.
Marc Lore: Airbnb has done an amazing job of creating a community and building a brand in social media even though they don’t control the end-to-end experience themselves. Warby Parker has done a lot of interesting things in social media and video communications. The idea of starting online and building a brick-and-mortar store is an interesting approach to building a brand.
Uri Minkoff: Under Armour. We know them as an apparel and footwear brand. Now they’ve spent a tremendous amount of money to buy communities and wearable-related products. It will be fascinating to see how they are going to combine those two audiences of technology equipment plus a huge amount of consumers who are loyal to the apps they bought along with their product.
I’m also fascinated by what Christian Louboutin has done with user-generated content to create a tremendous amount of engagement and heat around something that is a luxury product.
What are consumers looking for in terms of an experience that goes above and beyond what your competitors provide?
Carlos Becil: Science-driven results. Our members are looking for substance and not hype. There are so many trends and fads in fitness, but we tap into a lot of leading minds in science to drive our programming. Our environment is also a differentiator. We focus on an elevated design and we obsess over cleanliness and amenities. Many members come for results, but they stay for amenities.
Daniella Yacobovsky: The small touches of customer service, and small elements that feel human, whether they are a personalized thank-you note; the care we take in packaging an order [or] the bonus treat if we know it’s your birthday. The human elements are what keep her excited to come back and interact with us.
Marc Lore: It comes down to the little touch points. It is the little things together that build a brand and build emotional connections with consumers. It’s the handwritten notes, what the messaging is on the error page, all the little things that you think don’t really matter collectively create brand differentiation. We have a person full-time whose sole job is to focus on those 100 different touch points.
Tim Williams: Interactivity and an experience on the shop floor that people haven’t had in the past. Consumers are looking for something above and beyond—it is about creating an atmosphere where people want to stay longer and giving them a richer experience. We give customers a chance to create what they came in to buy.
Uri Minkoff: Relating the personal narrative of Rebecca’s life—she is a Millennial who started with nothing and has achieved great success—with that of the consumer has been a differentiator.
Also our in-store experience—we were the first to look at consumers and the human and emotional and mental issues around shopping and use technology to give shoppers the experience they want when they are in the store.
How do you cut through all of the clutter in the marketplace?
Carlos Becil: We have a very provocative voice and attitude. Our most recent ad campaign is called Commit to Something, and it was shot by Steven Klein. It’s not about fitness; it is about life. We elevate ourselves with a provocative voice and tone and socially relevant messages to rise above the fitness clutter.
Daniella Yacobovsky: It’s getting increasingly tougher. We have always been passionate about thinking carefully about the type of content we are putting out. If your voice is true to your audience, then they do seek out content, they do open e-mails, they do look at your social posts and they do want to know what you are talking about.
Marc Lore: From a marketing and advertising standpoint, it is doing more traditional marketing. TV, print, radio, outdoor—those are all really important components of a well-rounded marketing campaign. You need to do all the direct, hard-hitting marketing and the online marketing, as well, but it is the more diversified approach that creates an opportunity to tell a story and show the personality of the brand.
Uri Minkoff: By doing things that are exploratory and innovative and uncomfortable. We find the most comfort where others would be uncomfortable—we’re constantly looking to allow customers to see we are all in this digital experiential journey together and we are willing to join in that with you and in some cases lead you and sometimes it will work and sometimes not.
What was the most interesting development coming out of the CES show?
Carlos Becil: The continued convergence of fitness, fashion and technology. Activity tracking remains very strong. There isn’t anything you can’t put on your body that doesn’t track something.
Marc Lore: The focus on smart technology, like smart homes, smart cars. There is no doubt that is where we are heading and that aligns well with our focus on empowering consumers to shop smarter to save money. Jet.com is allowing customers to pull costs out of the system in ways that match their preferences. If you build a bigger cart this is how much you can save, if you waive your right to return or choose this ship method, this is how much you can save.
Tim Williams: Overall, it was seeing things develop that have been around a while but are really working now. Everyone was showcasing some interesting wearables and they are all quite useful things. Much more real world, not crazily priced, products you could see being released in the next year as opposed to ideas that might not make it. Also, 3-D printing was more real this year.
Uri Minkoff: One of the things I’m looking at with intrigue is if you’re on your laptop or phone, how is the in-store experience going to be replicated via augmented or virtual reality so that you feel like you are in a physical store. That is some years away but it is very intriguing to me.
What’s next in personalization and customization?
Carlos Becil: All of the activity tracking has the potential to be data overload, so we are working on how to take data and turn into something meaningful. I don’t think it will ultimately stick with consumers unless they can do something with the information and help change their results and body and mental well-being.
Daniella Yacobovsky: Finding the balance between personalization and social validation—when our customer is self-navigating on the site, the two sections she goes to first are New Arrivals and Bestsellers. Bestsellers is one of our highest-converting pages. There is an element of social validation that is powerful in commerce. She does want choice, but she wants it married to what other people like and what is popular and trendy right now. Honing in on specifics around personalization—like she never buys bracelets or she loves statement earrings—and marrying that with elements of social validation is powerful. For us it is about striking that balance.
Tim Williams: It’s about speed and quality. Currently, you can get an expensive monogrammed item—your design on a Louis Vuitton bag or sneakers at Nike ID—and then they are made to your specifications and sent to you in 3 to 6 weeks. The future is bringing that time down—being a much more instant world, where you can watch your T-shirt or sweatshirt being printed in front of you. There is something about people having unique, one-off items but not paying a premium for it and getting it in the same amount of time as a regular item. The future is the normalization of customization.
Uri Minkoff: The thing that unlocks the whole thing will be better 3-D printing. This is also where you are going to see more domestic sourcing—being able to leverage overseas supply chains to make one or two or three of something becomes a challenge unless they can come up with a different supply chain.
How are you evolving your strategy in response to the primacy of mobile?
Carlos Becil: It is our number-one priority—we have reinvented mobile experience for our members. Our member app is one-stop—you can check in to a club, plan your workout, book classes. It is completely synched with Apple’s Health so it tracks your workouts and offers custom content with. Furthermore, our new editorial magazine. It helps members to stay connected to the brand and maximize results.
Daniella Yacobovsky: We are thinking about design as mobile first. We are thinking about the mobile experience and then scaling up. It took us a while to shift the organization to that mind-set. The opportunity to experiment with customer acquisition on mobile is interesting. If you are looking at ad units and cost of acquisition, it’s lower on mobile than desktop. That is where we are seeing efficiencies and where we can make the best use of our dollars.
Uri Minkoff: You want to build out the best e-commerce experience and optimize your mobile ad and marketing spend, but I really think that it’s an investment in content that will drive more of that.
How can beauty marketers stimulate their e-commerce business?
Marc Lore: A big part of that has to do with assortment. There are not as many opportunities for consumers to shop and get all their beauty needs online at the same place they go to for other things they are looking to purchase, so it forces consumers to make a completely separate shopping occasion to buy beauty products—which is not what consumers want. Figuring out a way to sell prestige beauty to [new] marketplaces will open the opportunity to sell longer-tailed products—you can offer colors and different types of products that wouldn’t make sense in the offline world. That will open new avenues to grow the business and grow revenue. I also see an opportunity to make better use of video online to quickly educate people on how to use certain products.
Uri Minkoff: One question is how do you get the products out so there that may be discovery products in store that you are afraid to buy online. How do you create a confidence around the idea of I tried it and liked it and it becomes a replenishable item.
What is one thing about marketing to Generation Z that keeps you up at night?
Carlos Becil: I don’t see it as marketing to them, but what is the experience I am going to create for them? As we think about the fitness club for Gen Z or Millennials, it is not really a one- or two-hour stop in their day. If I want them to have a commitment to the brand, how do I get them to feel they belong, and be part of the community? That requires an investment in technology and thinking about how we adapt our environment and programming.
Daniella Yacobovsky: Their unpredictability, in terms of where and how you reach them, and the increasingly high bar of their expectations. They want better product, faster, wrapped up in a more beautiful, seamless customer experience. They also rely on a variety of channels for information and they have shorter attention spans—that is definitely a challenge.
Uri Minkoff: It seems to be a super-hyperfast-moving generation with an even more inherent lack of loyalty. We saw the first shift in lack of loyalty with Millennials. This is that on steroids.
What’s the next next?
Carlos Becil: The shift in importance of mindfulness and meditation and sleep on brain health will have a huge impact. We are investing a ton in sleep-science studies to better understand the impact of sleep on results and behavior. As public awareness increases, we will see a big impact on beauty, health, hospitality, tech and fitness.
Daniella Yacobovsky: Retailers and brands really getting smart to the idea that improved personalization and experience have to start at the supply chain level. Starting to think about supply chain and product development to personalize and better predict what customers will want to see once you are messaging to them is a powerful way to approach that problem and something few people are focused on.
Marc Lore: The next logical evolution of omnichannel is the convergence of the online and offline worlds so you bring the benefits of online off, and vice versa. When you go to a brick-and-mortar store, you should have the richness of data and reviews that you get online. Same thing online—you should leverage the fact that the inventory you are looking for online is located within a few miles of where you live and how do you access it and bring it to the customer faster. That is what we’re going to see in the very near future.
Tim Williams: It’s got to be 3-D printing. It is still too far away to do reliably and fast enough to make it viable for people like us—there is not enough volume available. But bringing the reality of live printing and live design into people’s homes is really exciting. There is lots of technology out there already and it’s not quite there yet but it will be.
Uri Minkoff: The next next is that all of a sudden the whole world is local, that you can reach the global marketplace of billions of people at a moment’s notice and they can reach you. It is a new set of rules and a paradigm shift in terms of how we look at things. The immediacy of the global consumer and what that means from a product perspective—in terms of seasonality, logistics, pricing. A lot of businesses are living on archaic models.