TMMPDX recently caught up with Steve Gehlen, General Manager of Global eCommerce at Icebreaker, the popular merino wool activewear company. Steve Gehlen will be presenting a session on finding the right eMarketing mix at the upcoming eMarketing Summit at InnoTech on Thursday, April 21st. Steve offered to give TMMPDX readers the inside scoop on Icebreaker’s online success story and a preview of what he’ll be covering at the eMarketing Summit.
TMMPDX: What were some of the digital marketing challenges Icebreaker was facing when you became General Manager of Global eCommerce in 2009?
Steve Gehlen: Icebreaker didn’t have an executive-level champion for eMarketing and eCommerce before I arrived in August of 2009. They recognized the opportunity cost and created this new position which I was lucky enough to have a chance to fill.
TMMPDX: As General Manager of Global eCommerce, what were the long term and short terms goals that you and your team established for the brand?
SG: The short-term goals were to make some quick site fixes that would increase site visitor satisfaction and eCommerce conversion rates and then to develop and implement an eMarketing strategy for the Holiday season. The long-term goal was to grow eCommerce from a U.S.-only operation to a global presence.
TMMPDX: What were the steps outlined to reach these goals?
SG: To determine the initial list of short-term site improvements I went through every facet of the Web site, analyzed Web site statistics, and read consumer feedback about the site. I also asked our eCom Customer Service Rep for her ideas about how we could improve the site since she was conversing with our customers via phone and email on a daily basis. To help determine the eMarketing strategy, I tried various pilots on eMail, Search and Social and tracked what worked and didn’t. It quickly became apparent that the focus should be on eMail and Search for the initial Holiday season, plus a sweepstakes to help grow our house eMail list because that was our strongest channel.
TMMPDX: What was the first major change in global eCommerce strategy that was implemented at Icebreaker?
SG: The first major change was to develop and implement an eMarketing mix that would grow revenues by 50% or more.
TMMPDX: At the eMarketing Summit at InnoTech you are presenting a session titled “Finding the Right eMarketing Mix (and doubling eCommerce revenue along the way): a Musical Journey”. How did you and your team determine the right eMarketing mix for Icebreaker?
SG: I developed the marketing mix by testing several things and evaluating the results of those tests. We followed what the data told us, adding refinements and improvements as we went. Throughout the first six months, including the Holiday season, we approached everything as if it was a series of pilot tests and learnings. That was key and also helped us to manage expectations with senior management. We treated the first Holiday season as if it was a lab test for the following year’s eMarketing strategy. That way we could ensure continued growth. This approach worked really well because we basically doubled eCommerce revenue within the first 18 months.
TMMPDX: Once the eMarketing mix was established, how was the strategy implemented by Icebreaker?
SG: We implemented key components of our strategy by contracting with some outside agencies to help us. For example, we hired eROI for eMail marketing, Anvil Media for search marketing and ISITE Design for advanced analytics consulting.
TMMPDX: After the implementation was complete, what happened next?
SG: The first phase was designed to grow revenues for Holiday 2009. We did really well, but there was still room for improvement. We continued piloting by adding to the eMarketing mix, including the launch of an affiliate program and a different approach to social, which wasn’t achieving any measurable results. We then hired an eMarketing Manager to manage the various programs on a day-today basis.
TMMPDX: Is the “right” eMarketing mix something that is always changing and evolving?
SG: During my presentation at the InnoTech eMarketing Summit I’ll talk about how each brand needs to discover their lead or signature channel in the eMarketing mix (like the root key signature of a song) and develop a complementary mix around it that works best for their situation (like the chord progression of a song) and then keep working and refining that mix (like playing the song over and over again) to improve the results. During high school and college I used to play in a band, so I thought it would be fun to add something different to the session and play the banjo on-stage to demonstrate song structure.
TMMPDX: Is the process for determining the right eMarketing mix the same for non-eCommerce businesses? If not, how does the process differ in your opinion?
SG: I think the process outlined above can work for non-eCommerce businesses, but you really need to have ways to measure your success so you can learn from the data. eCommerce is great because you get immediate results via purchase behavior.
TMMPDX: What can individuals who attend your session at the eMarketing Summit expect to walk away knowing?
SG: They will walk away knowing an approach to finding their optimal eMarketing mix via a process that worked for Icebreaker and doubled eCommerce revenue over an 18 month period. I’ll use the analogy of how songs are structured via chord theory, so they’ll learn a bit about that as well!
TMMPDX: What’s next for global eCommerce at Icebreaker? What new eMarketing trends are on your radar?
SG: Next for Icebreaker is a total replatform of our eCommerce technology ecosystem and a redesign of our site on top of that ecosystem. For eMarketing, we’re not tracking trends, we’re tracking results. Trends and actual business results don’t always go hand-in-hand (outside of the initial core case studies for those who happened to be early or first). Our industry tends to fixate on things just because they provide something new to talk about in status updates, on blogs, at conferences and finally in the traditional media. But the transformative results aren’t really there for most businesses. This has been the story line of social over the past several years, which I am frankly bored with because what excites me are actual business results. Remember that this all started because people kept talking about MySpace. Then the next big thing was Second Life. The media, blogs and conference presenters talked about them over and over. Those channels didn’t work out so well for most brands. My sense is that many businesses are finding this out with Twitter right now. It seems to be devolving into just being a source for celebrity, sports and news gossip—a place where traditional media picks up stories. The signal-to-noise ratio is challenging, but you still need to be there for customer service purposes. Facebook has a different problem because they seem to have disdain for both users and businesses in the way that they make platform changes without input from these constituents or regard for the impact of the changes on those constituents. A lot of people I talk to these days are not happy with Facebook because of this cavalier approach. My advice is to focus on achieving actual business results instead of spending a lot of time and energy chasing the latest trend. Try new things out, yes, but keep it all in perspective.
To hear more from Steve Gehlen and other online marketing thought leaders, register now for the 7th Annual eMarketing Summit at InnoTech. Passes are $109 and include a free ticket to the 2011 SoMe Awards.