Although a marketer can spend his or her entire career in eCommerce, there are various types of retailers within the industry. For example, a pure play retailer, a department store and speciality retailer all fall within eCommerce, but operate very differently. As eCommerce marketers grow in their careers, they won’t necessarily always work for the same type of retailer, and marketing for different types comes with unique challenges and strategies to address them.
Lori Gatto, Senior Director of Digital Marketing at Blue Nile, has spent quite some time in the eCommerce space. Over the past 13 years, she’s moved from OfficeMax to OnlineShoes to Express and most recently to Blue Nile.
During our annual Summit, Lori shared her experience in how she adapted marketing strategies at each company, particularly at Blue Nile, to maintain effective communication with customers. Below, we highlighted some of her key takeaways, including the best way to build brand trust, how to grow customer lifetime value and the importance of knowing your audience.
Can you tell us a little bit about Blue Nile and your role there?
Blue Nile was founded in 1999 and was the first company to sell diamonds online. Today, we are the largest online seller of high-end jewelry with almost $500 million in sales. I’ve been with Blue Nile coming up on 3 years now. As Senior Director of Digital Marketing, I oversee all aspects of marketing, including email, paid search and paid media channels.
You’ve worked for different types of retailers, ranging from pure plays to offline. At a high level, how does marketing for these companies differ?
I started my career in online marketing for OfficeMax in 2003. That was when retail and eCommerce teams operated separately. We had no idea what each other was doing and that was probably our biggest challenge. Our customer base was also unique, in that it was a mix of low-ticket repeat buyers and high-ticket one-time buyers. Repeat buyers would purchase things like pens, staples and notebooks, whereas one-time buyers would purchase printers, monitors and desk chairs. Our audience was also very value-focused, so we used a lot of coupons and rebates to drive conversions.
After that, I spent about five years at OnlineShoes. That space was very interesting because we were tying to figure out how to become the brand. Our shoppers had an affinity for the brands we carried, but not for us as the retailer. Like the OfficeMax customer, the OnlineShoes customer was also very value-focused, because they could get the same shoes at another similar outlet like Zappos. So we had to figure out a way to set OnlineShoes apart and become a destination.
Then I went to Express, which was quite different for a number of reasons. They had the awareness but was looking to change the branding perception and break into eCommerce. Express was also fast trend and targeted a younger audience. We leveraged a lot of different marketing tactics, like fashion shows and video content, and because the company was very focused on branding and perception, marketing didn’t necessarily have to prove ROI directly.
Then finally at Blue Nile, everything is very ROI-driven. We work off of low margins, have a narrow audience and everything is very focused on digital.
What would you say is the most significant difference in marketing for these different retailers?
I’d say the biggest and most important difference coming from every company was really knowing the audience and adjusting the marketing strategy accordingly. Blue Nile probably has the most niche audience of all the companies I’ve worked for, because our primary business is engagement. About 1.5 million people in the United States get engaged in a year, and if you think about that in an adjustable market, it’s really not that big. At a company like Express or even OfficeMax, you have much larger audiences available.
Most people only need (hopefully) one engagement ring. How do you think about lifetime value if your core business is a one-time purchase?
We’ve done a lot of research over the years, studying the adjacency to our different categories. Engagement rings, for example, have a strong adjacency to wedding bands. Our data also tells us that wedding band purchases typically occur between 3-6 months after the engagement ring purchase. So we build those factors into our marketing plan to engage them when they are likely entering that market. Beyond that, we want to be there for their first anniversary, their first Valentine’s Day and other gift-giving occasions.
The other critical aspect is to engage the customer early in their jewelry buying lifetime. In the past, people would buy an engagement ring from a local jeweler. Then, because they trust that jeweler, they go back to buy anniversary presents and other gifts. So based on that buying behavior, we know it’s really important for us to hook them at the engagement ring initial purchase.
So how do you build trust? How do you make someone feel comfortable making their first purchase with Blue Nile?
Providing education is huge for us. That’s really the mission of the company, based on our founder’s personal experience. Years ago, he went into a well-known jeweler and he wasn’t dressed up, didn’t feel educated and received no time or attention from the sales associates. They didn’t try to educate him and he walked away having a really bad experience. So, he founded Blue Nile with the mission of putting the customer in the driver’s seat by providing them with education, resources and choices.
One of the first things we did was build a robust education section on our site. Most people embark on their jewelry-buying journey having no idea what they’re looking at. So we’ve started heavily investing in more videos and content to make the experience more dynamic. Education is also heavily incorporated into our messaging to new shoppers. It’s less, “Come buy from Blue Nile!” and more, “Hey, did you know these are the things to look for?” All of that has been a great way for us build trust early on.
Watch Lori’s the full interview below.