The Iconic's first customer chief on metaverse, modern-day marketing and customer obsession

Dean Chadwick catches up with CMO following the pure-play retailer's Runway X fashion show to detail his ambitions and plans to build customer value

Building social and metaverse muscle to deliver modern-day marketing and customer obsession have been priorities for The Iconic’s chief customer officer in the first year of the job.

Dean Chadwick, who joined the pure-play retailer last year in the newly created role of chief customer officer, caught up with CMO following the successful return of the brand’s Runway X fashion show to an in-person event format on 2 November. The sixth edition of the production, a noted event on the Australian fashion calendar, was both a display of diversity and inclusion as well as mixed reality immersion, with a Web 3.0 component introduced to the event.

“We were known historically for taking Runway X in new directions. As we were thinking about this year, we thought about the vision of the organisation and how we want to have a nod into the future,” Chadwick told CMO.

“The Iconic is an 11-year-old, digitally native retailer born in the cloud. Tech has been at the front and centre of the business, as well as having a strong social conscience. Given fashion’s foray into Web 3.0 over the last couple of years, it was important we think about how to educate ourselves and customers, and delicately participate in that as a space.”  

For Chadwick, the impetus became less about the ‘metaverse’ and more “about the nexus and blend of real world”. As part of the program, physical models on the catwalk showcased more than 170 looks from leading local and international brands such as Manning Cartwell, Jac+ Jack, Mimco, Peta + Jain and Mossman.

In a nod into the meta world, there were also meta models featured via metamirrors on stage, showing virtual avatar expressions of the real person in the metaverse. In addition, The Iconic debuted and auctioned an NFT, including a digital portrait designed by NFT artist and influencer, Bianca Beers. This was coupled with an exclusive seasonal styling session and wardrobe refresh twice a year every year for the next 10 years. The physical prize is worth $20,000 in total.

As well as the first foray into the metaverse, this year’s Runway X for Chadwick represented a clear case study of modern-day marketing.

“This was an excellent example of how we brought that to market. It’s a physical entertainment and great production, but the lens was very much a social-first one,” he explained. “We showcased products and hundreds of looks across our models, and the talent line-up was an incredible expression of diversity.

“Hundreds of influencers and media participated in the conversation before, during and after the show. The live event was only 32-minutes, but the conversation went across Australia for weeks.”

Influencers were sent packs in advance of the event so they could start the conversation, and the show was streamed live on YouTube, Meta and TikTok.

“I don’t think there are many brands with the courage or permission to activate that kind of marketing campaign,” Chadwick commented. “Traditional media is still massively important to the media mix, but it was really awesome to take Runway X in that direction.

“We were playing well in social, but we have built that muscle up. We were able to think about Runway X not just as a brand moment and who we stand for but have a retail trade lens throughout to pull through and deliver on the sales results as well.”  

Social commerce is clearly a part of the retailer’s broader strategy and Chadwick flagged efforts to dial up that capability through The Iconic’s in-house social and paid performance teams.

“We want to show up where customers are, in channels where they are at, so they can shop the look and build ranges from the content we provide,” he said.

It’s early days for metaverse, which Chadwick described as sitting in “the low fidelity end of this next technological disruptive era”. But with 65 per cent of customers under 34 years old, and Gen Z the fastest growing cohort, doing interesting stuff to engage audiences in new ways is an imperative for The Iconic.

“Web 3.0 and metaverse are on many boards’ and management teams’ minds. Everyone is trying to figure out if we should or shouldn’t, where do we participate, do we just play or can it be commercial from the outset,” he said. “I think we were true to who we were with our foray.”  

Chadwick also recognised creators and community as important actors in this new Web 3.0 world. “We always want to engage with these. But it’s hard to predict where its go - it feels like the dial-up modem phase of the Internet,” he said.

Learning internally was therefore an important part of the process this year, and Chadwick noted an uptick in curiosity as team looked to understand what the metaverse means.

“Like every business, there are things you just need to do: You need to trade, grow the business, take marketshare. But we still want to make sure one part of the lens is on innovation,” Chadwick said. “That has always been core to who we are. We were the original upstart in revolutionising the fashion business online. We don’t want to lose that essence. We are an 11-year-old grownup startup, but still young retailer.

“It’s important to push boundaries but in a mindful way – there is still a business to run.”

Chadwick also quoted The Iconic CEO, Erica Berchtold, on the need for the brand to continue to find distinctiveness in a world where most retailers now have digital capability in their arsenal.

“Erica talks about the safety car coming out when Covid hit, allowing everyone to play catchup to elevate platforms and capability in this digital space,” he said. “So yes, it’s important for The Iconic to have a clear moat around our distinctiveness and differentiation in market allowing us to still be who we want and play aggressively to take more marketshare.”  

Being the first chief customer officer

Runway X is Chadwick’s self-proclaimed milestone of his first year as The Iconic’s inaugural chief customer officer. The role has seen marketing united with the product function as well as customer service, an important trio in optimising customer experiences.

“How we show up in our ecommerce platform through our assortment range is another critical buying part of the journey,” Chadwick said. “So when customers know what they want to buy, they can come in and do that in a seamless way. And if they don’t, we create those moments that help inspire along the journey through our platform.”  

In stepping into the position, Chadwick said it was important to take stock, listen, ask questions, see what’s working and business strategy then take view on how to elevate the work and brand.

“I was blessed to come into an organisation where the business was strong and brand was incredible. You come in as a custodian of the brand and my job while I’m here is to take that further, protect who we are and elevate great work that’s been happening,” he said.  

“This customer org gives us a further mandate to be customer obsessed across all touchpoints. We are looking to drive a more exemplified customer journey. We are maturing but we want to keep the culture as part of the brand, while elevating the business to compete for the long term.”  

Other pluses in The Iconic’s favour for Chadwick are its scale, large customer database, and connection with Gen Z. He noted the expanded lifestyle range and inclusion of brands like Gucci Sport as a further win.

And in being customer chief, Chadwick has many levers to pull to drive growth. “My view is the chief customer role is a modern-day version of what the CMO is,” he said.

“Marketing always should be broader than communications, and having those other levers is so important. The other thing is to embed across the organisation is commercial understanding of the business. So we know if we pull this lever, it’ll generate this, with that customer mandate over the top.”

While The Iconic already had strong ways to listen, learn and measure how customers are feeling, an opportunity for optimisation Chadwick has spotted is around last-mile delivery.

“This is even more important in how customers feel about The Iconic, versus marketing collateral we send out to tempt them with our product range,” he said. “We have to have good handle on all leading and lagging metrics as it relates to customer advocacy. It’s even more important as we look at for next few years, to ensure we drive a step change in customer loyalty and be obsessed around how much our people our shopping, how much they buy, when they bought last from us.

“The great thing about an ecommerce business is you have such richness of data through behavioural activity – intent-based search, traffic, what people look at. What we can do is marry that together into a more coordinated picture from one end of the other, to get real sense of people are feeling, versus just an NPS after a buying transaction. We are looking to strengthen that view.”  

Having spent several years as CMO of Virgin Velocity, Chadwick is well-versed in what a loyalty program looks like and can be. He said this former professional experience definitely providing insight in terms of organising around the customer and how to manage a large customer base to provide the right amount of value, be that rational or intangible.

“We’re getting into a much more competitive environment. You need to make sure you’re bringing in the right customers that extends into that loyalty continuum,” he said. “I’m as focused on the post-purchase behaviour to get them back into the loop of shopping with The Iconic as I am bringing in new ones.”  

According to Chadwick, The Iconic has a strong customer value proposition to work with including free delivery, its returns policy and its range. “We start with product – the whole flywheel starts there and having the assortment range people want to buy,” he added.

“The customer org has allowed us to galvanise teams under new structure in different ways we have seen before. It’s motivating and then allows us to lean into more customer obsession and loyalty for the future.”  

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