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Verve’s Bernard Brings Mantra Of ‘Drive The Visit’ To Role Of CMO

The former Macy’s and Saks exec believes Verve can help advance the definition of omnichannel beyond “customer fulfillment” to “enchancing customer experience.”

Verve's Julie Bernard
Verve’s Julie Bernard

During Verve Mobile incoming-CMO Julie Bernard’s five years at Macy’s, she helped craft the department store chain’s strategies around driving consumer loyalty and other “data-driven” programs.

As she prepares to officially begin her new job at Verve next week, Bernard plans to take all the questions and concerns she had on the marketer side and show how a company rooted in mobile marketing can use geo-targeting and data to develop a full “omnichannel” strategy.

“At Macy’s, among other things, I was responsible for testing and learning initiatives intended to further extract value from customers’ data and see how it could be applied, not only against traditional marketing use cases and direct marketing, but for insights against the entire enterprise of the business,” said Bernard, who, before Macy’s made her mark during her 14 years at Saks Fifth Avenue. “Whether it’s merchandising or pricing or omnichannel shopping experiences online, in-store, or on mobile, it’s all about driving loyal customer behavior and how to measure against all of that. That’s what I plan to bring to my post at Verve.”

GeoMarketing: What inspired your decision to move from the retail/client side to the ad tech services side with Verve?

Julie Bernard: I see myself really as a consumer-focused retailer and marketer through-and-through. In a basic sense, I just love helping brands to connect with their customers and the wider consumer landscape to form memorable and valuable and enjoyable shopping experiences.

In the work I’ve done in the past, whether it be at Macy’s or elsewhere, there are definitely some universal truths I like to explore when it comes to consumers. In addition to wanting to get good value, and really, value being defined as good quality for the price they pay, consumers are still looking and seeking inspiration and discovery. They are individuals and they want to be treated as such.

For so many, they still love the experience of shopping in a store, whether that be for a new appliance, a new grill for their new deck, a pair of shoes. It could be for the tactile experience of touching a product or trying it on. It could be for the social aspect of it, shopping with friends and family and just connecting in a social way. Whatever it is, how can we connect with them at the beginning of or at least during an earlier stage of their shopping journey and drive that traffic into the retail location, the physical location?

This is where I get really excited, where I know Verve can play a significant role as a partner to retailers, and even other industry verticals as well. [We can] start to think about the application of this to automotive, travel, hospitality and other areas.

It is exciting to me that Verve can partner with companies to drive traffic into their physical locations and help them deliver that value, that relevant message, converting the casual browser or window shopper into a loyal customer when it matters for both the consumer and the business.

How do you view Verve’s role in connecting consumer loyalty and in-store traffic? And within that larger mission, how do you see your function as the company’s CMO?

I’m somewhat known for evangelizing the mantra, “Drive the visit.” It is so important for businesses to drive incremental visits with their customers over the course of a year. There are so many retailers — whether the category focus is drug store, apparel, consumer electronics or home improvement — where the idea of “driving the visit” continues to be the key metric that indicates the overall health of the consumer franchise.

Many retailers have found over time that past spending alone doesn’t necessarily indicate future purchases from a consumer. Instead, it’s things like “visit frequency,” on the other hand, that very much correlates with retention and increased overall spending over time. It’s very much in the interest of businesses to drive the visit, and this is precisely what Verve can help them do.

Looking at both the connection and divide between digital and physical sales, we’re always going back to the 94 percent of all shopping happening in-store. We just spoke with Salesforce and Room & Board about synthesizing those channels and eliminating the competition between those two sides. Looking at your past roles and now at Verve, what approach do you take in bringing those channels together?

In terms of addressing the digital/physical dynamic, it starts really with the consumer. I tend to spearhead initiatives that begin with the idea of putting the customer at the center of all decisions.

When I’m emphasizing this approach it isn’t rhetoric — it’s a belief that we should always put ourselves in the shoes of our customers, and we should validate all of our strategic thinking as well as our day-in and day-out business decisions through the lens of how it would make the customer feel. How would it make them act? How would it make them behave? When we use that customer lens as our North Star, we ultimately make the best decisions for our business, for our clients, for our investors.

Secondly, as you mentioned, I’ve spent the better part of a decade extracting truly actionable insights from very complex data signals. And the ability to do so will definitely be central to how we communicate Verve’s value to our customers and our marketers. It’s clear from my background, I think, that I believe in the power of data, but the nuance I like to bring to bear on this topic is the importance to do more than just report on the “what.”

We’re really championing the idea of “what,” and “now what” when it comes to the data. In other words, in addition to reporting on the “what happened,” we should always be sure to interpret the data and question ourselves, asking, “What does it mean?” and, now, “What do I do?”

Aside from solving retailers’ data dilemma, one of the perennial issues facing ad tech companies generally is one of identity and differentiation that separates them from their competitors. As you prepare to start as CMO, how will you begin to answer those questions about Verve’s position in the marketplace?

There will be a lot more work on shaping our messaging and strengthening that narrative. This is, maybe, one of the things that I think the ad tech industry has a huge opportunity to do. When I was on the retail side of things, I would constantly challenge the ad tech partners I had and say, “Can you please speak in simple English?”

In simple terms, it’s all about driving people into a location, driving foot traffic, and delivering a — literally — relevant message, so content still plays a role here for the marketer. That connects with the consumer, brings them value.

When we bring value to the consumer, and she or he connects with whatever it is we’re delivering to them, they engage with our brand. They transact, the business gets a sale, and it really has a benefit for everybody. There’s a micro-economic benefit for the individual, and a macro-economic benefit for the business and the economy as a whole.

As a leading location-based platform, Verve has an incredibly strong foundation building on its 10 years of leading innovation in this mobile landscape space. One of the things I’m excited about is collaborating with the leadership team, as you mentioned. Getting in there and executing against a strategy that will continue to demonstrate the growth and innovation into the future.

For example, Verve’s recent acquisition of beacon and mobile wallet campaign platform Fosbury, to me, demonstrates its commitment to driving that foot traffic to retail stores and to physical business locations through the use of intelligent and relevant location-driven mobile marketing. While there’s more to come on the evolution of that definition, I think that there’s some great strength to be built on which was one of the exciting draws for me to join Verve.

One last look back at your days on the retail side: how would you describe the challenges brands and marketers face in coming to terms with pursuing an omnichannel strategy — and how can a company like Verve help advance that strategy?

The omnichannel umbrella, that buzzword, really spans supply chain, customer experience, call center merchandising, and so many other aspects of a retail business model. In addition to, as I mentioned before, advocating “Drive The Visit,” I’m a huge advocate of the role of mobile in driving commerce for businesses and deepening consumer engagement.

In the early in the days of the internet, you had store-only shoppers and site-only shoppers. Today’s consumers are truly omnichannel. It’s exciting to think about ways to partner with brands to augment their omnichannel efforts. Now that so many organizations have tackled the omnichannel fulfillment challenges, I think it’s imperative to provide them with solutions that help them engage with their omnichannel consumers.

One of the things I think about relative to the buzzword of “omnichannel” is it’s time to evolve the dialog beyond product fulfillment. We have to advance the conversation around understanding consumers’ omnichannel behaviors and the critical role of mobile devices in that context. This is where we at Verve have a very compelling story to tell, and what a great way to help marketers in their quest to integrate their brands and the consumer experience offline and online.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of GeoMarketing.com. A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.