What does it mean for legacy brands to become D2C?
We talk a lot about eCommerce disruptors, but for the majority of retail brands, digital transformation is a balancing act. After two decades of understanding that being online is necessary, legacy brands, who in the past relied solely on wholesale partners or brick-and-mortar channels, are now learning how to optimize their digital channels as a part of their larger marketing strategies.
At this year’s Women in Retail Leadership Summit in Miami, Heidi Maund, Director of eCommerce at the Natori Company, and I sat down to discuss how legacy brands can balance all their channels’ performance across an ever-changing marketing landscape:
Esther: In this digital world, how does Natori consider itself a D2C company?
Heidi: Natori has been around for over 40 years. We actually launched eCommerce about 11 years ago but have really been spending a lot of time and energy on it for the past 4 years. It’s a new channel for the company in the sense that we’re not used to speaking directly to consumers to share our brand story, since in the past, we have mostly relied on wholesale partners to best position and market our brands.
For a bit of context, Mrs. Natori was the first female VP at Merrill Lynch; a lot of people don’t know this story. She had a baby and decided she wanted to do something entrepreneurial. She brought a blouse to the Bloomingdale’s buyer and asked, “Will you buy this blouse?” It was a Filipino traditional blouse, and the buyer said, “No, but if you make it a sleep shirt, we’ll buy it.” From there, the whole business happened. 40 years later, she’s still selling sleepshirts to Bloomingdale’s.
Esther: Super inspiring, especially today, hearing a story like that. It sounds like Natori is really embracing its new D2C identity. Mrs. Natori’s voice is newly invigorated. How is Natori positioning itself in an increasingly crowded intimates space?
Heidi: There’s a lot of disruptors in the space doing really innovative things. We’re not doing anything new; we’re just doing it in a new way. The digital channel really helps us have this direct-to-consumer dialogue. Our brand is very specific. It’s art into life and has a specific aesthetic, east to west. You’ll see things from a $5,000 caftan to a $78 bra, and we have to try to have this very specific point of view throughout our product. We’re not really chasing trends, but we’re just finessing whatever inspires Mrs. Natori to really develop the new collection or new season.
Esther: Before digital, the business was primarily driven by partnerships with your wholesale retailers. It made me think about what Suzanne from Charles & Collard mentioned yesterday during the #CareerBrag panel. Charles & Collard had relied on distributors for so long, but digital allowed them to own their brand, to tell their story. How do you see that apply to Natori?
Heidi: It definitely applies. That’s been a mainstay of the business for over 40 years, and we’re so lucky to have great distribution and wholesale. Our digital arm is really just helping to amplify that. With that, we’ve been challenged to do our own marketing, which at this scale has been kind of new to the organization. It’s all been done in a multi-brand environment before and now we’re bringing things in-house, rethinking new campaigns and how to tell our story. Hopefully, you’ve seen the “My Natori” campaign. It’s in taxi TV in Miami right now.
But really, it’s an organizational shift to have everyone think about marketing and produce our own creative at this scale. So it’s a little bit of, you know, creating all these new campaigns, creating a new way of thinking about Natori. That’s obviously getting extended through wholesale, but we have this one channel to control our message and be really clear on what Natori is, what the current collection is, what the inspiration is.
Esther: What’s one digital investment that you’re really excited about right now, besides BounceX which just launched onsite last week?
Heidi: It’s really funny. We’re a traditional brand, family-owned, but we’re using artificial intelligence, which is very progressive for the brand. We have a very small team but we’ve been utilizing artificial intelligence for our direct response campaigns for Facebook and Instagram, and it’s really allowed us to run sophisticated campaigns at scale, which we wouldn’t be able to do with one digital marketing manager. We’re still seeing about a 500% ROAS in this, which is really amazing, so we’re getting some great success. It’s exciting to do something that’s really innovative for a brand that probably wouldn’t be thought of as being on the forefront of technology.
Esther: So you’re driving all this traffic to your site, how are you making sure you’re acquiring visitors and getting them to convert?
Heidi: That’s our biggest business challenge right now; it’s really optimizing conversion. We actually just went through a new site redesign. Our site used to be set up by brands under the Natori umbrella and now we just switched to categories. That’s made a huge shift, and we’ve been seeing our conversation rate go up. Now that we have all this creative and are spending a lot more on our advertising, we’re thinking: how do we convert that traffic, what is that traffic, and who is she?
She may be a customer buying a $78 bra or she made be looking for ready-to-wear. Once they come to the site, we really don’t know if they leave, meaning we can’t continue that conversation.
That’s where BounceX partnership has been instrumental in taking business to the next level. With BounceX, we’re able to capture and identity anonymous traffic and continue the conversation. We’re able to capture emails by serving a display where customers actually opt-in with their email to learn more and, from that, we’re able to continue the conversation, serve them triggered emails, talk about what they’re looking at, see if they want to learn more about the product or brand or serve branded content that brings inspiration.
Esther: BounceX, for those who might not know what we do, has been around for 7 years. When we first started we got really good at capturing emails through onsite experiences–campaigns, overlays, etc. More recently, with our identification technology, we’ve been able to actually open up our brands’ conversion funnels to identity that anonymous traffic. So what that means, like Heidi was saying, is that when a visitor abandons the page, we’ve already identified them down to an email and are able to drive them back to the site and optimize those conversions.
Heidi: It’s really helped us amortize our spend. We spend a lot to get traffic to the site. I think it’s just the nature of a brand site. And BounceX really helps us continue the conversation and drive the marketing in a more sophisticated way.
Esther: So, it sounds like Natori has really taken advantage of digital. You, yourself, have seen digital transformation at many different brands and at different stages of your career. What’s one thing you would leave us with today – one piece of advice?
Heidi: As a digital marketer, you’re always looking at the numbers; you’re looking for support. You can’t do it alone. Look for really good tech partners. Look for people who are aligned with your business objectives. If you know that conversion rate or whatever it happens to be is your goal, find the right tech. Hopefully that tech is innovative and really will help you push your brand forward.