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Coldwater Creek Connects with ‘The New Fifty’


In August, women’s specialty apparel retailer Coldwater Creek, which operates 402 stores in 47 states, announced it had landed Deborah Cavanagh as its new chief marketing officer. She is charged with leading the multichannel brand’s marketing and creative services. One of Cavanagh’s first orders of business? To re-engage the Coldwater Creek core customer, as well as connect with new ones.

Cavanagh is uniquely in tune with the Sandpoint, Idaho-based chain’s current — and desired — customer. She came to Coldwater Creek from Ann Inc., where she served as senior VP brand marketing, Loft, and successfully transitioned Ann Taylor Loft to Loft. Cavanagh’s fashion roots run deep. Prior to Loft, she was with Vogue magazine as associate publisher, creative services. She also has held marketing leadership roles at Harper’s Bazaar and Self magazines.

“I’ve always been drawn to brands that are anchored in an authentic idea that transcends the product they sell and allows them to forge a deep, enduring, emotional connection with their customers,” Cavanagh told Chain Store Age senior editor Katherine Boccaccio. “My responsibility — and the thrill of my job — is helping that brand ‘unlock’ its power, attract new customers, build deeper relationships with existing customers and drive exponential results in sales.

”At Coldwater Creek, Cavanagh said, she and her team will connect with a target customer they call “The New Fifty,” and leverage the opportunity to move beyond a demographic to fully understand what shapes this customer’s values, her aspirations and her priorities.

Who exactly is “The New Fifty” customer?

Obviously she’s a boomer. But this woman is at a point in her life where she wants to confidently say, ‘This is who I am.’ She’s an empty nester (or almost), has a nice disposable income, is interested in living a rich life (versus a life of riches) and wants to live her life with meaning. And she places a renewed priority on looking and feeling great. But here’s the awful truth: She is generally ignored and vastly underserved when it comes to fashion and retail brands that she loves and is loyal to.

How do you view your role at Coldwater Creek?

The way I look at my responsibility is more holistic. I believe I’m responsible for delivering a vision, leadership and concrete strategies to deliver growth — in our client file, in traffic, and in sales and profitability.

That includes projecting a strong, differentiated brand image and voice that breaks through to create awareness and affinity, and contributes to client file growth and traffic. Strategies around engagement, retention and loyalty are critical to our success, and we will continue to build on the successful platforms we have and make them even more compelling.

How has the brand evolved?

Our brand has always been about engaging our customer on a more personal level, inspiring her with both new ideas and trusted favorites. As our business model evolved over time, we might have behaved as more of a retailer than a brand. I believe you have to cultivate both.

One core strategy we will embrace as a brand is to listen to our customers. We want to understand some of the universal truths that define “The New Fifty,” and those insights will inform our brand campaigns and the overall way we engage her and empower her.

We have a great brand story to tell and the ability to connect on a genuine, human level. I think as a leadership team, we’re all aligned on the fact that we need to “stand for something to stand apart.” Our reason for being will infuse everything we do — from the products we create, our vision for a season, to how we express our aesthetic and our voice, and the way we build our brand based upon community.

What marketing vehicles will be most valuable in the driving of the brand message?

I believe fundamentally that the powerful vehicles a brand has to leverage begin with the assets they own — windows, the store experience, website, catalogs, digital and social media. Our focus is going to be developing a clear and concrete brand platform, aesthetic, voice and contact strategy that improves awareness and creates brand affinity to attract our target customer.

I think our catalogs have the opportunity to become something even more powerful than a selling tool if we start to think about engagement and content. At the highest level, we want her to immerse herself in our brand, our collection, empower her with some style currency and inspiration around what to buy and why, and inspire her to act.

The experience of print can be immersive. We’ve been invited into her home, and it’s our responsibility to ensure that she wants to keep us on her coffee table and share it with her friends.

Our windows are owned real estate that can be leveraged to improve brand perception, cultivate affinity and make her want to come into the store.

Our marketing strategies will also focus on the idea of “disruption” — introducing ideas that resonate with the consumer and help us become part of the cultural conversation.

As we focus on behaving as an omnichannel brand, we have to recognize that digital has revolutionized the way people shop and communicate with each other. Our approach to customer engagement, social tools, mobile and online experiences are a very important focus.

In general, what trends are you seeing in retail marketing?

I think there’s a lot of predictability and sameness. Most retailers are fighting to drive traffic and sales with promotion, and it’s resulted in a numbing sameness. On a positive note, it’s exciting to see retailers like lululemon athletica focus on cultivating community by becoming destinations to engage around things that their customers want to be part of — from yoga classes before store hours to branded apps that serve a real value.

As retail brands, we need to challenge ourselves to think about how we can play a meaningful role in our customer’s life.

Describe your first day on the job as Coldwater Creek’s CMO.

It was the best first day ever. I got to join a team of the smartest, nicest, most passionate and invested people who live and work in a stunning environment. How good can it get?

How would you describe your leadership style?

I believe it is my responsibility to create and articulate a compelling vision of the future, along with strategies to achieve that vision and results. I surround myself with the best and brightest people — and push them to grow, to be their best while working as a team. I expect people to do their homework and challenge conventions to develop the best plan of action. I’ve learned over the years that it’s not only important to set a direction, but it’s critical to help your team internalize that vision of “future state” so they can constantly ideate against it and work toward it daily. That’s when the magic happens — in both morale and business outcome.

At the end of the day, I try to create a culture where our journey to fulfill our brand’s potential is both fun and rewarding.

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