If you’re asking how to create innovation in your business, you’re asking the wrong question.
Innovation must infuse “every small, little nook and cranny” of a company’s operations top-to-bottom in order to spearhead new journeys in fashion, M.Gemi CEO Ben Fischman shared at alternative payments provider Klarna’s Smoooth Sessions event Tuesday night in New York, centered on a new generation of trailblazers.
One of the first well-known footwear brands to capitalize on the direct-to-consumer model back in 2014, M.Gemi connects quality-hungry consumers with leather shoes handmade by Italian craftsmen, retail markup not included.
Today’s revolutionary brands are not just innovative but also inclusive in scope with authentic messaging right out of the gate, said model and actress Joan Smalls, who pointed to the runaway success of Rihanna’s Fenty cosmetics brand (and its much-discussed 40 skin tone shades) as well as the musician and mogul’s Savage X Fenty lingerie line, which serves straight- and plus-size women alike and showcased a diverse range of models and body types—from pregnant to slender to curvy—in her groundbreaking livestreamed fashion show.
But sizzle aside, good old-fashioned customer-centricity—on which Amazon has built its brand—can pay dividends, too, especially for startups just finding their footing in the fragmented landscape of digital retail. For M.Gemi, customer service has turned out to be its “greatest marketing weapon,” Fischman said, puzzling over why so many businesses offshore what should be a core operational function.
As soldiers on the front lines of the business, customer service reps have proven instrumental in converting M.Gemi’s failures into lucrative new opportunities and bringing fragile budding relationships back from the brink. Ninety percent of new shoppers who returned their first M.Gemi order and interacted with a CSR have ended up becoming some of the brand’s most productive and valuable customers, Fischman noted. Their first M.Gemi shopping experience may have gone sideways but for these customers, call center reps and other CS staffers helped get the relationship back on track.
“They built the trust early on with us,” Fischman explained, “and that trust prevails all the other interactions they had.”
Five years into its journey, M.Gemi is focused on sticking around for the long haul and maintaining its grip on the agility that permeates and powers startup life. The secret lies in “building walls that are easily torn down,” Fischman said, calling out clunky last-generation e-commerce technology as an example of systems not suited for the fleet-footed nature of modern retail.
M.Gemi keeps an eye to the future “so that we don’t become the incumbent that gets disrupted,” he added.
Though apparel brands will have to solve some of the basic problems plaguing the industry if they want to be relevant for tomorrow’s shopper, expect technology and entertainment to separate the cream of the crop going forward. “If you look at what’s going on in China, the shows that influencers are putting on when they’re selling things is just extremely incredible when it comes to that kind of live streaming,” David Sandström, chief marketing officer for Klarna, said, claiming that micro-games are among the most-downloaded apps globally. It’s a sign that consumers are looking for a bit of escapism and diversion regardless of where they are or what they’re doing.
And while “experiential” has become a buzzword for brick and mortar in recent years, Sandström sees digital retail similarly embracing the trend sooner rather than later so that “entertainment [is] being brought to the next level to inspire people to…buy things.”
MVMT, the digitally native watch brand that raised $300,000 in capital before selling for $100 million to Movado last year, has been experimenting with a new account on Tiktok purely for the entertainment value, said 28-year-old co-founder and president Jake Kassan, who admitted not really understanding what the short-form video app loved by Gen Z is all about.
For now, MVMT is “trying to create content that will go viral,” Kassan said of the Tiktok strategy of having his team “throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks.” And even if the millennial founder doesn’t quite grasp Tiktok’s quick-hit music video clips, he’s all too aware of the importance of playing in the sandbox where these new digital spaces and communities flourish.
Influencers in the heat-seeking gaming world—for which Puma, Champion, K-Swiss and Nike have dropped new gear—are especially attractive to a brand like MVMT, which Kassan said has established a livestream gaming setup to “play around in that space.”
That all plays into being where your customers are versus expecting today’s consumers, with so many distractions vying for their attention, to carve out time to come to you, said Fischman, noting that multichannel retail is much more nuanced than the online-offline divide. And if trust was the table stakes for brands five years ago, today’s consumers expect the companies they love to check that box and mirror their social values, too.
“We’re always in search of ways we can create an emotional connection above those table stakes and show up in a way [so that consumers] say, ‘of course they did it this way,’” Fischman said.
“If you’re spending all of your time just trying to get to those table stakes, then it’s hard to drive a level of loyalty that you need” because it’s never been easier to launch a business, which means it’s harder than ever to build a brand, he added.