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Wayfair CMO on Digital Native’s Post-Covid Evolution

In the wake of 2020, many companies are rethinking the way they market their products to consumers. Whether due to the impact of the pandemic, an evolving social climate or a combination of both, the events of the previous year have reshaped the way marketing departments operate.

That’s certainly true for Wayfair. The home goods e-commerce behemoth—which also includes brands AllModern, Birch Lane, Joss & Main, and Perigold—long operated its marketing with a focus on each individual brand. But during a panel at the CommerceNext conference in New York City, Wayfair chief marketing officer Bob Sherwin said the company realized it had to reevaluate its marketing strategy during the pandemic.

“The way we are structured is around each major channel,” he said. “We consider them a center of excellence and treat them like an agency—each of them is led by a marketer who plays the role of a general manager. Their job is to operate the program day-to-day, leading all the channels under them and managing growth.”

But with the pandemic forcing employees to work from home, changing the way the company functioned day-to-day, Wayfair realized it had to adjust its marketing model to operate more effectively.

“During the pandemic, some of the things we realized we have to change with this model is the quality of communications and processes,” Sherwin said. “We realized how important it is that general managers have to be in touch with their teams.”

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Improving communication among internal marketing teams is just one part of Wayfair’s marketing evolution. The company also has changed the makeup of its team, adding more employees with specialized skills to enhance the overall marketing program.

“Over the years as we’ve moved up funnel, it became clear we needed more specialization and a more robust portfolio of team members—people who had good brand instincts,” Sherwin said. “We’ve injected much more specialization in the brand and creative side as well as the technical side—we’ve evolved from more generalists to more specialists.”

Over the last year-plus, Wayfair also began re-evaluating their commitment to diversity and inclusion, not only through their marketing efforts, but internally, as well.

“It’s critical based on the growth trajectory of our company but also with the shifts across society,” Sherwin said. “We were very deliberate about carving out a lot of space for diversity and inclusion in the marketing group, thinking about both the consumer and how we’re going to market to them, and also within our organization.”

Sherwin said the company incorporated a number of rubrics to ensure that advertising and marketing efforts depict diverse consumers respectfully.

“With the consumer, the biggest thing was we got really deliberate with how we want to think about our ad campaigns and the talent we’re choosing,” he said. “With Wayfair, we want to make sure this represents Americans and all the beautiful, different types of people so everyone could see themselves in our brand. And we wanted to represent different folks without being stereotypical.”

Sherwin said this past year has been a learning experience for the marketing team at Wayfair, and one of the biggest lessons 2020 taught his team is that being able to adapt and work together is critical for success.

“You have to stop trying to have the table set perfectly for you from an organizational standpoint because it will never be perfect,” he said. “You have to have an ownership mindset and have teams work across organizational boundaries to get the job done.”