RetailPlus NY: eCommerce Insights from Deena Bahri, Birchbox CMO

In the past few months, we at Retention Science have been cooking up some exciting initiatives to help jumpstart meaningful conversations about marketing and technology in eCommerce. One of our newest and favorite initiatives is RetailPlus, a thought leader event series that connects marketing executives in the retail and eCommerce space over drinks, an intimate dinner, and lively conversation.

In March, we kicked off our RetailPlus series in Los Angeles with a fireside chat with Greg Bettinelli, a managing partner at Upfront Ventures and the former CMO of HauteLook. This past week, we went bicoastal, hosting our event in the wine room of Gemma at the swanky Bowery Hotel in New York City.

The highlight of the event was our speaker, Birchbox CMO Deena Bahri, who joined our CEO Jerry Jao in a frank and enlightening conversation. The talk was moderated by Buzzfeed business reporter Sapna Maheshwari, who was a former retail reporter at Bloomberg. During the panel, Deena shared some stories about her path to becoming a CMO and dropped some serious marketing knowledge gathered from her years of experience.

Here are a few of the many important points she made:

1. Each touchpoint your customer makes with your brand must have a specific context.

Consumers can interact with brands in more ways than ever before. Shoppers can purchase in-store, online, and through mobile apps. They can ask questions through Facebook, follow new product launches on Twitter, and see behind-the-scenes product photoshoots on Instagram. Each one of these touch points has advantages, but also its limitations. To be effective, marketers must realize both spectrums.

Here are a few examples of these different contexts:

  • Mobile phones have limited usability, so brands must make sure that applications display products in a very clean way. This will encourage quick navigation and spontaneous purchases.
  • Direct selling on Instagram doesn’t work, nor will it in the foreseeable future. On social platforms, marketers should focus their messaging on attracting likes or shares, thereby building your brand, instead of pushing for immediate purchases.
  • Overall, brand interactions on mobile and social are much quicker. Brands must be more creative to make an impact in a shorter period of time. Humor works wonders in these situations.

2. Global brands and eCommerce startups have a lot to learn from one another.

Startups often criticize large global brands for being too slow and out of touch. Large global brands dismiss startups for lacking resources and the nuanced understanding of a developing market. Deena has had success at both ends of this spectrum. She originally cut her teeth in global branding at Reebok, and now she runs marketing at one of the most disruptive companies the beauty industry has seen in years.

What global brands do great that startups can learn from is really understanding their customer. Large brands have the luxury to spend the time (and money) researching the specific needs of smaller market segments and then create new products or alter marketing to specifically speak to those needs. Startups can do less resource-intensive activities such as customer interviews to create smaller sub-segments of their target market to tune their marketing more accurately.

It’s no surprise that smaller companies move much faster than larger global brands and are more adept at quickly capturing emerging market segments. Oftentimes, global brands are blindsided by a smaller competitor and miss out on a huge opportunity. To avoid this, global brands need to create smaller groups within their company to more quickly adapt to changing technology and communication trends. Allowing these smaller groups to operate more independently cuts down on the bureaucratic struggles that slow innovation.

3. Protect your customer’s privacy while still offering personalization.

There is growing trend of customizing marketing messages — across email, website, mobile, and advertising — with personal information a customer has (or sometimes hasn’t) provided to a brand. Although, this kind of personalization has resulted in more relevant messaging and increased engagement, like all marketing tactics before it, marketers might have pushed it a bit too far.

Consumers are beginning to respond negatively to overly personalized messages. Including a consumer’s location and the exact items they might have looked at in an email sent 30 minutes after they browsed the site comes off as creepy. We all have experienced the uneasy feeling of seeing the item we just looked at follow us around on the Internet via retargeting ads.

The solution, according to Deena, is to focus on being relevant while still respecting your customer’s wishes for privacy. One example is not including the exact item a customer looked at in marketing emails but items from a relevant or supporting category. Another example is instead of calling out a customer’s name or location, identify the sub-category they fall into, “fashion forward 20-somethings,” and tailor specific messaging to that group. Another solution? More transparency and a more equal information exchange, something our CEO Jerry Jao has also written about on

All in all, it was a fantastic event, with great food, great company, and great conversation. Executives from some of the best eCommerce brands in New York attended, including Bonobos, Etsy, Spotify, to name just a few. We’re excited to bring the RetailPlus series to more locations – next up, San Francisco!