Sarah Kirchner: Q&A Session

Q&A Session: Sarah Kirchner

Sarah Kirchner Q&A Session is happening on October 16th 2019 at 11:00 AM PST (2:00 PM EST)

Sarah Kirchner is the Vice President of Global Brand Marketing for Kenneth Cole Productions, where she leads global brand campaigns, media strategy, digital partnerships, & brand innovation opportunities. Her passion lies in defining forward-thinking digital & social creative solutions that harness innovation, technology and digital platforms to drive business results. Previously, she was the Global Director of Digital & Social Media for Gap brand, overseeing all digital brand initiatives with the goal of strengthening the brand and delivering inspiring, engaging, and rewarding consumer experiences.

Prior to joining Gap, Sarah was at Digital and Social Media agency, MRY (formerly Mr. Youth), partnering with global brands like Visa, Crayola, Nestle, Chase, and Proctor and Gamble to develop their digital strategies and campaigns. Throughout her 11-year career in marketing, she has also worked at other top agencies such as Ogilvy, delivering integrated marketing solutions for Fortune 500 brands spanning a variety of verticals including CPG, Entertainment, Finance, Media, Technology, Retail, and Telecommunications.

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Sarah Kirchner – Transcript

Q&A Session with Sarah Kirchner @ Kenneth Cole

October 16th, 2019

Hi everyone! Happy to be here and join this awesome community and #ama.  A little bit about me…I’m the VP of Global Brand Marketing & Media at Kenneth Cole (fashion retail brand– we sell everything from shoes to apparel to luggage, you name it!). Prior to KC, I was the Director of Digital & Social Media for Gap, and prior to that, I was on the agency side for many years at MRY and Ogilvy, working with Fortune 500 brands on their integrated & digital marketing strategies, so I’ve had my fair share of experiences (good, bad, ugly) when it comes to brand and digital marketing.

What’s your definition of brand in 2019?

I think brand is…reputation, engagement, and storytelling. Without it, you’re nothing.

Given that you have both digital/retail in your background, what are your thoughts on the future of Kenneth Cole in brick and mortar? How will the digital experience change that and is there anything you guys are doing to encourage/dissuade the direction that retail is going?

While there is obviously a huge shift toward digital in the retail space, it’s still all about the experience that you deliver (physical or digital). For us at Kenneth Cole, it’s about quality over quantity.  We have made a huge shift in our business model in the past 3-5 years. We’ve closed most of our brick and mortar stores and made a commitment to grow our DTC online business.  That said, we have kept 1 brick and mortar store that is a concept store for us and meant to be our fullest expression of the brand where we host events, etc. I still think consumers are looking for that physical experience that they can engage with and touch and feel the product, and we don’t want to lose that.

Is Twitter still relevant?

HA, this is a question I grapple with every day.  I think it is still relevant, but in a different way than it once was. It works for news outlets, public figures, and personalities who use it to its full potential.  I think it works best when individuals have a true authentic POV and opinion to share. It’s becoming less relevant for brands who are trying to sell stuff. As an advertiser, I don’t invest in it anymore. People want to engage with real people and have 2-way dialogue around real issues, events, etc.

What things are you doing that can be tied closest to increasing sales and profits?

We take an approach to our media planning and strategy that is called “closing the funnel” where we focus on investing in mid-funnel or purchase consideration marketing tactics to drive the most return for our investment.  Tactics like Affiliate marketing and paid social are examples of tactics that have helped us drive growth for the brand but also drive sales.  Also, looking at “gated” VIP experiences for consumers where specific segments of consumers get rewarded with deals, etc. have worked.

What would you say were the top 3 ways you’ve been able to influence growth within digital for such a large brand?

1) Collaboration– making connections between business, marketing & product teams to develop strategies.

2) Visibility– educate senior management on the business value/return of investing in digital in terms they can understand.  You have to have the right visibility & buy-in from the start to make things happen.  I have had open dialogue and alignment with our C-suite since Day 1.

3) Future-proofing– present innovative ideas that haven’t been done before, but not without having a “plan B”. Don’t be afraid to try something and fail, but set expectations up front of what the objectives/KPIs are, even if it is a “test and learn” opportunity.

Hottest Social Media for Brands in 2019? Instagram Stories?

In terms of trends in social media, I think Social Commerce opportunities like Instagram Checkout is something to watch. Consumers are becoming more and more comfortable purchasing through social (esp. Facebook & Instagram). Though I don’t think it’s something that’s going to take off in the next quarter, definitely within the next year.  Of course, IG Stories are not going away, and more activity is shifting to stories versus the feed. I’m also SUPER excited about TikTok to see how it’s going to evolve, probably because it is the only new platform that has emerged lately and everyone is waiting for “what’s next.”

What software could you not live without at KC?

It’s more than just software, but we probably could not live without the Salesforce product stack.  It’s the basis for our digital infrastructure.

Storytelling – what are your top tips to really make it work for your brand?

BE AUTHENTIC.  No one likes a fake story. Find the nuggets within your brand story that make it who you are (every brand started for a reason). Use real people…find employees or individuals who best represent your brand story and don’t be afraid to partner with them to help tell/engage around the story. For us, we have Kenneth (Cole)…our founder who is still very active today in the business. He helps to deliver/engage around the brand story, and we also leverage his network of relationships to help build content and storytelling.

What’s your best advice for jumping from agency to client-side?

For me, it was about finding a brand/client that really meant something to me.  On the agency side, you get the opportunity to work with so many different types of brands and really vary your experience, but once you are on the client-side, it’s all about that 1 brand and business.  I went to the Gap because to me, it was a love mark brand that I grew up with and that I could get behind. I also knew the CMO, which helped (network, network, network)! And I liked the set-up there because they operated as a mini agency within the brand, so think about the organization structure of the brand you are thinking of moving to.  In terms of making the move, network as much as you can…talk to people on the client-side (your own clients, even) about the culture, etc.  Overall, I think it was a great path to start on the agency side to build a foundation, then move the client/brand side to really “own” one brand/business. I also think you notice a difference on the client side (for the better) of people who have had agency experience.  Happy to answer any other questions you have about this!

What are some easy tactics to expand your brand’s web presence besides social media? 

I assume you mean growing your web business?  I think it depends on what your business is but would look at Affiliate marketing opportunities..where you offer a sales commission to be featured or promoted on other websites (for example, we are featured on sites like eBates or RetailMeNot and we offer their users a 15% off discount code). Other ways are through influencer marketing and paid search (assuming you have a media budget?).

How do you attribute sales to an influencer? What do you look for to measure if they are contributing to your brand sales?

We have started to run our influencer programs through Affiliate networks, where the influencers are actually incentivized to drive sales with a commission. Usually, they are offered anywhere from 10-15% commission.  This makes them feel more invested in the program so it’s not just about posting pretty pictures.  They use unique tracking links to drive to the product on our website where we can then trackback to sales.  Some examples of these networks are RewardStyle and Stylinity (more micro-influencers).

How can we move from being reactive to being proactive in the retail space? You mentioned that you close most B&M stores to favor online. This may not be what customers want but they are just adjusting their habits to what’s available. What about thinking ahead?

I think the retail landscape is so uncertain that it’s tough for future proof. I believe the best approach is to diversify your brand presence and distribution so consumers have multiple ways of engaging/shopping (ensuring multiple/varied distribution channels), have a clear Amazon strategy, and maintain the integrity of your brand and product. At the end of the day, your brand and product should be able to carry you through even the toughest of times.

How would you apply your experience as a marketer and in digital into other fields, say for a career switch?

I think marketing is the most versatile profession. You’re a problem-solver, strategist, writer, collaborator, creative person, and “people” person. You can apply those skills to almost any job.  Also any business these days needs a good digital strategy to survive, so if you understand digital marketing tactics, that’s a plus.

What are some of the biggest, most common mistakes that you see people making in marketing?

This is a loaded question. A few things come to mind…not having clear objectives at the onset of a campaign or project….having “tunnel vision” (not seeing the big picture)….not tying back to business objectives or drivers. I will think of more I’m sure!

Is search engine optimization playing a role in KC’s marketing strategy and if so, how has KC approached the changing search engine result page landscape?

We’ve seen small changes to our SEO strategy drive huge incremental growth (and it’s free ;)). A few tactics we have employed lately are optimizing our on-site content strategy, simplifying our navigation, and updating our product descriptions based on search trends.  We have also added more rich content experience to help drive SEO around relevant cultural moments (like our Pride campaign in June).

What has been the most important skillset you’ve developed that has helped your career progression from account manager at Ogilvy to VP at KC?

Honestly, I think it’s collaboration. I know that isn’t a “technical skillset”, but being able to collaborate across teams and see perspectives of all areas of the business have helped to excel.  Also, having a mix of both integrated marketing (from Ogilvy) and digital/social expertise has been extremely helpful. I was actually brought on to KC as the Director of Social Media, but since the company wanted to put digital at the forefront and since I had that collaborative, integrated, experience, they promoted me to VP of Brand.

Since you have many partners such as Macy’s & Bloomingdales that have your products, how do you track the impact of your digital efforts on retail partner sales?

This is such a tough question that we struggle with every day.  The retailers tend to be very tight-lipped about the data they are willing to share back. The best approach is to buy into Co-Op programs with them, where they are running the digital campaigns/efforts and then sharing results with you.  For example, we are running an on-site search program with Macy’s and they are sharing the data with us. If it’s just your brand marketing efforts driving to a retailer, the best we can typically do is track engagement and click-through, but not conversion.

How do you as a VP ensure that you’re providing solutions that move a business forward in their goals?
Great question. It is so important to ensure everything we do in Marketing ties back to business goals and driving the business forward. It’s hard because especially with brand marketing, there is not always a direct and immediate business tie or result. Often you need to prove a long-term model or goal for strengthening the brand which will eventually drive business results. However, I have made a concerted effort to ensure we are tying everything back to our key business goals—consumer acquisition, sales and repeat purchase. I make it a point to get clear business goals from our C-suite each year and ensure all of our marketing initiatives can ladder up to those goals.  I have strived to “bridge the gap” between our brand and performance marketing team so everything we are doing is driving consumers closer to purchase and we can actually prove results. And as a result, we have received incremental funding for the tactics/initiatives that have delivered on our business goals. Hope that answers your question!

How do you integrate your general marketing and social media strategy with the media relations one? What is the main challenge of having the message through earned channels?

I am joined at the hip with our Media Relations/PR team. We consider all paid, owned, and earned channels as part of the overall brand channel/distribution mix. I think the main challenge with earned channels (press/edit/influencer) is that you can’t always control the message, how a product will be featured/worn, etc. whereas with paid channels, you have more control over the content and message. We also constantly have to balance the PR/edit relationships with publishers with the paid/media sales side of publishers.

Thank you so much for all of your insightful questions. I’d love to meet you face-to-face soon, I’m sure it would make for some interesting discussions!

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