Globalization, Brand Building Hot Topics at Financo Panel

Creating brand awareness on a global scale amid the rapidly changing world of social media was a central point in the conversation at Financo Inc.’s 24th annual CEO Forum, hosted by Saks Fifth Avenue President Marigay McKee.

Panelists Tommy Hilfiger, principal designer and founder of the Tommy Hilfiger Group; Aerin Lauder, founder and creative director of Aerin; and Andrew Rosen, CEO and founder of Theory, joined McKee at The Harmonie Club in New York on Jan. 14 for a discussion about consumer branding and the current retail outlook.

Summing up the key theme of the event, McKee said, “[For Saks] to stay relevant we have to be constantly innovative.”

And Hilfiger, speaking about the pressures of keeping his company’s brand fresh globally, added, “It’s difficult to find new ideas in this day and age because you see the same brands on every street corner in every city.” He noted that key tactics for winning customers in 2014 are constantly evolving product and tweaking the company’s store offering in different countries.

Lauder reiterated there are benefits to adopting a personalized approach to different markets when expanding globally, as consumers are increasingly tuned in to trends via social media. “Everything we develop I want to appeal globally,” she said. “The consumer is very well traveled, whether physically or visually, and we want to appeal to that.” 

McKee, who started her official duties at Saks last week following six weeks of traveling around the U.S. visiting the company’s stores, stressed the importance of growing internationally while remaining true to the brand’s heritage. “You need investment to evolve. Consumers are very discerning,” she said, noting that retailers should strive for the right mix of investment while staying relevant to consumers.

In addition to reshaping Saks’ portfolio of 41 full-line department stores and 72 Off 5th discount stores, McKee said she is making headway with plans to improve the firm’s online offering due to growing competition in the e-commerce space.

Rosen said he expects many retailers’ brick-and-mortar footprint will decrease in response to the ongoing consumer shift toward online shopping. “There are stores that aren’t relevant. The digital space is growing much faster than brick-and-mortar. There’s too much merchandise out there and there are too many places to shop.”

Hilfiger agreed that the boom of e-tail sites such as Amazon.com, Net-a-porter.com and Mrporter.com will change the retail landscape and the way brands use social media as part of their marketing strategy. “Amazon is a giant store. It’s a force to be reckoned with. As it grows, some of the brick-and-mortar will go away.”

During the Q&A part of the session, the panelists weighed on in the need to modify and manage brand messaging for a younger consumer amid the rise of social media. “The younger generation is not as loyal. They go from brand to brand,” Lauder said.

Hilfiger, who joked that shopping is a sport in his family, said his company is growing its online presence as part of a push to remain relevant. “[Social media] brings benefits because we are speaking directly to our customers in real time. People believe they’re talking to the [Tommy Hilfiger] persona, not the brand,” he said.

Overall, having a successful retail platform is essential to growing a global business, Rosen said, adding that a growing trend among retailers is to incorporate the local culture into their store design.

Cocktails and canapés followed the discussion, and Financo’s chairman and founder, Gilbert Harrison, CEO John Berg and President and COO Colin Welch were among the firm’s senior management working the crowd.

Among the other key executives at the packed event, held in partnership with MasterCard Advisors, were Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren; Neiman Marcus CEO Karen Katz; Hudson’s Bay Co. President Liz Rodbell; Kenneth Cole; his brother Neil Cole, CEO of Iconix Brand Group Inc.; Brown Shoe Co. CEO Diane Sullivan; designer Sam Edelman; and R.G. Barry Corp. CEO Greg Tunney.

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