Seafolly CMO on embracing more inclusive marketing

Brand purpose, inclusivity and diversity are all pointing to the same thing: Brands must narrow the gap between reality and brand positioning, says Seafolly's marketing leader

Adriane McDermott
Adriane McDermott


Being inclusive in your marketing approach is as much about transforming brand purpose and company culture as it is about creative and messaging, says Seafolly’s chief marketing officer.

During last week’s Salesforce Connections to you event in Sydney, Seafolly’s Adriane McDermott joined a panel to discuss how the swimwear brand is endeavouring to be more inclusive. She caught up with CMO afterwards to detail specific initiatives underway, and how she sees diversity and inclusion continuing to dominate brand discussions into the future.

For McDermott, inclusive marketing is about narrowing the gap between reality and how brands position themselves. She saw inclusivity and brand purpose as one and the same thing, and intrinsically linked to delivering exponential value and wins for every stakeholder in a business including team members, end consumers, suppliers, board members, community and the environment. It’s an idea that takes its cues from the book, Conscious Capitalism, by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia.

In Seafolly’s case, the ambition is to enable women to see themselves in the brand, from the attitude expressed via communications, to the swimwear offered and talent portrayed in its advertising.

Enter ‘Own Your Folly’, Seafolly’s new brand platform created in the last nine months and debuting in a fresh above-the-line campaign in September. McDermott described it as a redefinition of the swimwear category to reach all types of women and exude inclusivity.

“The campaign’s purpose is to remind women what the benefit of great fit can do for their inner confidence. It is not about standing around posing in swimwear, it’s about women embracing everything about themselves and feeling good,” McDermott explained. “It’s about the mischief and freedom that comes from our Australian attitude.”

To get there, brand positioning work has required Seafolly to rediscover its purpose and approach the category in a way that’s genuinely empowering to women both internally and externally, she said. McDermott and her team worked with competitive agencies in a pitch process to get the strategic work done, then spent time sharing insights with executives and senior leaders through to board and team members.

“It’s also about landing a brand platform that has become an internal rally cry for our way of working,” McDermott said. “Inclusive marketing is about being more real and relatable, both inside and out. The guidepost to ensuring its consistency and authenticity is having an inspiring and inclusive purpose and company culture.

Organisations today have to be so in touch with desired outcomes and benefits the brand is delivering for all stakeholders, McDermott continued.

“As this next generation of millennial employees comes up, they’re demanding brands and businesses to be more reflective of the community and representation of women, minorities, cultures, backgrounds and more,” she said. “Those millennial workers are saying to their businesses, we want to be involved in a brand that’s more inclusive, both in terms of culture and well as work done externally.”  

McDermott agreed all this challenges how she thinks as a marketing leader.

“I feel it requires a different mindset and probably different way of approaching things than marketing would have ever taught you previously,” she commented. “It’s more a responsibility of leadership within a business, too – I don’t see it as specific to the function of marketing, I think it can come from anyone – a CMO, CEO, or head of logistics.”

Seafolly’s brand repositioning

Underpinning the push for inclusiveness at Seafolly is brand authenticity. “We know women don’t want to be sold an unrealistic dream. They want to feel like they’re a part of the dream,” McDermott said. “Our challenge, particularly in fashion marketing, is making reality aspirational, still making it a dream.”

According to McDermott, this required Seafolly to go back to its roots of bringing the beach lifestyle together with the Australian attitude of ‘folly’, ensuring both internal staff and consumers could become ‘folly makers’.

“Folly makers make their own luck, give things a crack and don’t take themselves too seriously. They have fun while they do, but never at the expense of anyone else,” she said.  

It hasn’t been an easy ride, and McDermott navigated plenty of pushback and questions on whether this was the right way to position Seafolly now and into the future.

“We had a lot of scepticism from our shareholders and board members around whether the word ‘folly’ was relevant today and could be understood. We came to an impasse and I had to stop and go into some focus groups and test it to make sure we brought the consumer into the conversation,” she said.  

The focus groups found consumers over 35 years old knew what folly meant, and several had a vague idea of Seafolly’s roots as Peter’s Folly back in 1975. The under 35s, however, didn’t.

“We saw that as an advantage to redefine it. That’s a perfect word marketers look for and we don’t have to make it up. It’s in our brand name and has resonance with an older customer and it’s reflective of a lot of what Australians are about,” McDermott said.  

Having launched the ABL campaign two weeks ago, early feedback is already influencing the way content and casting worked at a social media shoot this week.

“What I heard is consumers wanted us to push it even further. We’re now picking out what co-folly makers we’ll enlist to create more content and be more inclusive about who those women are and what they represent,” McDermott said.

“Seafolly has products that instill confidence in women. But what we didn’t have is a narrative bringing it all together. In the past, we’ve used good looks and good location to sell the dream. Now people want to be part of the dream, and see themselves in the marketing. They have an opportunity through technology to participate in brands and content, so we’ve landed on a platform idea inviting all women to own their folly, whatever it might be.”  

McDermott said there are now plans to pen a manifesto and record it with staff, allowing them to cite what folly means personally. This content piece could be for internal motivation and to induct future employees,” she said.

Product-marketing alignment

Leading up to this point, McDermott spent the early part of her two-and-a-half year tenure as CMO rebuilding Seafolly’s customer segments. This involved understanding different shopping segments, frequency of shopping and personas and saw the brand land on two main camps: Fit-first, and fashion-first customers.

Having that customer alignment with product is now helping in the design of product. “For example, we launched a product called Seafolly essentials, so any two pieces for $89 in a mix-and-match bikini style. We knew price and affordability was a big obstacle for our 18-24 year old audience. And they don’t need as much support as an older customer,” McDermott said.  

“That’s customer segmentation research guiding the product strategy. And we’ll be investing a lot more into core product, sustainability and other features and benefits our consumers have told us are important to them and the products they choose.”  

Meanwhile, McDermott said she has been impressed by the impact of diversity in its latest campaign, noting incredible power in this kind of representation. She noted brands doing this well use upwards of 20 - 50 images to really demonstrate the point. Examples include Fenty Beauty’s launch of 50 foundations featuring 50 different women, Pharrell Williams for Adidas, and Third Love’s 78 fits and 78 models.

“Really, inclusive marketing is about customers and consumers wanting, if not demanding, brands communicate with them in way that’s lot closer to reality,” McDermott concluded. “The brand’s challenge is then to make reality more aspirational. People want to see that authenticity in the marketing, so our job as marketers is to do that, but still make it aspirational. It has to be emotional and connect.”  

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