CMO50 2020 #2: Alexander Meyer

  • Name Alexander Meyer
  • Title Chief marketing officer
  • Company The Iconic
  • Commenced role June 2016
  • Reporting Line Chief executive officer
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 65 staff, 5 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Retail and ecommerce
  • 2019 ranking 6
  • Related

    Brand Post

    At first glance, most of us would think a pure-play brand like The Iconic was better positioned than many retailers lagging behind in digital when confronted with the COVID-19 crisis. Yet marketing chief, Alexander Meyer, is the first to admit the lockdowns put a lot of strain onto the business, its employees and customers.

    For one, customers were in no way focused on buying dresses and heels during a lockdown. “This meant we saw a significant decrease in sales in certain categories,” Meyer says.

    Yet while the temporary drop in sales hit hard, Meyer says The Iconic has never been a brand to miss an opportunity to innovate and rethink. So it pivoted quickly across all areas, reducing costs to protect the bottom line and cash position, while rapidly sourcing products in those categories that were selling through COVID such as sports, ‘at-home’ and beauty.

    “Society shifts and new things are born when crises hit; however, with COVID-19, it seems we are facing an accelerator, and business trends that already existed are being pushed and fast-tracked before our eyes,” Meyer continues.  

    The biggest one he highlights is the ongoing debate around shifting from offline to online. It’s an argument Meyer believes is irrelevant and leads to all the wrong conversations.

    “‘Online’ success has always required a mindset that focuses on understanding the customer, due to its natural barriers versus offline shopping,” he says. “Think about it this way - the reason why online ‘as a channel’ is successful right now is because ‘online’ businesses have to focus on non-physical digital user experiences, needing to solve different problems for customers using technology and data to connect with them in more seamless and innovative ways.

    “What once was disregarded as something that ‘tech nerds’ used, and ‘a new channel’ that would never be profitable as no one would shop online, is now representing a customer-first mindset that wins in a demand-driven world much accelerated by COVID.”  

    Meyer says this should be teaching all of us that it’s high time to stop talking ‘bricks-and-mortar’ versus digital businesses. “It’s about connecting with customers in the most inspirational and seamless way. So, I would go as far as saying: Online is a mindset, not a channel,” he argues.

    “If you look at the Internet, mobile and tech in general as a means to an end, allowing you to engage with your customer in a different way, then that brings you to online as a mindset. Being a pure-play, you are forced to look at the world differently. But it’s not the digital channel itself that makes the difference, it’s the ability to adapt yourself to utilising what you have in the way you engage with the customer, who they are and how they are and how often you can engage.”  

    This mindset also delivers the keys to success post-COVID19. Because an agile mindset and customer-centric, no matter which channel, will be vital to the next normal, he says.

    “Thinking of digital as just a channel has hindered businesses to be prepared for a moment like this, where we’ve seen rapid acceleration of people changing their way of interacting while they shop during COVID,” Meyer says. “It not just the fact people are shopping more on the Internet. It’s also about what we can learnt along the way, which improves our customer focus, agility and ability to utilise technology for those benefits.”  

    It’s for these reasons and more that Meyer believes it’s one of the most exciting times for marketing and marketers. “While we need to be financially versed like a CEO and CFO, and technologically and data driven like chief technology and chief intelligence officers to be successful as marketing leaders in this demand-driven world, we actually still hold the key like no other function to drive human connectivity,” he says.  

    “Without that, no business in today's world - or the future - can survive.”  

    Innovative marketing  

    Integrated engagement channels are a crucial part of this modern marketing mix. Over the past three years, The Iconic has evolved from sending regular, batch and blast emails to highly tailored messaging through its CRM platform using a combination of email marketing, app push notifications, Web push alerts and SMS. Its mobile app home screen, The Daily, is also powered by the CRM, offering that same level of personalisation in-app, something the brand could have only dreamed of 1-2 years ago, Meyer says.  

    It was by creating a marketing data and tech function that The Iconic was able to connect its customer data platform (CDP) to internal systems as well as marketing platforms, enabling more informed decisions around who to target (cohorts based on predictive purchasing habits), when to target (propensity, including AI-powered send-time optimisation) and what channel to use when (email vs push notification). The CDP is also now integrated with ‘paid’ channels, allowing The Iconic’s marketers to spend even more efficiently and effectively, to increase the value of our customers, Meyer says.  

    This has led to hefty double-digit conversion rate increases and millions in incremental revenue. And it came in particularly handy during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

    “Never before in our 10-year history have we seen behaviour vary this much by state in light of different lockdown and subsequent mindset scenarios,” Meyer says. In response, The Iconic split up the Eastern seaboard into three different markets then surfaced customers in each region with specific content and offers.  

    “This created a lot of extra work for our teams to get additional content produced but distributing it has been easy due to our sound integrations and data insights we have built out throughout the last year,” Meyer says.  

    Such segmentation has resulted in CRM as a percentage of total traffic lifting year-on-year, growing sales substantially in several categories.  

    Data-driven approach  

    Just before the COVID-19 crisis, Meyer’s team partnered with Retail Oasis and Roy Morgan to conduct a deep customer persona segmentation of the Australian fashion and sportswear market. The project’s aim was to gain greater understanding of the actual market segments and their relative size, The Iconic’s level of penetration within each segment, and lift understanding of current customers.  The output would then be used to inform all business decision making, from buying strategy to marketing plans, technology development and CX features, aligned across all business areas to drive market share growth.  

    Meyer explains each segment was identified via quantitative and qualitative data points that aid in understanding value and the best way for the brand to target and push customers further down the funnel. For the first time, it also gave the business access to market share, market size and share of wallet of different customer personas outside of its owned data sets.  

    The name of the game is driving efficient growth investments, says Meyer. “The respective data collaboration allowed us to map these segments via a data fusion exercise to The Iconic’s customer database,” he explains.  

    “Every single existing and future customer can now be tagged in our data warehouse accordingly. From now on, we can create concrete data-driven targets for new, reactivated and returning customers in each persona segment and against each key category destination such as mens, womens, kids or sports. This gives us total numbers of customers in each cohort, their respective sales and purchasing behaviour on the back of historic data trend lines we can now pull through the deep data integration’s outcome.  

    “This allows us to fully triangulate financials, customer targets and activity plans, both short term and long term. We have also integrated this data with our media buying agency, who can now book media in much more targeted ways.”  

    Customer-led thinking  

    Another area of focus has been lifting hands-on customer experience of products in an online environment. As Meyer points out, one big barrier to online shopping is not being able to ‘try before you buy’.  

    In response, The Iconic introduced a new destination onsite called ‘Sneakerhub’ targeting the ‘sneakerhead’ cohort currently owned by offline retailers. With augmented reality (AR) try-on increasingly popular in the US, Meyer led a cross-functional effort with tech to develop the brand’s own AR technology using sneakers as a ‘trial’.   

    The resulting customer-focused in-app feature is called ‘Visualise’, an AR experience enabling customers to virtually ‘try-on’ sneakers wherever they are. Each 3D model required every pair of sneakers to go through a process called photogrammetry, where 180+ photos are taken at 15-degree angles to get the full sneaker mapped. There is also a process to stitch all photos together to get the texture, shape, size and fit as true to life as possible. Although technically complex, Visualise is available on both iOS and Android app versions, a major achievement given the three-month build time, says Meyer.  

    Since launching in November 2019 and at time of CMO50 judging, customers had virtually tried on sneakers 130,000 times, with over 500 people using the feature daily. The result is a more considered purchase. Meyer cites evidence the return rate among people who purchase after 'visualising' their purchase has significantly reduced, driving strong incremental profitability per order.  

    “We will continue to test and evolve the complex operationalisation of this feature on more sneaker SKUs, before manifesting expansion opportunities into a wider range of products in 2021 and beyond,” he adds.  

    Commercial acumen  

    On average, The Iconic boasts of 16 million visits monthly onsite and in-app and drives an equal number of reach across our paid and organic social channels, achieving an audience size that exceeds that of most of Australia’s largest digital publishers. This presents an attractive opportunity for brand partners to leverage this reach, using it to drive awareness and sales of their products on its site.  

    Over time, The Iconic’s paid media solutions offering has expanded to include opportunities for all stages of the purchase funnel, from awareness to events and influencer partnerships and promotion-driving conversion via the brand’s engagement channels.  

    Among recent enhancements to the offering are sponsored products, which debuted in Q4 2019 and was built in partnership with advertising software, Citrus. This works on an auction-based model. Brand partners login to the sponsored product platform and adjust CPC bids to boost their products to the top of relevant category pages at the key stage of the consumer journey.  

    During COVID, the strategy for brand partners pivoted to better assist them drive product sales and move away from top-of-funnel awareness and consideration campaigns, Meyer says. Notable success stories came from brands such as Levi’s and RM Williams, which both saw double-digit sales uplift in the height of the national lockdown.  


    More widely, Meyer says The Iconic has had to completely reimagine and pivot our got-to-market strategy across all channels and regions to remain hyper-relevant to customers’ rapidly evolving ‘new normal’ of COVID. 

    “Product priorities on our onsite pages, content pillars across our social channels, and how we physically bring our creative shoots to life were all adapted to align to the altered customer needs, our people and the wider world in which we operate,” Meyer says. “We introduced a dedicated #StayHome navigation bar item, The Iconic sport at-home workout schedule, published stay home ISO food and fashion challenges, and reactive promotions that were built on customer demand first, when in the past these were normally supply driven.”  

    The speedy pivot led to a 300 per cent uplift in engagement on social in April. Another initiative was a strategic partnership with Foxtel’s new streaming service Binge to bring to life a quickly designed and new successful Inactivewear range by Meyer’s creative team leads.  

    Then there were the social and community aspects of how brands responding in the crisis to contend with. As Meyer points out, public discourse pre-COVID around Australia’s bushfires crisis, as well as heightened social movements during COVID such as #blacklivesmatter, show people increasingly want brands like The Iconic to have a voice on cultural topics on a larger scale.  

    “We believe this will continue to translate into people’s buying behaviour, aligning with their personal values,” Meyer says. “We have seen this customer buying behaviour through the growth of our ‘Considered’ range, which experienced a 2019 growth rate from 6 per cent to 13 per cent of all SKUs in catalogue and now represents almost 500 brands with one or more SKU in Considered. It’s also clear in the rise of engagement on social posts discussing culturally relevant topics.”  

    An example Meter points to is the ‘It’s Not Ok’ Instagram post on @theiconicau, which reached 173,000, received over 4700 likes and 165 comments of positive social sentiment.  

    “As a first on this in our ecosystem, showcasing vulnerability made us stronger internally and externally, in the hope of encouraging the industry to take a risk and a stance, making us bolder for when it matters,” Meyer says. 

    Cross-functional collaboration  

    Meanwhile, The Iconic’s sustainability journey is an area that highlights just how cross-functional Meyer’s team efforts have become. A recent initiative was working closely with the group’s sustainability team to develop The Iconic’s inaugural Annual Progress Report, launched as part of its Summer Show launch in November 2019.  

    This report highlighted The Iconic’s 36 2022 Sustainability Strategy targets and its shortfalls and achievements against these to date. However, what Meyer says were missing were concrete targets relating to diversity, inclusion and body positivity. The development of seven additional benchmarks to cover these areas was spearheaded by Meyer’s creative marketing team.  

    To support these aims, the team evolved The Iconic’s annual runway show to a Summer Show encompassing a full range of summer apparel. This was celebrated by a diverse line-up of runway models including Muslim supermodel, Halima Aden, who also highlighted the launch of a Modest Shop on The Iconic’s site in the second half of 2020.  

    Even as COVID hit, The Iconic continued to strive towards meeting these milestones, often in a highly cross-functional manner. One example Meyer is proud of is launching new packaging made from 100 per cent post-consumer plastic waste.  

    “When the nature of ‘recycled content’ challenged our known black satchel design, we needed to invert the colour scheme to white satchel, black logo,” Meyer says. “Our packaging represents an important tangible connection between the brand and its customers, so through a well-delivered marketing campaign, the message behind the switch to white 100 per cent post-consumer plastic waste satchels reached over 7 million people, with the news further covered internationally.  

    “Our packaging progress - and broadly the targets in our Annual Progress Report - represents how tightly our cross-functional teams achieve organisational sustainability outcomes despite the ongoing pandemic,” Meyer adds.  

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