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Marketing Post-Covid: Dara Meath, Chief Information Officer at Conair Corporation

Transcript

Brian Erickson:
Thanks for joining the Cardwell Beach Marketing Podcast. My name is Brian Erickson, Chief Strategy Officer and partner at Cardwell Beach. In this series, we’re interviewing senior marketers and digital executives across industries to develop perspective on what marketing will look like in a post-COVID-19 world. Today’s guest is Dara Meath, Divisional Chief Information Officer and Head of Digital for Conair Corporation, a manufacturer of personal care and kitchen appliances that include brands such as Cuisinart, Waring, and TravelSmart. Dara, thanks so much for joining us today.

Dara Meath:
Thank you, Brian. Thanks for having me.

Brian Erickson:
So prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many consumers were loosely aware of their everyday household brands that I think now we’ve all spent so much time staring at our four walls that, as you know, consumers are working in isolating at home. You’re spending a lot more time with grooming and kitchen devices. Well, maybe less time with grooming devices, but more time with kitchen devices each day. How has this changed the conversation at Conair about your digital efforts during the strange time?

Dara Meath:
Sure. I think to your point it is a strange time. I think everybody at the beginning was kind of questioning are they going to make it through? What’s going to happen? How are they going to survive this being together in one space? So Conair is very much like the other marketing groups in this space. We were able to take advantage of the fact that we have some great products to get back out into the consumers, into the industry to allow them to feel more confident in being home and successfully still be able to enjoy things like cooking and grooming, just learning a little bit more about themselves in the way that they want to present that.

So we saw that the uptick took once the pandemic hit, there was a spike then of people not being able to get out to the local grocery stores as much or to the local restaurants, things were taking a change. And right there, we identified and started looking at what can we do to drive our consumers to understand that the products that we offer that they may have in their kitchens today, or can add a compliment into that kitchen with a new piece of product, what can we offer so that they understand that we’re still here for them and still able to get them what they need?

So we started using marketing campaigns and ideas to show them that you could still feel comfortable at home. And a lot of what we started with was social media. A lot of people took to social media, I think once all this occurred and they found themselves more in front of it and understanding it and what are people talking about? How are they living today?

As they did that, we showed some commonalities of general folks at home, whether they were in our company or people that we knew in the industry, using products and showing them basic ways that they can get started.

So we didn’t start with those massive, take the seven course meal and start with that. We started showing them how the day-to-day basics that they need are ones that they can utilize and work with. And the marketing tools worked and users started to find this very interesting in a different way. We did this in not only our US-based environment, but our Canadian environment where over in Canada, people were finding the same restrictions as they were globally.

And in Canada, they were not as common to go back and find us in the digital space. Whereas now we found that they have located us. They’re looking for more from us and we’re able to provide that.

Brian Erickson:
That’s very interesting, definitely. As you’re adapting your digital strategy across borders and just looking at how pandemic response influences that. That had to be a definitely quite a complex challenge.

Dara Meath:
It was. We went through the same wave that everyone did. It started in Asia, went through into Europe, carried on into the UK, continued to carry on to the US and Canada, and then made its way over into like Latin America. We have space everywhere. We have offices everywhere. We have businesses everywhere. So as people were riding the waves, we continue to ride that wave and understand how areas that were opening up, other areas were closing down. What could we do to help those borders stay connected and still get our products in those places needed.

We did a lot of diversity marketing so that people understood that products are now offered in all of these different areas, so that if they were then escaping into another part, another region to spend some time there to stay safe, that they could still take along their tools or pick up their tools from us in locations that were open or online in order for them to feel very confident about still doing their day-to-day needs.

So we continue that and we left those voices open and we left a very common marketing campaign out globally so that people could really trust and understand our products globally. So no matter where they were, they would know we were there with them.

Brian Erickson:
That’s great. And any senior digital executive has definitely got the spotlight pointed at them in a very quick series of events there. But you also, I’m sure, know how to work in a cross-departmental fashion and being in a manufacturing or product-based organization, were there any supply chain issues that directly impacted your marketing efforts and were considerations on the IT infrastructure side that you had to balance as well as just the shift in demand and the way that consumers were operating?

Dara Meath:
Absolutely. So we were, again, like every other business, we looked at our supply chain and as our offices were opening and closing, so were our manufacturing and even our warehousing. So for us, we took very hard looks at those areas that were supporting operationally the rest of the business and we strategically started to move our operations the right way. Where did we have inventory at? Could we continue on with that inventory without replenishing from an overseas office for a period of time? How could we space out ordering so that those companies that weren’t seeing business flows could sit with what they had and we could refill areas like the online business, so that we were fulfilling needs in every avenue?

So our supply chain went through a very rigorous exercise in order to get to this point, but one that I feel was a great successful model for our future, so that we could understand our adaptation and what we needed to do to be more flexible as the world doesn’t sit still, it continues to progress and progress and change.

So for us, we want to continue to learn from that. Inventory is always a question. You try not to make it too deep that you’re always sitting with too much, but at the same time, you try to make it deep enough so that if something really does take off, you’re able to fulfill it and fulfill it quickly. You never want to be last market for anything when it’s really had a great success.

So we took a look at all of what we could do here in the US and in Canada, and we re-fulfilled our partners to the point where they needed. We have very strong wholesale retail partners that stayed open during this. In their respectable chains, they were not required in the same capacity as other areas like restaurants or hotels or traveling to change. So people were able to access our products that way. But we knew we needed to fulfill on the backend for digital.

So we spent a lot of time readdressing where we were fulfilling from that piece and how we could get more into that. There was constantly a push and pull. We always look at things like, “How is this impacting our sales associates? Are we taking away from any of our partners?” We ensured that we did not do that, so we stay successful along that path line and still kept our great business name with them ahead, but still got an inventory abundance behind what we needed to do to digitally fulfill for things like personal care and at-home appliances.

Brian Erickson:
Yeah. There are quite a few moving parts in that equation. I’m not jealous of what you probably had to go through when you were really kind of making that major shift. So I guess in the spirit of being flexible, as it relates to just consumers shifting a large portion of purchases online during this time, do you anticipate a return to pre-COVID reality or are we in a new normal now where we’re going to really be an online-first sort of purchasing society? And how would you react to that over the longer term, if that were to stay the way it is?

Dara Meath:
So it’s a great question, and I think one that every retailer or business is asking themselves now in order for them to be successful as they move forward. We made a lot of short-term changes that I knew had growth potential to be long-term. Digital, and the way that we were adjusting our inventory and adjusting our platforms to be able to be more successful there, I knew would have short-term fulfillment, but long-term goals for the company.
For us, we did a very strong partnership with our retailers to say, “How can we help weather this, as well as us?” And a lot of that was taking a lot of business from them where they were trying to fulfill within their own facilities and bringing it back in from our perspective and doing more of a D to C fulfillment for them. And so in doing that, we found a great spike up in supporting them. Orders are getting out in time and consumers are very satisfied with that product.

A lot of companies are doing that. They’ve been starting to do that over the years, so now I think that’s been a spike. So not only are you now fulfilling yourself, but you’re also fulfilling your partners directly for their consumers, as well as them fulfilling their own consumers in their own ways. If we keep that model, I think that’s what will be the new norm. I think people will find that they’re very comfortable relying on what people are offering online, understanding that there may be some delays at times, but most of the time people are fulfilling within a very fast here. I want it now. Similar to what they would do when they were getting into the car to get out to a store.

I think a lot of people are looking forward to being able to do more of this and understand that there’s going to be more diversity online this year, where they can see things that they might have only seen in a store in the future. They can now see it online and actually get it. So for us, it’s an exciting time to be able to use all of our different outlets to keep showcasing the products.

What online also does is it allows us to do some exclusions that they may not find at a standard retailer. So it allows us a feature, a product that they might not see the same way in a store. But I will say that there’s always going to be the traditional sense of, number one, people have been home for a very long time. If they have an opportunity to get out to a store, and it’s a nice, beautiful day and the store is open, they may take advantage of that just to go out for a little bit of time.

And the good thing is I think that fulfills those store needs as well. So there’s definitely a shift. There’s definitely going to be some still, let’s get out there and stretch our legs. But I think if you can do more of the back-end structure, you can fulfill both of those needs.

Brian Erickson:
So it’s interesting. Obviously, there’s always going to be a need for consumer goods, right? But it sounds like the way that you serve retailers may have shifted in a way that might be a little bit more long-lasting and might be an additional business opportunity for folks on the manufacturing side and core brand side.

Dara Meath:
That’s correct. We give them an opportunity to be able to relieve some of the pressures that they’ve had through this COVID crisis as well, where they’ve had to close off some stores or allow their staff to be home and safe as well. We were able to do some fulfillment for them and still put in the right rhythm so that they wanted to pick back up in the future they could. If they wanted to continue on this pattern, they could.

We’re finding that most retailers are feeling very comfortable with this. We’re very transparent about the ordering process, how they’re seeing it, what we can do for them and it’s working. And I think a lot of wholesalers are starting to do this for those businesses that weren’t able to be as flexible during this time because they weren’t set up to be very direct to consumer and where we could do that for them directly.

Brian Erickson:
So good lesson in future-proofing for sure to come out positively on the other side of that. I guess just on maybe a little fun note, are there any product categories that might’ve been sleepers before the pandemic and just totally unexpectedly took off?

Dara Meath:
Yes. So there’s a couple we had, and it was interesting that you say that because Waring is a commercial product that is mostly within the space of hotels and restaurants and during the pandemic, as everyone knows, those industries were very well impacted. They were shut down for extended period of times, and in locations like New York, a lot of them still struggle to even reopen at this time.

So what we did was those products are ones that companies can still use and consumers can still use in their own home. So we’ve opened it up now to avenues where digital space is available to people to go ahead and purchase those lines where they might not have realized they an opportunity before. And it’s really given us a new outlet on the business. It’s given us a new challenge because now we’re now saying our products, they’ve always been great for anyone, but by the way, you can now pick them up. And you probably didn’t realize it.

Professional care is obviously one of the largest things that we’ve seen grow. And we’ve seen it in not just the standard professional care of grooming and looking at someone who wants to put their tootsies into a little bubbler and feel warm and cozy at home. It’s also people wanting to customize and get their own sets of tools. So we’ve found that we’ve now drawn extra lines into what we’re looking at for space and using 3D modeling and using virtual reality to expand on people using those tools, customizing them to their own use, and actually having fun doing it.

For us, we’ve found a great area to be able to capture professional barbers who were out during this time and wanted to play and touch themselves with a tool that they knew they’ve always been passionate about. And we’ve found the regular end consumers being excited about it. So we’re venturing and adding in more levels of that so that people can find tricks and tips at home, not just by watching their professional, but by looking at a VR mirror and seeing themselves do it and having fun at the same time playing.

So those are some of the things that we’ve opened up, but there’s been a great opening for the business on the digital front to allow people to really open up themselves and be more free spirited in channels where they wouldn’t have gone in before, and so it’s really picked up the progress for the business.

Brian Erickson:
That’s pretty awesome on the VR mirror side and it’s kind of funny that you captured that insight so succinctly. It was surprising to me how many different people I let cut my hair during this event. It’s like, “Yeah, whatever. Let’s go for it.” You can do a little augmented reality overlay if I need to on Zoom. Yeah.

Dara Meath:
Very, very direct. It’s funny because I watched all these people say, “Oh, we’ve gone natural and stuff.” And I said, “Well, it’s all a vibe.” But at the end of the day, you still care, right? What they always say is true. You care from the top up when you’re on camera. And a lot of the world has gone on camera, whether they’re talking to family or whether they’re talking to other professionals and they don’t want to put as much time and effort into themselves, but they do still feel better about themselves when they’re well put together. So we found a lot of people were doing the same thing as that, trying to self-engage and figure out, “Can I shave that? If it doesn’t work, I’ve got three weeks before my next meeting. I can try it.” Right?

Brian Erickson:
Yeah.

Dara Meath:
So it’s been fun.

Brian Erickson:
It’s pretty funny. Nice. So I guess in that vein of things that popped up that maybe weren’t totally expected, if you looked at January, February 2020 product-wise, tactically on digital, were there any channels or zoomed-in specific tactics that became critically important that you wouldn’t have expected?

Dara Meath:
Yeah. It’s a great question. There was definitely… Our business was much slower into the digital space. So that was one of the reasons I was brought in for the role is to not only start changing and bringing in some new platforms, but also to rewrite the way that we were speaking in digital and to allow people to buy from us.

We had a longevity plan out. We’re a longer-term plan, I should say where we were saying, “All right. We’re going to get there, right?” But there was definitely appear to us very quickly that we needed to get some professional goods out, which was more of the Conair front-end for men’s grooming. And we saw a lot of ways that we needed to put that in the forefront and then do some video capture for it.

So everything that we looked at, we did an educational process with it. And that was all parts of our business. Even on the side of Scunci which is a hair accessory line, which believe it or not, every woman wears headbands probably from us. It’s one of those underlining brands that you don’t notice until you actually notice. And that product brand, what they did really well was they went in and they did a lot of extra research for hospitals, added some extra lining for the way that women were wearing their bands as nurses and doctors, to be able to help them. And then we found that there was a very targeted audience that was looking to do more of that now that they were wearing masks all the time.

So we changed a lot of our thought process. And instead of just gauging on the fashion end on that brand, we actually re-engaged it for the practical side, for those people that now have a different way that they have to look at themselves each day and how can they still feel comfortable and put that mask behind their ear with their hair, how do they tie it so it’s looser?

It’s interesting how much you have to go in detail and understand that. But once you do, it’s really fulfilling to watch it. Hospitals were very thankful to us. I know the everyday associates that are now able to pick up these products, it was really a great learning process for the company and they’re fulfilling for all of us. So all the business brands have gone through, I think, a transition during this, which has been really exciting and evolution for the company and really put more into what we’re going to be doing in the future.

Brian Erickson:
That’s awesome. That’s so specific as I had requested, but I think I always love to hear when somebody has a really zoomed-in insight that made a huge impact. So that’s awesome that you’re thinking at that level of granularity to how to meet the consumer needs and to shift what might be an existing product line to just align with the way that people are looking at the world a little bit differently. So that’s pretty incredible.

Dara Meath:
Yeah. Thank you. I think it’s important. I think you have to understand and listen to your community. The only way that you’re effective is if actually who you’re affecting. So we are very particular about that. Our social media platforms are… We listen, we hear, we understand and we try to adapt to it. And I think that’s what made the products so successful for so many years. And it will continue to make them successful as they keep using these outlets to understand who needs what. It’s a changing time. How can we make you feel a little prettier? A little bit more comfortable or how can we maybe not help you not boil over when you’re cooking in the kitchen, but feel a little bit more that the product won’t fall apart while you’re doing it, right?

Brian Erickson:
Yeah.

Dara Meath:
So it’s the reliability. So that’s what we aim to do and continue to keep doing it with a voice.

Brian Erickson:
You can’t be complacent, right? You can’t just say, “These are our products, buy them or you can be on your way out.

Dara Meath:
Never. I don’t think your name is… You’re only as good as your name, and I think people continue to buy from these strong product lines because we do give good value, but at the same time we understand who our customers are. And we’re very good at when people are concerned or our consumer service team does a great job of making people feel very confident. We do, again, educate a lot of people. So if you’re buying something that you’re now expected to cook it at home, and if you face city life in any part, cooking at home, wasn’t necessarily natural. And now it had to become very quickly. So we help people adapt, and I think that if you can do that, you can be a very strong retailer and digital presence in the future.

Brian Erickson:
So in terms of adapting, if you could give one piece of advice to mid-market and small business digital leaders, and for folks specifically in the consumer goods and wholesale industries right now, what would you say that they should focus on going into Q4 and into 2021, as a singular focus, if you had to pick one thing?

Dara Meath:
Sure. I think right now it’s an interesting world. I think nobody really knows what this Q4 is going to look like. No, I think it’s evolved so many times over the last few years when people started opening up their markets earlier for holiday seasons, where it was traditionally wait to the last month and let’s really shout it out and get excited. I think people are planning a little differently this year and their expectation of what they’re going to need is different.

So I would say the best thing that I can tell people to focus on is work internally with your groups and listen to what they need from you in order for you to help drive that. There’s a lot of things that retailers or digital services could be doing. It’s not necessarily that they all need to be doing it now.

So there’s a lot I want to get to as a leader within this digital space that I can see, re-platforms, payment management, things that I know would make us more successful, but it doesn’t mean it’s right for right now. So I take the time to sit down and listen to my divisions and understand what are they reflecting for this fourth quarter? What are they envisioning for 2021? And as I do that, I help them then perch up and get to the point where they need to be and get them to understand of what I can do for them so that their consumers can have ease of purchase, understand their products very clearly and want to return time and time again to be a customer of ours. And that’s the best thing I can give you advice, have the sit-downs, have the conversation. It’s very important.

Brian Erickson:
Yep. And I definitely can take away from this conversation, your attention to detail at all areas really adding up. And it’s great to see somebody paying attention to the little things in management, as well as on the consumer insight side. So I guess in of paying attention to the little things as we are nearing potentially record levels of unemployment, and who knows what direction it’s going, really where the stats are versus where reality is, what advice would you give to digital executives who might find themselves as free agents right now? How can they best position themselves and their skillsets for this moment?

Dara Meath:
I think it’s a tough time right now, and I agree with you. I think we are seeing the markets reopen. So we are seeing a lot of people get back in to the industries and get back to work, which is extremely exciting. The last thing I ever wanted to do is have to let someone go or furlough them for a period of time. It’s the biggest challenge anyone could have. But what I encouraged everyone to do is to go find what they’re really interested in. So if digital executives are out there or associates in the digital space are really passionate about what they do, figure out what level of that, that you’re really passionate about and try to go after that piece.

A lot of times we umbrella what we’re looking for. My title is internally as long as my arm, but what does that really mean? What parts am I really excited about? Try not to just get into a role now, if you don’t have to, that you’re going to want to change or never fulfill yourself. I think now is the most important time because we are always evolving a technology. There’s always going to be some type of new thing to get into.

And I would say use your social platforms to keep rediscovering that. Put yourself out there. I found myself not using things like LinkedIn as much as I really should be in order to help others and give a voice. And if that’s a space that you’re on, it’s a really successful model space for someone to use to introduce themselves. I watched someone from the UK recently get over two and a half million hits just by showing the diversity of him as not just an older gentleman in the workplace, but someone who really has a lot of energy and impact and wasn’t afraid to get in the camera and show himself. So I know it’s difficult sometimes, but I think if you’re that type of person that is ready to step out, those platforms can really shine and show who you are and it’ll make a difference for you to keep discovering.

Brian Erickson:
Yeah. And I think that’s something that we’ve all learned about just the value of authenticity and honesty when we’re in a situation where you can’t help but have the kids running around in the background or you have 10 different people cut your hair over the course of six months or whatever it is.

Dara Meath:
Yeah. I would agree.

Brian Erickson:
So being authentic in your job search can help too, right?

Dara Meath:
Oh, 100%. I think that if you truly show who you are and you surely show that what you’re interested in, then you’re going to be passionate and it’s all going to come through in the work that you’re going to perform. I would also say don’t be afraid to take, especially in digital, don’t be afraid to take consulting roles as they’re available. A lot of companies are testing the water and they’re using additional resources like consultants in order to fulfill roles that they might not need today, but have a future for.

So I would say that if you are looking for something short-term right now, there’s a lot of viability with that. Luckily, we are seeing a difference. I know that some other areas are being challenged, but there is more of a difference. And if you can get into some more of that work in consulting and digital and being a leader doesn’t mean that it escapes you into one space. Just keep remembering there’s a lot of businesses now that are hiring for any location.

So that’s the exciting part too. You could be working for a company now that’s overseas if you’re here in the US and vice versa. And that was not necessarily the opportunity eight months ago.

Brian Erickson:
Yes. That’s a great thing to keep in mind is you really do have the whole world as your job market at this stage, and it’s important to broaden the way you might look at a job search as opposed to a year ago, even geographically.

Dara Meath:
I would agree. I would say don’t short sell yourself, look back, open up.

Brian Erickson:
Well, that’s some great advice and I think it’s going to carry forward for quite a while. Well, Dara, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. I really appreciate it.

Dara Meath:
Thank you. It was a pleasure. I really appreciate it as well.

Brian Erickson:
Awesome. Well, this is Brian Erickson with Cardwell Beach. Thanks again for listening. And please make sure to check back at marketingaftercovid.com for more senior marketers sharing their perspective on what marketing and digital will look like in a post-COVID-19 world.

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