Why Hotsprings digital chief recommends decoupling the martech stack

Sven Lindell, chief digital officer of Hotsprings, shares how he's approaching digital, martech and customer-led marketing strategy

For Sven Lindell, making the transition back from CMO to chief digital officer (CDO) has been a homecoming. 

Lindell took up the reins as CDO of Hotsprings, a collection of fashion brands, 12 months ago following a stint as CMO at Temple & Webster for two years. Prior to this, he was in digital roles at Woolworths and Bras N Things. 

Given CMOs have to be digitally savvy, its not too great a step to go from one role to the other, he told CMO. And as specialities within marketing increasingly become necessary, he believes we will see an increase in roles such as CDO or chief customer officer, and a decrease in CMO-only roles. 

“I’ve come through the digital marketing and digital commerce path, now it’s just blending both the various marketing disciplines together into one function,” he said. “CMO roles are broader roles and are drying up as businesses are looking for experts in certain parts of the customer journey. As a result, the CMO’s responsibilities are being split. 

“A lot of the digital trading parts of organisations doesn’t quite sit under a CMO either, and a CMO, rightly or wrongly, is now associated with more traditional marketing functions.” 

At Hotsprings, which includes brands such as PE Nation, Cooper St, Lover, Rebecca Vallance, and Vestire, the remit is helping support a transformation from wholesaler to direct-to-consumer in a challenging fashion retail market. Lindell jumped into the role, streamlining martech to ensure its launch into digital is marketing-driven, because digital is where growth now lies. 

“What Hotsprings really needed was better digital. I see a lot of businesses just jumping into digital, as they’ve been sold the Kool-Aid. Many think if you just build an online presence, the customers will come - but they don’t," he commented. "So I’m building the digital presence, but ensuring the solid marketing is behind it."

In this vein, Lindell has developed a marketing plan for each brand, grown agility within the business to help marketing react quickly to presented market opportunities. He's also streamlined and restructured teams to help facilitate decisions in real time. 

Another task has been to decoupled a lot of the legacy platforms and build things back up as best-of-breed, something Lindell believed is vital. 

“I’m not interested in one big monolith platform, but rather in building an architecture in the business that allows us to easily plug-in and play based on what our customers want and need," he explained. “My philosophy is to decouple the martech stack and not go with one big provider or marketing cloud solution, because you end up paying for things you don’t require. Then you have this big cost of ownership just to keep a stack going, with no consumer benefit. 

“We are building a core infrastructure at the back end, not just a CRM but more of a data lake. Then we can plug-in best-of-breed systems, from multiple providers. When we build that up, it comes out much cheaper, and then we can invest in consumer-facing elements, rather than in maintaining tech."

The API architecture allows this simplicity. "First thing is to make sure our systems were open to this, then we build the fundamentals to capture and aggregate data in the right way," Lindell said.

"If martech is not adding value to the business or CX, we can just unplug it. I won’t sign an agreement with a provider for more than 12 months, and after this period it’s month by month, so they prove value to us every single month.”

The approach is working, with Lindell telling CMO all the brands are doing well. Of course, this also comes down to putting the customer at the centre of the businesses, choosing the right communications channels, personalisation, and microsegments. 

“We collect data across all brands and bring it together for insights, then decide if there’s an opportunity to work across the group. A customer data platform is really important for that," he continued. “I am really proud of PE Nation, it’s doing really well, as is Lover. Much of this has come down to old school marketing, understanding who our customers are, and ensuring we have the right proposition in front of them." 

Yet when it comes to customer centricity, Lindell is convinced doing exactly what a customer wants can be to your own detriment. There has to be a balance between driving business and customer objectives. 

“The channel depends on the brand. We focus our marketing efforts on building a community, and microsegments in those communities that trust and love the brand, and then aligning the brand to them so they send stories out to their friends," he said. 

“Rather than trying to be all things across all channels, we are drilling down into certain channels. Obviously social works well, but in those channels there are different areas. Instagram works for PE Nation, Facebook is better for Cooper St. We are mindful we don’t do the same strategy across each brand, and we are mindful of the communities we are trying to build for strong engagement on the platforms they want to engage on.

“There’s never a dull day here, we are building brands so they can grow, ensuring there is cost efficiency across them, but also ensuring each one of the brands is unique and talking to their customers in an authentic way."

In a year’s time, Lindell hoped to be excited about the brands from an overseas growth perspective as well.

"We now have the opportunity to build direct relationship with customers," he concluded. "Ten years ago, consumers had to go to retailers to have that relationship, but brands can now have that direct access to customers without it being diluted. We also control the supply chain from manufacturing to sales, so we can control the CX.”

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