The Ultimate Guide to Effective Digital Marketing Tactics and Strategies

Lauren Carnell

Vice President of Digital Marketing and Customer Loyalty at Varsity Spirit

Learning Objectives

Please join the Vice President of Digital Marketing and Customer Loyalty for Varsity Spirit as she discusses how digital marketing can have a great impact for internal & external partners when approached with strategy.


"You can really attract the athlete on the channels where they are and show them all the things that we're doing. "

Lauren Carnell

Vice President of Digital Marketing and Customer Loyalty at Varsity Spirit

Transcript

Britt Erler

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Connect Virtual CMO Leadership Summit hosted on Quartz Network. My name is Britt Erler, QN Executive Corresponded here at Quartz. Please join me in welcoming our guest speaker here today, Lauren Carnell, VP of Digital Marketing and Customer Loyalty at Varsity Spirit. Welcome, Lauren.


Lauren Carnell

Thank you. Thanks for having me.


Britt Erler

Of course, it’s a pleasure. We’re very lucky to have you here. We have a wonderful conversation planned for the audience today. Before we get started, I would love if you could give us just a quick background about yourself and your current role at Varsity Spirit.


Lauren Carnell

Sure. I started my professional career in a more of a retail role dating way back when I was at Macy’s and then LVMH, and then having moved from New York City to Memphis AutoZone. Most recently, now Varsity Spirit. Varsity Spirit is all things cheer and dance. And we have a very unique business model that we love to discuss with all the people all the time.


Britt Erler

I love that. It’s such an exciting business to be in as well, as one that never never goes out of style. So we’re very lucky to have you. Let’s go ahead and dive right in. It is no secret that there has been a lot of change, especially within the marketing function. How have you been able to leverage that change and enhance your digital marketing strategies to allow for lead generation and sales growth within the last 24 months?


Lauren Carnell

The last 24 months is sort of like saying the last 10 years, right? A lot has gone on between 24 months ago and today. So we started working on major projects that sort of kind of came to a halt a little bit when COVID happened. But what we’ve done is really pivot to ensure that all things going out right now have some sort of lead gen tied to them. This was an initiative before, but it really has become extremely important to understand a, who’s still engaged with us and how are they engaged, and b, they might not be able to reach out to us or see us in the same way. We’re a very high touch in person company. So without that high touch in person, we don’t have the same capabilities of having the selling moments that we had before, interaction, so we need to be sure that at every moment online, we’re capturing both information and leads. What we’ve done is add some sort of, “Hey, I want to talk to you, or I need this, or I’m interested in this.” I call it here all the time, I refer to it as the customer’s easy button to get in touch with us. We don’t really care why they want to reach out to us or what they want to say, but we wanted to be nice. But it’s, “Hey, I need help.” It’s just sort of a lifeline to get in touch with us. We’re placing these buttons everywhere in every interaction, where before some of it was more relevant or engagement. Now, it’s adding that CTA to every single thing that we do because we don’t have that touch.


Britt Erler

Of course. I think that’s so important right now—people crave it. You want it to come off the authentic, you don’t want it to come off as a sales pitch. Are you guys doing more virtual meetings with your customers one on one? Or is it mostly online through that user experience?


Lauren Carnell

Our reps are really everything to our customers. We’ll get into that probably in a bit. But we have transferred everything that we had in person to online or to allow for the choice. So when everything was completely locked down, that was essential for us to be able to pivot. In Varsity, because we are such a high in person, high touch company, we hadn’t had all of those virtual resources that a lot of other companies did or had already created, but we didn’t necessarily need it. It didn’t force us to do it. I’ll call it an old school business model because it works, and it’s because it’s what our customers want, right? We collect data and feedback from our customers all the time. We ask, would you rather keep yourself 100% online and end the in person meetings communications? The answer is no. When we were not allowed to be together, we had to come up with new solutions. For example we do in person fittings for the athletes because we make custom couture, bow to toe, outfits for all of the the athletes, the cheerleaders, and dancers. When we couldn’t do that, when we couldn’t be in person to fit them, and to see them, and to show them all the selling options, we had to go virtual. We had to think of all the ways to set up virtual meetings to do the virtual appointments and to do the virtual fittings, which is extremely hard not being there in person to measure and to fit. So all the tools and technologies came to the forefront to be able to allow us to have these virtual consults and virtual fittings.


Britt Erler

Great. Did that require a lot of extra training for your team, or was this something they were kind of set up and already prepared for?


Lauren Carnell

Nope. Not prepared for it, but we got caught up to speed extremely quickly. Warp speed, everything happened very quickly. It was really all hands on deck when shut down. So from the IT department to figure out the tools and technologies from the digital marketing team to be able to bring things together to say, “Here’s what solutions, we’ve come up with.” The training and education teams to teach the entire field team, who by the way they couldn’t be in person with so these were all digital trainings, to teach them how to digitally fit and consult. So yes, it’s been a whirlwind. A few extra wrinkles and gray hairs here.


Britt Erler

Completely. I think everybody is on the same page. It’s forced people to pivot digitally where they didn’t expect to. But in the long run, I think it may have been really beneficial for some people, which is great. How has what you have built from a digital marketing perspectiv really helped alleviate and reduce any friction or effort between the sales rep and the customer?


Lauren Carnell

It’s really providing the entire message across the boar. We have a b2b to see relationships. So we sell to both businesses, which are the schools and the gyms, but also advertise and market to the consumer, which is the athlete, and then the parent gets to pay for everything. We’ve got three different end ommunicators. So the message while cohesive, from varsity needs to be a little bit different depending on who we’re talking to, and to create that frictionless communication, it needs to be the same strong message from the top down, that says, “We are varsity, we are strong, we are going to make it through, we’re going to be transparent with you, and we’re going to give you all the opportunity to provide the feedback to us so that we can react to what you need and want from us, regardless if your coach a parent or an athlete.”


Britt Erler

How are you measuring that customer success, that customer loyalty? Are you doing any extra research to make sure you’re meeting those expectations during this time?


Lauren Carnell

Yeah, so we created what we call our Varsity Spirit Coaches Council. We meet with a team of very diverse, from large to small teams, from heavy users of Varsity to less engaged customers. We wanted to bring everyone in, talk to them anything from interviewing to surveys. We’re doing all of the things to ask for the feedback. We use an app called Band where we create communication there. We’ve really created an open line of communication where they can talk to each other, they can talk to us, they can post within this small group. We’ve learned so much. We’ve learned that schools need spirit now more than ever. So maybe the cheer team can’t cheer for the football team, because football is not happening, and some things that you do in cheer are high touch. We might not want to do that right now, but that doesn’t mean that the school can’t still have spirit. It means that they’re looking to us to create these pep groups, these people that say, “We’ve got to keep going, we’ve got to stay strong, and we’ve got to keep all of the energy in the schools because students need to learn and they need to enjoy themselves when they go to school.”


Britt Erler

I love that mentality. I hope it’s something that sticks and perseveres even after this time, because I think that’s something we all need. I certainly do not have that when I went to schools. I think that’s great. How do you allow for a digital experience for the customer world while still keeping that customer and sales rep relationship fully engaged?


Lauren Carnell

A couple years ago, we created something that, this isn’t an extremely creative name, but we call it our Digital Catalog. It’s a customizable catalog where they can go in and pick their team colors. The entire 250 page catalog turns into their school colors, so they can see what uniforms look like, they can see what warm ups look like all in their school colors. They pick three colors of primary, secondary, and tertiary. Depending on how they pick those colors, the catalog renders the items in those colors, and they can play around with new colorways, they can change the items. So that’s our really big digital touch point for our Varsity Spirit auction business unit. In no way shape, or form does that take the place of a sales rep. The rep knows the trends. They know the sizes of the products. They know what the school down the street is doing. Most times, rival schools do not want to have the same uniforms, they don’t want to wear the same warmups, and shy of spying on each other. They don’t know that, but the reps help them to say, “You’re going to want to pick something different,” or “Your team tends to have the classic look, why don’t you lean towards these styles.” The reps, they really have all of the intel. They know about the fabrics, the colorways, what goes on. So our customers have not only come to rely on the reps, some of them are honestly best friends with our reps. When we play around with, “Hey, what if we provided more digital tools,” the pushback is, “Fine, do whatever would help us, just don’t take away our reps. We need our reps, we want our reps.” It’s creating that cohesiveness. A lot of times, the customers do the pre work, they go into the catalogs, they pick all the looks that they love, and then on that catalog, they can submit it to the rep. The rep gets it in their fitting room, and then takes it to the console and says, I see you picked all of these items. Let’s talk about this. What’s your budget? What look are you going for? Then, they whittle it down, and then they end up making a purchase from there. So imagine if you had that on your everyday wardrobe. How amazing.


Britt Erler

That would be a dream. I played sports growing up my whole life, not cheering bands, unfortunately, not my forte, but it was a constant battle about colors and how the uniforms look, especially for young girls. Everybody wants to look great, but there was always that fear of what if we’re matching with another team? And what if you our colors cross over and don’t look nice? Being able to have a sales rep that really creates that one on one experience, that relationship building, that knows their customers in and out is why you guys have clearly been so successful, because a lot of other businesses haven’t been able to do it that way. Seeing as that you do have a b2b to see business model that you mentioned, how do you digitally align your b2b and b2c initiatives so that they end up working together side by side?


Lauren Carnell

We really focus on the channels of communication there. Our reps are on email, because they’re professionals. Our athletes, I mean, the new generation does not email, that’s not the way that they want another. So it’s easy for us to weed that out, because we’re speaking to our—and I said our reps, our customers—are on email. So we send them email communication, they like to hear from us in that way. When we’re speaking to our athlete, it’s through social media, it’s through SMS, if they are eligible for that type of thing. There’s just different channels that work directly for different customers. YouTube is huge for the younger generation. So we have all of the same things that we’re selling, and we all have the same brand messaging brand voice, but we tweak it with the audience via channel and the sort of flavor of the way that we put it up. So you can really attract the athlete on the channels where they are and show them all the things that we’re doing. They go back and tell their coach, “Hey, we love these shoes. This is what we saw. This video was amazing.” [Inaudible] comes back and says, “Send me an email about all the products.” It all works cohesively and the message it’s just slightly changed depending on who we’re talking to.


Britt Erler

Yeah, absolutely. That makes sense. What has something that you’ve done in the recent past that allows your customer to experience fast, easy, frictionless shopping? Because let’s be honest, every customer’s dream is to have that experience.


Lauren Carnell

That’s right. So we’re complicated. Varsity has a lot of businesses. W’ve got cheer and dance, and we’ve just added performing arts, so the bands, all things spirit. Then, we have apparel, and then we have camp and competition. With all of these intermixing, different businesses and groups of focus, and then again, we have the parent, the athlete, and the coach. So we needed to figure out the best way for our camps and competitions to be communicated to the coach to say, “Here was your team, here’s what they did last year, what would they like to do this year?” or “Here’s a suggestion, how about we send you an email that says, you have three teams?” So a coach can be [inaudible], varsity, and youth. We send one email that has information about all three teams. We have one button for each team that says click here to register, again, for the same exact competition or same exact camp that you attended last year. We call it one click registration. It sounds simple, it looks simple to the receiver of the message, but it’s extremely complicated to pull all of that data together and put it into one email. That’s what we’ve been working on, and we’ve been able to do over the last year, is really create that that one communication to the coach about all of their teams, and allow them to have that one click registration so that they don’t have to search down, look into records, figure out what they went to last year, and register for it again.


Britt Erler

Exactly. If you make it too complicated, people end up losing the information, they just give up at the end of the day. When we used to do our registrations for our in person events, we had multiple different forms that they need to fill out. Eventually, we had to consolidate and our number skyrocketed. So being able to do that, I think is extremely helpful. I am curious, do you have a background in cheer or dance? Did you do that back in school or is this something that just kind of fell into your lap?


Lauren Carnell

No, I actually played sports. I played field hockey throughout high school. In college, I’m on lacrosse, soccer, you name it.


Britt Erler

Everything but dance.


Lauren Carnell

That’s right, I tried. But I like to say all the time here, because most people who work here do have a background in cheer and dance. So I tell them all the time that I’m very helpful to them, because I’m from the outside world. When they’re speaking their language, and when they’re putting out material, I say, “[Inaudible] don’t understand that.”


Britt Erler

We don’t know what that means. That’s awesome. I am curious, obviously, based on all of the events that have happened in 2020, has your role changed drastically? Have you had to manage your teams differently at all?


Lauren Carnell

I also manage our ecommerce and where that was a little bit of a blip on the radar in past, it’s our in stock fashion items, which are small. It has become a huge focal point, because we’ve taken trainings, and we’ve created online trainings that we sell on our ecommerce. We’ve recreated all the product and the product stores at live events that are not happening right now and put that all on our ecommerce shop. So the traffic there has skyrocketed. We had to make the user experience much better. We had to elevate this this ecommerce because now it’s getting all the attention that it never got before. As much as I love that, again, we’ve grown 10 years in 90 days, and that’s all hands on deck. Yes, our teams have sort of shifted around. We’ve consolidated and we’ve changed some focuses. Some things that we were advertising or marketing very heavily have sort of gone away right now. So we can’t push these things, because a they can’t happen, or there’s not an audience for them right now.


Britt Erler

Absolutely. I does, it takes an army to put that together, so kudos to you. With that being said, and the changes you’ve had to implement for your team, do you see any other patterns or trends that will be emerging at the end of this year or even into 2021?


Lauren Carnell

A lot of what we put in place we probably won’t take away. That feels like a big pill to swallow right now to just wear it capacity as is, learn all the live things back on, and keep all the digital things. So that’s interesting. We’ve also become smarter in how we’re spending. In the past, we wereall the things were nice to have, and we did them. Now we are sitting back and saying, did we really need that? Is this really something that we’re going to do? Is this the million dollar improvement or a million dollar idea? If the answer is no, then it doesn’t get the time and attention and money that it might have in past. I think that’s a huge maturity and growth step forward for the company as a whole, that I think will will go forward.


Britt Erler

Absolutely. Well, thank you, Lauren. You’ve provided some incredible insights today. I do want to ask before I let you go, do you have any other comments or pieces of advice that you think would be really beneficial to senior level executives in your position right now?


Lauren Carnell

This is sort of out of the business world, but from a management perspective, what we struggled with at the very beginning of this pandemic, but pivoted quickly and have excelled at is internal transparency. At the beginning, nobody knew what was going to happen. Everyone was sort of running around. Crazy. If you weren’t in that top executive meeting, you sort of felt like you’re floundering, and you didn’t know what was going on. So we, as a company, have created weekly town halls that come from CEO or at least C suite. We talk to the entire company in a very open and transparent way. We didn’t have before, and we didn’t really necessarily need it, or we didn’t realize we needed it right now. Now, we do, we had to have that. We’ve also made a lot of changes along with the world, from body image to diversity. All of these things needed to happen, and have happened, and happened for the better. I think that we’re all just growing and improving as this crazy mixed up world or year of 2020 has taken place. Those are my final thoughts.


Britt Erler

Perfect. I think those are all words we can live by. I think a lot of companies are striving to do the same, maybe not quite as effectively as you guys have been. Hopefully, this will kind of give them the stepping stones to start in that direction. Thank you so much for giving us all that insight one. It’s been an absolute pleasure having you here today. Thank you to the entire audience that has tuned in as well. Please be sure to continue the conversation and ask any questions that you have for Lauren in the discussion forum below. Please be safe, be healthy, and enjoy the rest of the summit. Thank you so much.


Lauren Carnell

Thank you.


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