A Highly Human Approach to Digital Marketing

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Coastal.com CMO Braden Hoeppner is all about data—but never at the expense of the personal touch.

Coastal.com CMO Braden Hoeppner believes that e-tailing success requires a blend of ethnography and analytics. His Vancouver-based global company sells eye glasses and contact lenses to consumers in 150 countries. Successfully sustaining that global reach requires a local approach with a personal touch.

What's your passion in marketing?

My primary passion is at the intersection of customers and digital. I've spent most of my career in the digital realm, and I strongly believe in a range of approaches to find out what customers want and need. It is the marketer's challenge to uncover those desires—regardless of how they're expressed or even if they're expressed—and then develop solutions for them. Leveraging digital tools to help create those solutions provides endless opportunity. Online eyeglasses are a perfect example. There weren't a lot of people running around six years ago saying, “I want to buy my eyeglasses online.” It turns out that consumers really did want a different way to buy eyewear—a more affordable way, a more convenient way, a way with a greater selection—that disrupts the old way of doing things.

What “range of approaches” do you use to identify consumer preferences?

We constantly analyze customer and consumer data. We're a big Net Promoter Score company, for example. It's crucial for us to use a lot of digital tools, which we do on a daily basis. However, it's just as important for us to talk to people on the street. We've done studies where we took a dozen people from our marketing team, teamed them up in pairs, and sent them to a shopping mall to talk to anyone they found with glasses. Our people would ask questions like, “What was your best glasses-shopping experience?” and “What was your worst glasses-shopping experience?”

The figure represents the increase in mobile traffic to Coastal.com's website from January 2011 to January 2012. “Like all e-tailers, we knew mobile was coming,” Hoeppner says. The surge in smartphone- and tablet-equipped site visitors motivated a strategic shift, but not before Hoeppner and his team gained a better understanding of the surge's timing.

“As we investigated the data more closely, we saw that newly received technology gifts were being turned on in the final week of December.

That added fuel to the longer-term shift. It also caused us to pour a lot more thought and action into our mobile strategy throughout 2012, before the next post-holiday surge.”

We brought all of that research back and sat down together to gain a deeper understanding of how people buy eyewear and what frustrates them about the process. And then we brainstormed ideas to address those frustrations and other issues we discovered. In the digital world it's very easy to simply look at visits, page views, and clicks. You see these numbers in your analytics dashboard and you forget that there are actually human beings behind the data. We want to make sure we address the real needs of the people on the other side of the screen.

Did you have an aha moment when you realized the value of balancing digital and real-world marketing?

It was more like an aha experience, and it occurred at a previous company. The company was B2B, but it maintained a massive consumer Web portal for its business clients. Historically, the website was designed for the B2B organization where all the revenue was coming from. But the fact of the matter was that end consumers, our clients' customers, were using this website to get to our clients. One of my responsibilities was to communicate this to our business partners while selling them on the need to redesign the site to better meet the needs of end consumers. My argument was that the new site would benefit them: We will drive you more leads. It was a tough sell, and the site-rebuilding process was disruptive. Once we finally launched our new website and put our new marketing into place, we increased leads by 50% overnight. That experience proved to me that when you put end consumers at the center of your assessment of the market, you uncover new things that you wouldn't have uncovered otherwise.

How do you integrate this passion into your daily routine?

For one, we're collecting and analyzing a lot of voice-of-the-customer input—survey feedback and other customer analytics—on a daily basis. And, a key aspect of my role is instilling a customer mind-set into everybody. This involves education. It also requires me to challenge perspectives. I constantly ask questions: “How are customers going to perceive that?” or, “How is this persona going to use that feature that you're proposing for the website?” or, “Why did we post that to social media; who was that targeted to, and what were we hoping they would do in response?” It's one of my responsibilities to continually challenge our team to always put the customer at the center of what we're trying to accomplish.

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