Growing up, I was fortunate to watch the passion of my parents manifest into a global luxury company that—through 35 years of global financial crises, currency fluctuations, price wars and the advent of e-commerce—always stayed true to the soul of our brand no matter what. They were driven by the desire to create, to share, and to innovate in our industry. They stayed true to our “Made in Italy” philosophy. They cared deeply about quality. And all while they refused to give in to the temptations of selling our company, going public, or raising venture capital.
I remember visiting the offices after school, marveling at the hustle and bustle of the complex world of fashion, and wanting to be involved in all of it. After graduating NYU with a degree Design & Planning and working as a sales and marketing director for a Japanese distribution company, I joined the family company full time in 2007. Eventually, my parents stepped down and asked my sister and I to run Cosabella. It was our turn to man the shop.
We’ve learned a lot over the past decade. One of my biggest realizations was that, while my parents made a huge impact on the brick-and-mortar and wholesale side of the business, my challenge would be making that same impact on the digital and omni stage, all while staying true to the vision they laid out.
That meant we needed to become not just a brand that sold to some of the finest department stores and boutiques on the planet, but also one that sold directly to consumers. We started our online presence in 1996 and re-launched it in 2015. From our first launch it became clear that we needed to learn more about our customers and find out what messages resonated with both them and our existing network of brick-and-mortar stores.
This put us in an interesting position. The luxury lingerie market is largely polarized by new start-ups focused on tech and old-world fashion brands focused on top quality production. I saw the opportunity to marry the two. But could we close the gap in the market? Could we take the leap forward while still honoring the consistency and adherence to the traditional fashion calendar and retailers? Could we be a traditional wholesale manufacturer while competing in the new omni era of direct-to-consumer retail?
We felt strongly, that it was not only possible, but critical to both continuing our legacy of innovation and surviving the retail revolution.
We started transitioning in 2013. We streamlined our marketing department and brought consumer strategies front and center. Next, we improved our storytelling efforts, making sure both our business customers and individual shoppers knew who we were and what we were about. Finally, we started looking for transformative partners that could push our brand to the next level.
I spoke with our marketing director Courtney Connell about how best to do this. We’re a small brand and we really have to make every dollar count, so continuing to outsource so many of our digital marketing efforts just didn’t make sense. We wanted to grow, we wanted more control, and we wanted to leverage our in-house team more effectively.
Surprisingly, we found a strategy that let us do all three. We had found our new competitive edge: artificial intelligence.
We got to work training our team in Q3 of last year. Working with AI required a shift in the way we thought about everything, from graphic work to copy to strategy overall. One of the primary users of our new AI technologies is a brand expert who has been with the company for over 15 years. This was a win-win for us: a brand champion with endless knowledge paired with cutting-edge tools.
Beyond transforming some of our long-term workforce, AI also immediately allowed our Communications and Marketing teams to focus more on the creative and strategic sides of their jobs. Their work is less repetitive and administrative, allowing them to use the brain power we hired them for and their newfound time to invest in ideas, stronger content generation, and planning. Importantly, this has allowed the team to become stronger than ever. In contrast to the narrative that AI is out to replace human work, we instead watched it change and grow each individual whose role was touched.
In Q4 of 2016 we launched five new technologies. Sentient was one of the first to go live. Within 45 days of launching their Ascend technology we had tested 160 new designs achieved a 38% increase in conversions. With non-AI, legacy solutions, we simply could never have tested all
those ideas. Those older tools really just let you test A vs. B and even then we’d need a lot of traffic to tell us if our ideas were good. With AI, we could move quicker and test more ideas.
Now, not only did this impact revenue on our consumer-facing channels but it also affirmed our intuition on many of our wholesale-facing efforts. One of the most interesting insights for us? The strong response to the simple statement “family owned since 1983.” That short sentence beat all of our other marketing terminology, even our “Made in Italy” mantra. It was great to see that our customers cared about some of the same things we do.
2017 marks a year of pushing the limits. We are in beta programs with many of our partners, including Adgorithms and Emarsys. For example, Adgorithms is helping us automate the way we manage our social and search channels, while Emarsys has helped increase newsletter subscriptions by 2000%. We are constantly thinking of new use cases and applications. As a brand we want to be the “sandbox” for new ideas. We have some very exciting programs rolling out with Sentient’s Aware product over the summer as we work to create a truly “living” content strategy.
Going back to the beginning of this story, where the baton was officially passed to me, I didn’t know what the path was going to look like. It is still changing and moving. I do feel, however, that I have a more concrete philosophy on how I approach the rapidly evolving digital world. I certainly feel that when we embrace new technology we continue the legacy of the innovators that came before us. I can only hope that I can inspire my own children, as my parents have inspired me, to one day carry the baton even further into the future.Favorite