Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
Family-owned lingerie retailer and wholesaler, Cosabella, has doubled its subscriber base and seen email-led revenues leap 60 per cent after rolling out a new marketing automation platform.
The 34-year old boutique Italian company maintains a flagship store in New York as well as an ecommerce site, and also sells its products through large and small retailers globally including David Jones in Australia. Its CEO, Guido Campello, told CMO the business has always worked hard to keep up with digital advancement, but came to the realisation four years ago that it was starting to fall behind the curve.
This prompted the decision to overhaul the business structure and see if the group could sustain a technology overhaul.
“The type of investment required for digital commerce became quite heavy, because you had all these new, innovative platforms emerging and new software vendors coming in to help retailers grow, which was helping others get in front of the line,” Campello said.
“The other thing was the global push; many European and US-centric players started going global, and things became very crowded. A niche, smaller brand like ours definitely had to do something to compete. We had to find what opportunities there were for us to participate.”
The challenge was making sure Cosabella’s team and operational structure could adapt.
“It’s one thing is to take on new technology, it’s another thing to be able to have the stock ready, images ready, marketing campaigns aligned and so on when you’re a sub-100 employee business,” Campello said.
The first step was merging digital and marketing teams and ensuring images, campaigns and capabilities were integrated. Balancing the traditional fashion cycle of two years, along with the growing fast fashion part of the business and trends, which runs on a much shorter three-month cycle, was also important, Campello said.
“Over the past three years, we’ve revolutionised the company and reshaped it to get to this point,” he said.
Having previously outsourced most marketing capabilities, such as search engine and email marketing, Cosabella marketing director, Courtney Connell, said the business cut ties with agencies midway through 2016 and began the process of bringing things in-house.
To help, the company selected a number of key vendor partners: Emarsys, for email marketing automation and customer lifecycle management; Sentient for conversion rate optimisation; Adgorithms for display and mobile ad management; Narvar for customer order updates and tracking; YotPo for user-generated content management; and Pixlee for curating consumer images from social media. All platforms were rolled out over October and November, going live in November 2016.
“We wanted to better utilise our internal teams, and have better technology, and we realised technology was finally at a point that it wasn’t cost prohibitive,” she said.
A cornerstone of the customer engagement approach is the Emarsys platform. Connell said this is being used for lifecycle and segmentation management, personalisation via email and the ecommerce site, and customer intelligence. Cosabella has rolled out the vendor’s full suite including automation, Predict Web Extend, Smart Insight and CRM Ads, and is using the platform to engage with both B2C and B2B customers.
Connell said existing staff have been trained to use the platform as well as in ecommerce, giving them new skillsets and future-proofing their careers. She highlighted the templated and intuitive nature of the Emarsys platform as a key selling point. Another highly beneficial capability has been visualisation of customer data.
“We had all this data but weren’t able to visualise it property or take action on it,” she said. “Emarsys took two years of customer data and we went from flying blind almost, to being aware of what our customer base looked like.”
Insights include which groups of customers are at risk of defecting based on purchase and engagement history, through to new customers and their repurchasing rates. The dashboard also provides insights into the wholesale customer base, which can be passed on to sales.
“We didn’t want to say to our wholesalers that we are doing so much on the direct to consumer side but forgetting about them,” Campello said. “We’re looking to speak to those people in the same way we’re all used to being spoken to. The great customisation and personalisation through this has to be on the wholesale side too.”
Building customer strength
For the marketing team, having the Emarsys platform in place has cut in half the time it takes to produce email marketing campaigns, a significant pillar of the marketing approach, allowing staff to focus on producing higher quality content, Connell said.
Since going live in November, Cosabella has doubled its subscription base, while email-based revenues increased more than 60 per cent compared to 2015.
“We have more brainstorming sessions, come up with better content, and that leads to fewer unsubscribes, which immediately increases our subscriber base month over month. But the content is also more engaging overall, so new subscribers are purchasing more,” she said. “The benefits are twofold – we have a better system and can be smarter on the technical side, but also my team isn’t doing machine-like tasks and can focus on the emotional and more powerful side of their job.”
As an example, Connell noted the recent ‘12 Days of Cosabella campaign’ for Christmas, where Cosabella moved away from offering product discounts on different categories of products each day, to more sophisticated lifestyle perspective. Customer response was overwhelmingly positive, Connell said.
“Marketing and communications did a 180 [degree turn] in Q4 last year – we have a new internal cycle/program and we’re looking at every promotion over every month, taking what we’ve learnt that has worked and replicating that, making things better,” she said. “We hope to keep momentum going and we’re constantly learning. We also have our revenue targets and those are higher than last year in terms of growth.”
Connell’s next priority is to link Emarsys with the Adgorithms platform to take customer micro-segments and push these out into the brand’s digital advertising activities on a real-time basis. On the B2B front, the team is working to further personalise communications so Cosabella treats its wholesale customers “like consumers”, she said.
At a group level, Campello is keen to try and bring consistency and simplicity to its global pricing structures and margins using the new tech capabilities.
Emarsys market lead for Australasia, Heath Barlow, described Cosabella as a “super user” of the artificial intelligence-powered platform, tapping about 90 per cent of its potential.
“We’re helping Cosabella identify the different consumers in the database to fit across the customer lifecycle, which helps with retention and conversion at a higher ROI,” he said.
Connell added the changes at Cosabella were proof any brand can gear up and be a sophisticated digital marketing powerhouse.
“Our ability to be able to use these tools signals where the market is at,” she said. “People don’t realise how accessible these players are, they think they’re out of reach. It’s no longer too expensive, this stuff is available to most sixed companies.”
Connell also urged other marketers not be afraid of making the leap into artificial technology. “AI is not about taking jobs from humans, what it’s going to do is challenge us to get back to what humans should be doing – we shouldn’t be doing these routine, repetitive tasks,” she said.
“As an industry, we all need to be thinking about how we adopt this, learn and think differently because these tools are now here. It’s time to explore, embrace and see how AI can make you smarter.”