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For PopSugar CRO Geoff Schiller, the company’s transition from publisher to lifestyle brand has been an exercise in restraint.

“We can only do what our audience has given us permission to do,” said Schiller, adding, “We have to maintain the core.”

At the core of PopSugar is a millennial women’s lifestyle site, covering entertainment, fitness, fashion, beauty and more. It’s a thickly competitive media landscape for publishers targeting the same audience, so to stay ahead, PopSugar has pivoted. It has added other branches to its business, including an in-house agency called The Bakery, a festival event called PopSugar Playground, a licensing business and a retail line, now sold in partnership with Kohl’s.

Schiller joined the Glossy Podcast to discuss what PopSugar has learned about the fashion and beauty retail industries, how the company uses audience data to make decisions and why publishers and retailers need to work together today.

On putting audience data to work
As PopSugar began to extend its brand to new areas, it borrowed a page from the direct-to-consumer brand playbook in order to make informed decisions: Let what you know about your customer decide what you do and don’t do.

“The way we evaluate is through this mantra of data defeats disruption. So when you look at brands that are direct-to-consumer, the common thread is how they understand better than anyone else what their customers want, what they like, what they don’t like,” said Schiller. “And as a media brand that evolved into a total lifestyle brand, how do we evolve into a place where we know what our customers want? We want to lead with what the consumer is telling us, and we get so much data, we can place bets based on the relationships we have.”

On how editorial drives momentum
PopSugar may want its audience to think of it not just as a media brand but as an everything brand. But according to Schiller, editorial is still at the center of the PopSugar ecosystem, and it has to remain there for anything else to work.

“Editorial is the core of the PopSugar brand, and without the core, there can’t be a deal with Kohl’s, there can’t be PopSugar Playground — none of that is there without the PopSugar audience. That’s how you understand how you have permission to go somewhere next,” said Schiller. “Married with editorial product, everything finds its way. If you focus on making money, you wind up diluting the brand.”

On the changing relationship between media and brands
Part of PopSugar’s business strategy is to help fashion and beauty brands figure out their modern challenges, including but not limited to: reaching millennials, navigating Instagram and storytelling. So the company has built out what Schiller considers a “ladder” of tools it can offer brands, from affiliate links to branded content to retail partnerships.

“It has to be a much more integrated conversation. With brands, the evolution has been: How do you be a true partner and actually take on the challenges of brands in a way that surpasses what we would have done 10 years ago? What success looks like today is different,” said Schiller. “It’s better to say, ‘We’re in this together, so let’s figure out how to win together.’”

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