CMO of the Week: Steve Fuller, of L.L. Bean, on Exploring Digital Frontiers
In partnership with The CMO Club, The CMO of the Week series profiles CMOs who are shaping, changing and challenging the world of modern marketing. For Neisser's complete interview with CMO Award Winner Steve Fuller, click here.
In late 2014, an unlikely fashion icon emerged: L.L. Bean's Bean Boot, which are still handmade in Maine and feature a design that hasn't changed since 1912. But while the boots have become a must-have item among hip Millenials because of their timeless form, L.L. Bean's CMO Steve Fuller is using new technology to improve how the company's marketing functions.
"In our case, it was better execution of the 'basics,'" says Steve. "After testing nearly every alternative available, it appears we might have finally beaten the in-house product recommendation engine that we built waaaay back in 2005 [emphasis Steve's]." Steve and his team have spent recent years overhauling how they market online-which culminated in a heavy investment in programmatic marketing.
But programmatic marketing comes with a steep learning curve, so Steve approached the challenge like a true outdoorsman, using his experiences online and off to craft a unique and potent online marketing strategy.
Simplifying the Hunt
As L.L. Bean tops $1.5B in sales, enjoys award-winning online customer service and has a signature product on backorder for the entire winter, what tips can they give to marketers looking to emulate their success?
Steve says, "My advice is easy - keep it connected to the customer and keep it simple."
For Steve, programmatic and other online marketing tools are just that: tools. And although they do bring with them veritable mountains of data, he cautions against indulging in too much of a good thing. "The amount of data flowing through the typical marketing organization now can lead to overly complex measures," says Steve. "You want to keep your organization focused on the activities that drive measures - not trying to interpret them."
But measuring what drives results is not the specialty of a marketing team whose most effective tool is still a direct mail catalog. So, rather than trying to build a new team from scratch, L.L. Bean partnered with a demand-side platform provider, who can analyze and target a company's messaging, then use the resulting data to retarget and locate new audiences.
Plus, there were the intangibles-like helping to guide a technologically savvy but programmatically inexperienced marketing team through this new digital frontier. "Not only did we like their (MediaMath) technology platform, but they were invaluable in helping us making the operational transition," Steve says. "You've got a tremendous amount of detail and process to get right in order to leverage these new tools."
It took L.L. Bean a while to find a partner they were comfortable with, in part because of the oblique nature of the advertising technology industry. Because of this, Steve gives caution to thoroughly vet any potential partners. "While I understand the desire to protect proprietary research, the "black box" approach of many companies makes them a challenge to evaluate," says Steve. "There are a lot of people doing interesting things, but the methodologies - and results - vary wildly."
Hits and Misses
Finally, when Steve looks back on the results of his foray into programmatic, he shares both recommendations and words of caution: "[The biggest danger is] expecting too much too soon. These are incredibly complex systems both from a production and analytics perspective," Steve says. "Implementation "sequencing" is also something to watch. Too many changes at once makes it almost impossible to isolate performance."
And although L.L. Bean's programmatic has helped them connect with a brand new generation of boot-wearers, Steve isn't resting on his laurels. "I want to be the first to say that we've got a long way to go with programmatic. We learn something each and every day." Says Steve. "But we're especially pleased with [programmatic's] ability to help bring 'scale' to those programs in an efficient way - both from a presentation and an analytics perspective."
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