Levi’s Global CMO Jennifer Sey (pictured below) was recently in Australia. B&T stopped by to talk her best marketing faux pas, the death of bricks and mortar, and how to flog jeans to gen Ys when their dads are wearing them…
The Levi’s brand is, what, 145 years old? From a marketing perspective how much is that a blessing or a curse? And how hard is to market to teenagers when they’re daggy parents are wearing a pair?
It makes you very clear about who you are. And we’re the authentic and original denim brand. And there are some brands out there that are truly great and truly global and remain utterly inspiring that they actually rise up above their category to engage their consumers.
The brands drive culture and these brands are brands like Levi’s, Nike, Disney, Apple… they’re the classic brands that we mirror ourselves on. We’re not just another clothing brand or fashion brand. There’s an obligation to bring the consumer something more than just the products we make. And that has to be deeply, emotional and resonate. Our branding doesn’t come from what we tell the consumer, it comes from what the consumer tells us. And that cuts across generations, that cuts across geography, it cuts across all lines, all races. Sure, being the first comes with its challenges but it also is a huge opportunity. Our consumer base is massive and there’s so many touch points there to tell the Levi’s story.
You’re obviously playing with some enormous budgets there at Levi’s. Care to share any great marketing stuff-ups and subsequent lessons you’ve learned?
I’ve done some terrible creative and I’ll be honest about that. We’ve got some data that has shown that 75 per cent of media effectiveness is the strength of the creative and that really is the most important thing. But I’ve got it so wrong on occasions and I’m not ashamed to tell you.
I think the problem with the Levi’s brand, that’s 145 years old, we can sometimes be afraid of not being youthful and cool and I think there has been times that we’ve chased the edge of cool and the edge of youth and not shown up in an authentic, real way.
And the work that has come out of that, and it’s work that I have lead, did not work and it did not resonate and it did not ring true and it took itself way too seriously.
Looking at the Levi’s brand here in Australia, how do the challenges differ to say other parts of the world?
Levi’s is one of those brands where there’s actually a lot of commonality around the world. The brand’s been on a similar trajectory and it’s amazing to see how healthy the brand remains here in Australia.
What I love about the Australian operations is that they’re taking a leading role at placing the brand at the centre of culture. You could see that during the recent same sex marriage vote and during Mardi Gras and that’s something that’s been very important to the brand locally for many, many years.
Levi’s has also tried to put music at the centre of our activities, that’s a very strategic choice. We say the brand is about authentic self-expression and music has always been the language we use to show that.
The Australian brand has done extremely well at integrating itself into things like the festival culture and we’ve really partnered with the local music scene.
I don’t need to tell you that the youth fashion market is just so crowded and noisy. How do you even begin to get your message out?
The denim market is very crowded, the youth fashion market is very crowded and, for sure, over the past few decades business has been somewhat challenging for us. There was a time when Levi’s was just about the only game in town and the market wasn’t so complicated. And the challenge became, “how do we respond to this?”
We weren’t accustomed to so much competition and so, over the past five years, we’ve been able to be very clear about who we are, what we offer; not try and be a brand that we’re not.
We’re an authentic jeans brand and people respond to that. And when we’ve not been authentic and true to that then we’ve not performed as well. It’s about you as a brand finding your voice. You also have to have a great product and a really compelling brand message that resonates.
What’s the big marketing trend you’re seeing at the moment? What should marketeers be investing in now so they’re jogging on the spot in, say, two or three years’ time?
The mix is changing rapidly every single day. Any brand that knows what it’s doing should be investing 50-70 per cent of their media dollars into digital because it has such an incredible ROI.
But we still see a great ROI on traditional television too, that broad reach, high stature… media for us is very important.
So, you’re still a big fan of traditional TV?
Yes, it really does work, but that depends on the market. Take China, there’s almost no such thing (as ads on TV), but in large markets like the US, Mexico, the UK, Germany, France, then TV is still very effective for us.
But the other thing we do really well is more in the experiential space. That gives us great PR and that’s what makes us competitive in terms of the reach that we’re able to achieve. That PR that we’re able to achieve from experiential marketing gives us leading share of voice, it’s not the media dollars, it also gives you the opportunity to give someone a real life experience. Customers still want and thirst for real-life experiences.
One of the challenges in the digital space is obviously transparency and accountability and knowing what you’re getting. And brands that are investing in that digital space need to know what they’re getting from their partners like Facebook and the Googles of this world.
Being a denim brand how much are your fortunes tied to the vagaries of fashion? If denim’s not “in” at the moment then you’ll do less well?
It’s all about being relevant. A fashion brand that’s not viewed as being in-style is in big trouble. Sure, there are denim trends and we need to remain at the forefront of that. Our view is we need to be timeless and timely and we need to be relevant to a very broad consumer base even if we’re not in a denim cycle. Even if it’s not denim then it’s about leading youth culture and leading the cycle.
When Levi’s is at the forefront of fashion trends then you’ll usually see denim at the forefront too. You can’t wait for the cycle to come to you, you have to have to drive the cycle.
Levi’s use a lot of musical influencers. What are the dangers in that? They’re caught in a drug scandal, for example?
The rule for us is they have to a very original voice. And that cuts across genres, there’s not one genre we associate the brand with. But we do seek artists that are original and have something to say. They need to write their own music, they need to have some material interest. To be honest, we’ve not had any trouble yet, but for sure, something could happen, but so far we’ve chosen pretty wisely. We choose artists that are serious about their craft and aren’t out there destroying hotel rooms.
What’s your view on bricks and mortar versus online? Particularly when chasing the youth market?
Look at the Australian market, half of our products are still bought in retail stores. For the younger shopper, I think they still prefer the smaller footprint store over the larger department store like a Myer or a David Jones.
Our Levi’s stand alone stores are very important to us, no more so than they enable us to truly bring the brand to life. It’s our store, it’s our environment, and the ability to do that is very limited when you’re in a wholesaler.
Consumers still like to go in-store and shop. They like to touch, they like to feel. Retail also fills a consumer’s immediate need – you’re going out that night and you need something straight away. One of the things we’ve seen is that while retail foot traffic may be down, conversion is up because they go in with the intent, a purpose, they want to buy something to go out in that night.
I know omichannel is such a buzzword, but the key is to get all your channels right from wholesale, to retail to online. The consumer that shops across channel ends up having the biggest value for us. It’s about bringing the brand to life in each of those channels.
Levi’s target market is the Ys and Zs. We’re constantly told they’re very difficult to market to, they’re not brand loyal. What’s been your experience?
I think we forget that Millennials are into their late 30s, they’re not young kids, they’re parents themselves. Because the market place is so crowded and everyone’s so consumer focused it’s more competitive and therefore it is harder to achieve brand loyalty. Well, it certainly is much harder than it was 30 years ago. In the past, you used to choose a brand and stay with it your entire life, but now we’re spoiled for choice.
That said, there are some brands that rise to the top and there’s some that come and go. You want a brand that consistently delivers incredible product, that always surprises and delights the consumer, and you have to stand for more than what you make. You have to have an emotional connection to the consumer, you need to bring something more than what you just put on the shelf.
Take Disney, it’s more than just about a film or a theme park visit, it’s about the magic of childhood. So many brands market on a [fleeting] trend and they don’t offer anything more than that. That’s what Levi’s has been able to do so successfully… consumers fall in love with Levi’s. Everyone has a Levi’s story and our goal is to make more stories where Levi’s love can be told.