Some people talk about blending art and science. Laura Joukovski has been making it work for years now.
The newly appointed president of global fashion brands for TechStyle Fashion Group has played a key role in mixing creative marketing with the science of return on investment since she joined the El Segundo, Calif.-based company over seven years ago. That combination has proven to be a winning formula across the global fashion retailer’s membership-based digital brands including Fabletics, Savage X Fenty, JustFab, ShoeDazzle and FabKids.
As president of GFB, Joukovski leads three brands under the TechStyle Fashion Group portfolio: JustFab, ShoeDazzle and FabKids. In addition to leading these three brands, she continues to oversee all global media and customer acquisition strategies across TechStyle’s portfolio.
In her seven years with TechStyle, Joukovski has held management roles of increasing responsibility, including chief operating officer of FabKids, general manager of Fabletics and senior vice president of global media and analytics. Joukovski most recently served as chief media officer, during which time she oversaw a global customer acquisition budget of $125 million across TechStyle’s portfolio of brands. She has played a key role in the development of TechStyle’s Expert Services group, having built the company’s data-driven media buying and global analytics architecture.
NRF had the chance to chat with Joukovski about her new role at TechStyle and the role of influencers in marketing strategies — a topic she will explore as part of a panel at NRF 2020 Vision: Retail’s Big Show.
When you first joined the company what was your role, and how has it evolved to what you’re doing now?
Shortly after I joined in 2013, there were additional acquisitions and a brand launch. I have been working with Adam Goldenberg and Don Ressler, our founders and co-CEOs, from the start. From our first meeting I was committed to helping them build the system we have in place today. That year ended with the company having four brands — JustFab, FabKids, Shoedazzle and Fabletics. Once all were fully launched and off the ground, we started working to ignite the data-driven culture, focusing on applying analytics across those core businesses.
That early work parlayed into performance advertising and we developed what we consider a world-class in-house agency. That agency produced advertising across the businesses, and in May 2018, we launched our fifth brand, Savage X Fenty in partnership with Rihanna.
The next chapter came in 2019 when I was named president of Global Fashion Brands. GFB consists of three of our five portfolio companies — JustFab, Shoedazzle and FabKids. I’m taking the learnings from the advertising side, along with all the knowledge I’ve amassed from doing consumer-focused work, and applying those to the three brands.
The TechStyle business model is unique. How do you describe it?
All of our brands run what we call flexible membership shopping programs, and so for each of these brands there are two ways to check out. Ecommerce is an option for people who want to do single transactions or shop without a membership, but the vast majority of people who choose to engage with the TechStyle family and brands do so as part of these memberships.
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The key benefit of membership is access to better-advantaged pricing, but there are a variety of other perks, including access to exclusive inventories and “family” events. Running each business as both a pure ecommerce business and a flexible membership shopping program gives us more customer intimacy. It helps to be more in touch with what people want. It also allows us to have slightly lower operating costs with respect to designing and merchandising and to reduce costs related to acquiring shoppers. We’re not reacquiring people for every transaction, but rather inviting them into a longer-term relationship that benefits both sides.
How do you use data to drive growth?
We’re deadly serious — and rather joyful — about data at the same time. Our goal is to capture all the signals that customers are sending us and use them to work better. Think about it in terms of advertising. In digital advertising we get tons of signals; we can see what shoppers are responding to and how they’re engaging with our apps. Likewise, there are a lot of signals consumers send based on how they browse and shop, what they buy and how they leave us information in their products reviews and returns.
We’re very serious about capturing all the signals that people are sending and using that data to buy better merchandise, build better ads, improve our websites and make it easier and more fun to shop.
No doubt, AI and machine learning are critical to TechStyle. Can you share how you apply these tools?
If we unmask machine learning, it’s just using computer technology to help us analyze all the signals. There are lots of different applications in play at any given time. When we choose to engage with machine learning it’s just letting the computer process bigger data sets faster than we do on our spreadsheet, but the work is still fundamentally about tuning in to the signals that customers are sending us and letting it guide our decisions.
Do you ever just go with your gut and ignore the feedback from data?
Sure. The most masterful and sophisticated businesses marry the art and science of human intuition and machine learning in magical ways. There’s only so the machine can do. Certainly, it can analyze historical patterns, but it can’t predict future patterns. It can predict future patterns only in so far as the history is indicative of the future.
Our job is to try new things and make leaps of faith based on human intuition and pattern recognition. I’ve shared that there are numerous digital signals, but one thing that we take really seriously around here is talking to humans. Each of the brands within our portfolio makes a concerted effort to do what we call “Meet the VIP” programs. We go on the road from time to time and meet shoppers or invite them to our offices for special events. VIP is the name we give to people who have chosen to opt into our membership. When we have a VIP event, it’s a party for our customers; it’s a moment of celebration and thanks to those who’ve chosen to do business with us and we take the observations that come from talking to these shoppers and let those insights further inform all of the data that we get digitally.
TechStyle has five subscription businesses. Do they all run the same way, and do they all acquire customers the same way?
All the businesses have the same mechanics and philosophy underpinning the way we choose to go to market, in terms of the membership shopping programs. All also have similar media channels that we work in as it relates to advertising and customer acquisition. Still, each of those businesses has unique audiences of people who are most excited about each respective brand and its products.
How do you describe the role of influencers across the TechStyle brands? Is it different for each?
The philosophy of how we pick brand influencers is similar across the brands. The people with whom we’ve done deals with look a little different, but our philosophy is that we believe influencers are fundamentally how people want to meet brands today. They want to meet them through people they relate to or people they look up to and are inspired by.
We’ve done pretty full spectrum influencer programs, all the way from civilians to celebrities. We’re doing work with some of the biggest names including Rihanna, who is the founder of our Savage X Fenty brand, and Kate Hudson, who’s the founder of our Fabletics brand. On the other end of the spectrum, each of our brands touches more than 1,000 “micro” or “nano” influencers per month who are more everyday folks.
The deal structures look different at different tiers, but we choose to try to meet people where they are, whether it’s someone who is emerging as an influencer or someone who’s well established. Fundamentally we’re just creating opportunities to be in the right relationship with people who are choosing to work to help bring brands to life. Influencer engagement is an extension of our content creation engine, in that these folks are generating content on behalf of the brand, whether it’s videos or photos, or otherwise.
Tapping into influencers has been a meaningful growth engine across all the brands. Within the core TechStyle family, Fabletics is the furthest along in terms of really building out that whole channel.
As you think about 2020, what excites you most and what do you hope to achieve?
When I look at the Shoedazzle, JustFab and FabKids brands, which are my primary focus for 2020, I’m excited to take all our learnings from the other brands and really bring the influencer program to life. We don't have big names partnered with us on those brands yet. Right now, we’re building those brands in a more organic, ground-up kind of way. Once we see how that plays out, we’ll explore moving into securing some major celebrity influencers.
It’s such an exciting time to be in this business, as we continue using a mix of data and customer understanding to deliver brands that truly resonate with today’s consumer.