Alicia Waters is the powerhouse behind CB2's amazing marketing. As the Vice President of Marketing for the brand that attracts consumers young and old, she is responsible for the voice, the look, and the swoon-worthy pics we can't get enough of. Elevated doesn't have to mean $$$.
Who among the lot of us doesn't covet just about everything in those CB2 catalogs? And guess what? Traditional marketing has changed so much that user-generated content actually now informs what goes into them. If you're feeling curious, you're not alone.
We picked Waters' brill brain about collabs, campaigns, and hooking an entire world on the CB2 aesthetic. And trust us when we say, you might want their goods in your living room, but after reading the below, you'll definitely want to invite Waters over for tea too.
What was your very first job and what skill did you learn there that you still use today?
My first job was in sales at a custard shop. It paid $5.50/hour and was my first taste of independence, so was glorious. Plus lots of free custard -- so what's not to like? I worked there for five years and learned a lot about customer service - i.e. caring for customers when they were disappointed, rewarding best customers in special ways, among other things. (People can get pretty angry, especially about ice cream.) On my first week a man threw his half eaten custard cup at the window at me because I had topped it with hot fudge instead of chocolate... that experience alone taught me how to diffuse anger and to implement checks and balances to drive a more flawless operation.
What do you wish more people understood about what you do?
I think most people have an innate sense of how they want to be marketed to. This points to the fact that marketing really is about psychology and empathy at its core -- and that's what I love about it. That said, I'm not sure if people realize that marketing decisions are rooted in analytics. We constantly sift through data to identify segments and micro segments, to dissect / optimize media performance, and to understand the incrementality of various media platforms to make sure we're getting the best return on our dollars. Even with creative ideas and decisions, we are constantly looking through data to optimize performance.
Which parts of your business come the most naturally to you? What skills have you had to work overtime to develop?
When I joined CB2, I was comfortable with the strategy & marketing pieces, having studied both disciplines in college/grad school and having led marketing teams at other companies. I truly do like all aspects of marketing, but my favorite marketing activities are collaborations and customer research.
The aspects of the business that were newer to me upon joining CB2 were e-commerce and visual merchandising. The A/B testing approach of e-commerce has inspired me to mimic a similar process when testing new marketing vendors. Visual merchandising is an incredibly effective discipline that balances creative/analytical. I've realized that visual merchandising and marketing are cousins, and must work in synch at all times. So we've maximized our cross-functional communication among those two groups as well.
We now live and work in the multi-screen economy. How do you ensure the CB2 vibe is strong through all your channels?
We use a basic content calendar to coordinate messaging across channels. Our teams are challenged to ensure that our messaging is cohesive -- yet differentiated by channel -- so customers have a real reason to engage with us across platforms. Not an easy task!
Marketers need to know how to merge disciplines. It’s not just enough to have beautiful ad anymore. Would you say that marketing and branding need to have a 360 approach and how does social tie into this?
Not too many years ago, our distribution channels were really simple - retail, e-commerce, and catalog. Now, our distributions model has become exponentially fragmented. My role has morphed into the voice of the customer (across platforms & fragmented distribution channels), identification of new collaborators and technologies/vendors to test, in addition to my "base" job. When I first started at CB2, customers primarily got their inspiration from print and catalogs ... while both still play a role, clearly that model has blown up! Social media has become the place where our customers start their searches and do research. We need to be where they are (which means we test out new platforms continuously), providing information and inspiration that informs and excites them. The beauty of social media is the real time feedback ... our customers have impeccable taste and quickly give us a sense of where we need to head. Programs like #mycb2 (user-generated content) have started to actually inform our catalog shoots (vs. the other way around) as our creative customers use and shoot our product in incredibly innovative ways.
The CB2 collab with Lenny Kravitz drove crazy sales and engagement, which can be hard for any brand to pull off. What do you think you do differently that made that work so well?
Thank you!! I think a key factor in that collaboration's success was that it came from a place of authenticity. The theme and inspiration behind the collection came from Mr. Kravitz himself, whose own extraordinary vision & life shaped every glamorous, sexy piece. Also, the CB2 design and buying teams gave full rein to Kravitz Design to create the pieces (rather than micromanaging in any way), so they ended up in a place that wasn't watered down but instead true to the original vision. Our customers care a lot about authenticity. The visuals and tactics we developed fell into line under that same vision. My favorite individual marketing tactic was the social media auction on Instagram. We posted a photo of the sleek Nova Side Table and asked people to bid on the piece by commenting “I want it” in the comments. The person to leave the last comment at the end of the auction won the item. Trick is, we didn't state the end time.
How did the collab with Ross Cassidy come about?
I met Ross through our Webby winning campaign, APT CB2, back in 2014. Ross was a rising star and Pin influencer who rallied our customer base to create a crowdsourced design of a stunning dining room online that CB2 then built out in real time in a New York City apartment. I was equal parts blown away by his unequivocal talent and his magnetic charm. It was clear there was an opportunity to share Ross' design vision with our customers as it felt really fresh and elevated for the brand. At his first meeting with our head of brand Ryan Turf, he came more than prepared, bringing along full sketches for a Japanese-inspired collection with CB2. We were smitten, the rest was history.
Any advice for young women who are looking to stand out in their careers?
My advice is to be authentic to yourself and to work hard. Understand your strengths and find environments where you can shine - run from those that require you to try and be something you are not.
What has been your personal edge and helped you stand out through your career?
A bit of a rule breaker attitude. I have never been a great rule follower. Today's constantly evolving marketplace, which is always thirsty for new ways of thinking and new models, suits me pretty well.
The Beyoncé lyric that describes your mood right now?
Don't bore me, just show me - Check On It
As someone who has to travel a lot for work, what are your secret airport hacks?
I always take a photo of my parking spot so I don't forget it, and I pack a few extra ziplock bags and am surprised every trip that they still come in handy. I wear a scarf on most flights and use it as a pillow if needed, and I bring my eye shade to I can get some zzzz's.
My favorite airport hack at Chicago's O'Hare Airport (my airport) is that you can order tortas by Frontera (acclaimed chef Rick Bayless's famous restaurant) on an app -- so I can pick them up on my way to my flights or I place an order as I'm landing and then have a delicious meal to pick up/ take home.