This week, we take a look at how brands can make use of data to guide decision making without killing creativity. We’ve also got a look at how AI is already impacting customer experiences. Scroll down to use Glossy+ Comments, giving the Glossy+ community the opportunity to join discussions around industry topics.
Creativity in the data age
Brands have more access to data than ever, and the current economic climate is pushing them to focus on short-term, data-driven decisions with the least amount of risk associated. Brands like J.Crew and Chico’s have turned their attention to marketing to their existing loyalty customers, for example.
But the reliance on data is a double-edged sword. For one thing, it can be complex to figure out which data points matter. A survey from February by Salesforce of 10,000 business owners found that nearly a third were overwhelmed by the amount of data to sift through. And in fashion, in particular, there’s the dual danger of letting data override creative decisions. Fashion brands are often successful based on their ability to stand out and set trends, but an overreliance on data means those brands are instead following trends.
“I started marketing in 2002, and I came into it as just someone who loved fashion and wanted to be creative,” said Jann Parish, CMO of the women’s boutique Francesca’s. “In the age of the glossy magazine, there was this adage that you couldn’t measure marketing, so all that mattered was: How good do the photos look? How beautiful is the product you made?”
That’s no longer the case, Parish said. In lean times, measurability often trumps creativity. For its part, as the economy has worsened, Francesca’s has more heavily leaned on readily reliable data than ever before. It now runs brand-building campaigns only a few times a year, with retargeting existing customers as the new priority.
In a World Federation of Advertisers survey conducted at the end of 2022 on what’s stifling creativity, more than 600 advertisers laid out what elements are hampering creativity in marketing. Fifty-one percent said a financial risk-averse culture, 48% said a short-term focus, and 44% said having too many decision-makers involved.
But some brands are still making an effort to try new things, whether that’s in marketing or product design, even without hard data to support the strategy. Jeff Rudes, CEO of the California fashion brand L’Agence, said he only relies on data for some things. For example, his team, including designer Tara Rudes-Dann, refers to data regularly when analyzing previous collections to see what kinds of products sold well and where. That data can then inform decisions like where to send inventory and where to open new stores. But when it comes time to design a new collection, Rudes-Dann is often guided more by things she’s picked up organically.
“We will often go sit at a cafe or go out in a cool city like London and just kind of see what the kids are wearing and what looks good,” Rudes said. “That provides a lot of inspiration for us.”
Rudes gave an example: Wide-leg jeans were a common sight on a recent trip he took to Tokyo. Those, among other styles he saw, ended up informing the brand’s most recent collection. Observing what fashionable people are wearing is a form of data collection, but it’s one that allows for more inspiration and creative whim than a spreadsheet full of numbers would offer.
“We don’t have a crystal ball obviously, but it gives us a direction to get started in,” Rudes said.
Matthew Nastos, CEO of the digital marketing agency Maison MRKT, said brands should rely on their values and creativity to set goals and come up with ways to get there, then use data to check if those paths are viable.
“It’s critical for brands to balance data insights with a well-defined and, more importantly, distinct creative vision,” Nastos said. “If the brand has an effective testing framework in place, then all they need are messaging hypotheses that challenge their underlying assumptions and lead to clear outcomes. Having a robust testing framework not only enables brands to optimize their customer acquisition programs but also fosters an environment for ongoing innovation.”
Dao-yi Chow, creative director of Brady, said it’s important to maintain a balance between data and inspiration. Speaking on the Glossy Podcast earlier this year, Chow said that Brady — as an activewear brand — relies on more data than his other brand, Public School. But even there, Chow said, he’s fought for certain ideas even if they weren’t strongly backed by numbers.
For example, a major breakthrough product for Brady in its first year of life has been its underwear. The product is made from cotton rather than synthetic fibers commonly used by other big athletic companies. This wasn’t based on any data insight, only on the fact that co-founder Tom Brady himself prefers cotton over synthetic material. In just the first few weeks of the brand’s existence, Brady sold more than 20,000 pairs of underwear.
“There’s probably data on everything and every category nowadays,” Chow said. “But there are certainly times when you, as a designer, are fighting for an idea, whether with your merchants or with the business side of [the company]. You just instinctually believe in it. If we were just purely data-driven, and I’m sure some companies operate that way, we would lose the soul in a lot of the things that we make. That’s what people resonate with.” -Danny Parisi
The new, AI-fueled customer experience
According to retail advisor and investor Ken Pilot, “AI is really working out there, aside from ChatGPT.” And he’s investing accordingly. Earlier this week, he shared with Glossy one “AI story” that his portfolio companies tell, and that could already define forward-thinking and actively investing e-tailers’ customer experience.
At the start was Lily AI, which attaches high quantities of product attributes, or tags, to products. It prioritizes customer speak, versus industry terms, and eliminates the many man-hours needed to optimize products for search. The company’s customers include Bloomingdale’s, Gap and ThredUp. Once the customer finds the product they’re looking for, FindMine can complete their look by serving up complementing products. According to FindMine, which works with brands including Adidas and Cole Haan, it uses generative AI based on the brand’s point of view, making its service superior to standard personalization. Finally, DropIt determines the most “financially efficient” way for retailers to get final purchases to the customer, based on available pack-and-ship locations. Using AI, DropIt factors real-time data including “where the customer lives, how the product is selling in stores, the amount of supply in the warehouse and the cost of [local] couriers,” Pilot said. Estée Lauder, Zara and Nike currently invest in the technology. -Jill Manoff