Living In Levi’s: CMO Jennifer Sey’s Focus On ROI, Efficiency And Stature

jennifer sey levisIn two weeks, Levi Strauss & Co. will launch a campaign focusing on a broader, more inclusive brand direction – one that also ties its messaging closer to its line of jeans and apparel. As such, Levi’s is retiring the “Go forth” tagline it’s used since 2009 in favor of the more product-centric “Live in Levi’s.”

Also changing will be Levi’s approach to media. After a year-long hiatus in the Americas, Levi’s is reinvesting in television. And it will also have a nationally televised presence when the professional football stadium that bears its name opens in a few months and hosts the Super Bowl in 2016.

“We’re trying to strike the right balance between ROI, efficiency and stature,” said company CMO Jennifer Sey. All of this is in line with Levi’s taking on a “more rigorous approach” to its media spend. “It’s not that we haven’t done it in the past, but I’m increasingly focused on it,” Sey explained. “We want to make the most of every dollar. Our goal is to generate demand. We need reach, frequency and stature and it has to be a balanced approach to media planning.”

Sey spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: Why is Levi’s refocusing its branding and messaging around product?

JENNIFER SEY: My fundamental belief is you can’t fall in love with the brand without falling in love with the product. The people who are most passionate and loyal about this brand, it’s because they wear our product and experience life in our product. Do you love Apple or do you love your iPhone? You love your iPhone, then you love Apple. The product adds value to your life. Separating them can lead you down a path where you might have people who respect the brand ideals but don’t necessarily use the product.

What sort of research did you do before launching Levi’s in this direction?

We did a ton. I have a long history with the brand. I’ve been here 15 years, and early in my career I worked at FCB on the Levi’s brand. I looked at the last 30 years of financial performance, equity performance. When are we at our best, in terms of how people feel about the brand and how we perform financially? When I look at when this brand has been at its best, historically, it’s when we’re at the center of culture and not at the fringe.

We also did a lot of actual research, both qualitative and quantitative, that got us to this idea, then got us to the actual work. We started with global research around the brand’s point of view. Not even work itself but the brand’s value proposition. We did that in six markets around the world. Then we went into concept research that helped us hone and shape this “Live in Levi’s” idea. Then we actually did quantitative copy testing to further improve the communication approach.

How will you determine the campaign’s success? Is it tied to any particular business metrics?

Absolutely. We’re getting really rigorous about what those metrics are. There are clearly business objectives around business goals and share goals, as well as traffic that we drive and conversions that we drive both in-store and in ecommerce. Then we’ll have specific goals around key equity metrics, the ones we know are most tightly linked to sales. We have rigorous goals around ROI and the media ROI that we deliver. And we have goals around engagement. Are people engaging in the social space? Are they spending more time with us, clicking through to

How do you link that to sales data, since much of your business is through wholesalers?

They share sales data with us. And with some pretty scientific data-driven modeling, we can determine what percentage of our sales were driven off of marketing efforts, thereby determining the ROI. It’s also worth noting that globally, our own stores represent quite a large percentage of sales. So while the mix in the US is definitely tilted toward wholesalers like Macy’s, in many markets like Asia, the mix is more retail-driven.

Does that change your marketing strategy?

It doesn’t change the messaging necessarily. Our role as marketers is to drive equity and demand, whether that product is at Macy’s or at a Levi’s store. When it comes to wholesalers, we partner with them to create those initiatives. When it’s for our own stores, we have more autonomy in how we create those. But the general principles are the same. And I’d say we’re fairly channel-agnostic.

At a conference last year, your VP of commercial planning, Tom Rafferty, said Levi’s was in the process of cleaning, validating and merging databases. What’s the status of that?

I’d say it’s a work in progress. It’s a bit of a journey. In talking with other retailers, they’re on a similar journey. Ideally, you have that single view of the customer. Right now, there’s a broad range of databases, whether it’s our own ecommerce database or whether it’s the 21 million fans we have on Facebook. Those databases aren’t fully integrated yet and that’s a journey we’re on.

I just met on this yesterday, so it’s a really critical initiative.

Many companies are bringing their media buying in-house to maintain control of their data. Is Levi’s considering that?

We have a global media partner, (Omnicom Group’s) OMD, and we use Resolution Media within OMD to buy all of our demand-gen for ecom. We’re happy with the work they do. It gives us greater leverage to work with them, because they have such a big buy when they combine all their clients that we get greater leverage and efficiency. So we don’t have a plan to bring it in-house. Some packaged goods companies like P&G buy so much media on their own. But we need the leverage (OMD) gives us to get the efficiencies. And we’re very happy with them.

TV gets the bulk of the marketing budget. Has there been a shift to digital from TV from Levi’s?

No, actually, we made the shift a few years back and in fact we’re returning to TV this year. We’ve been off for a couple of years. In Europe, we haven’t been on TV in five years and this is our first year back.

We do lead with digital. Depending on the region, whether it’s Asia, Europe or the Americas is between 25-40% of our media buy. We really look at it as part of a digital plan. People are still watching TV, they’re just watching it differently. It still delivers ROI for us and also some degree of stature. We think both are important, and we also see there’s a stacking effect from multiple kinds of media.

When you have TV plus cinema plus digital plus print plus social and in-store, that’s the most effective and efficient because the consumer gets multiple exposures.

Why are you going back to TV?

Within the mix modeling work we’ve done, we see it drives a high return and there’s opportunity to do more in the TV space and cinema and drive a positive ROI. We’re trying to be much more rigorous about our media-planning approach. The second point is, we’ve made this shift back to being broad-reaching and democratic. This campaign “Live in Levi’s” is intended to be very inclusive and inspiring.

TV is a great vehicle to utilize for reach.

Why did you leave TV a year ago?

That’s a good question. I wasn’t on the brand, but I think we were a little less focused on broad reach and more focused on a leading consumer we could get through print, PR and more niche-oriented digital.

How do you measure the effect of your marketing mix?

We look at it in all kinds of ways. We obviously track sentiment and engagement in the social space and we do some rigorous modeling in terms of our overall media buying. ROI in total, ROI by media channel and the impact of an integrated plan and how all the channels work together.

Any surprises?

Out-of-home drives pretty poor ROI. Fashion and apparel brands love out-of-home. It’s beautiful and impressive and it feels quite stature-oriented. But in general, it drives the weakest ROI in the mix.

Why is that?

It’s limited in terms of its reach and it’s expensive. It’s costly to produce and there’re a fairly limited number of exposures because it’s localized. We’re tying to innovate within the out-of-home space, because it does play an important stature role. We’re partnering with iBeacon to activate and drive traffic from out-of-home. So if a consumer passes an out-of-home board in San Francisco or New York or some of the major markets in Europe, they’ll be directed to a Levi’s store nearby, if they have this app. It’s just this year for this launch. We’re very excited about that one.

This focus on broad reach comes a few months before Levi’s Stadium officially opens. Did that influence the new direction?

No, I’d say the focus on the broad reach led us to the stadium, rather than vice versa. The stadium gives us a way to engage fans and create “Live in Levi’s” moments with those fans.

There will be a lot of big, nationally televised moments at Levi’s Stadium over the next few years. How does that impact your marketing decisions?

We’re thinking rigorously and thoroughly about how we leverage the stadium to create engaging experiences. It fits nicely within the “Live in Levi’s” idea. Everything from in-stadium marketing to out-of-stadium marketing to leveraging the stadium to bring traffic into our own stores. We’ve got custom products related to the [San Francisco 49ers] team itself. We sell products at the stadium. It’s just a facet to the overall campaign.

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