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This chapter is from the book

Shining Up Your Relationships

  • “Build on what is proven, optimize what we know should work, and always test new efforts in small ways.”

Colin Hall

Allen Edmonds

High-end men’s shoe brand Allen Edmonds pulls off a precarious balancing act with elegance and style. On one end, they sell their product directly in their own retail shops. On the other, they make their premium footwear available through major third-party retailers like Zappos and Nordstrom.

If you take a moment to think about all the conflicts and other difficulties that could arise in this system—if, for instance, there weren’t a top-notch team, including the CMO, holding it all together—you’ll be properly impressed by CMO Colin Hall’s ability to keep the entire marketing machine running like clockwork.

In addition to his success ensuring AE stores and third party retailers aren’t stepping on each others’ toes, Colin’s shrewd integration of cutting-edge digital content and old-school media such as catalogs continues to pay off in double-digit growth numbers for Allen Edmonds.

Allen Edmonds sells directly to the consumer via your own stores as well as via large brick-and-mortar and online retailers. How do you balance supporting your own stores and supporting your retail partners?

As a manufacturer based in America, we can easily react to customers’ desires and needs. A big advantage for us is the ability to fill in orders with our partners as needed. Competitive brands that warehouse inventory from overseas are forced to do exactly what you imply: Choose between their own needs and that of their retail customers when inventory is low. From a marketing perspective, we make our marketing materials available to our partners so that the brand is, ideally, presented in a cohesive fashion across all sales channels. Sharing creative assets allows the work to be seen by more eyes than just those shopping our company-owned channels. Customers can determine where they want to shop based on their unique tastes, experiences, and geographies.

One of the advantages of having your own retail stores is that one can control the entire customer experience, and—in theory—elevate it to the point that you engender brand love and loyalty. What kinds of things have you done to achieve this?

Our strategy is pretty straightforward, and it amazes me that executing the straightforward well differentiates our in-store experience from competitors. First, we have a terrific presentation of product including styles, colors, and sizes. Customers who have feet outside the “norms” know that Allen Edmonds has shoes to fit their needs. Second, our store and call center co-workers are incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. We refer to our longest tenured in-store co-workers as Master Fitters. They will measure your foot and help solve your style and fitting needs. Customers have a lot of confidence knowing our co-worker has fitted literally thousands if not tens of thousands of feet in their career. Third, we don’t stop at the sale. Our co-workers will also service a customer post-sale, ensuring the fit and performance of the shoe. Fourth, we present the customer with an outstanding value proposition. Our shoes last a long time based on our 212-step manufacturing process, higher quality materials, and our legendary recrafting service. We recraft roughly 60,000 pairs of shoes a year making us one of the world’s largest cobblers as well as a manufacturer. This “hug your customer” mentality is why we have so many loyal customers and why they choose to recommend Allen Edmonds to their friends, colleagues, and sons.

How do you ensure the customer experience with your retail partners meets Allen Edmonds’ standards?

Each channel we sell through has unique attributes, so we don’t dictate to them. But we try to help them whenever they need it. Our brand guidelines are well-documented and they help partners present the brand consistently. We also ask that our partners try to present our core brand pillars of American Made, size and style availability, Recrafting (a strong value proposition versus cheap shoes), 212-step handcrafted process, and highest quality leathers as much as possible through imagery, copy, and video content as examples. We will supply the content, although the partners may interpret and personalize the manner in which these pillars are portrayed based on the channel and target (e.g. millennials vs older businessmen).

How does working so closely with retail partners impact your marketing priorities? Do you focus on sell-in or sell-through?

We focus on both, but place more emphasis on sell-through. Sell-through means our wholesale customers are succeeding and our product is turning. Sell-through success leads to more confidence in our brand and ultimately stronger sell-in. We support our wholesale accounts with various co-op materials including digital photos, in-store signage, catalogs, videos, in-store appearances by reps, trunk shows, and recrafting services, just to name a few.

What are some recent new marketing initiatives you’ve rolled out?

We initiated two new marketing efforts. The first was an old-school approach based on ramping up our paper catalogs by leveraging co-operative big data for prospecting. We match back to our database and these efforts are driving sales of existing customers and new customer acquisition.

The second was more new-school, and included display network advertising targeting new customers. We’ve enjoyed huge increases in sales through digital media including retargeting, affiliate, email, and other channels, but DSP allows us to serve ads to those who look like our primary customers but have never been to our site. We’re seeing a $5 revenue return for every $1 we spend on DSP customer acquisition.

How as CMO are you staying on top of the increasingly complex landscape of budget allocation and optimization?

This is one of the biggest questions year in and year out. Our approach is to build on what is proven, optimize what we know should work, and always test new efforts in small ways. If I had to put an allocation on it, I would say we allocate 70 percent on proven media, 20 percent on optimizing and 10 percent on testing new ideas. As a private equity-owned company driving by EBITDA, we never bet the farm on anything unproven. We stair step our way through testing, optimizing, and then investing in media.

Further reading:

Bernd Schmitt, Happy Customers Everywhere: How Your Business Can Profit from the Insights of Positive Psychology

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