Chief Marketing Officer

Building and Maintaining a Strong Brand Narrative amidst a Cluttered Digital Landscape at Kenneth Cole

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STEVE ROTTER: Can you tell us about your career prior to joining Kenneth Cole and what led you to your current role with the company?

ROBERT GENOVESE: I started my marketing career at Wieden + Kennedy New York. I consider myself lucky to have spent my early, impressionable years at such a remarkable shop. While there, I came to understand the importance of brand culture—both the agency culture and the larger culture that cultivates and communicates key elements of the brand to the clients we serve.

I’ve always had an affinity for the fashion industry. The way in which we select our wardrobe and how we ultimately present ourselves to the world can either be construed as superficial or as an extension of our character. I agree with the latter perspective. So I’m drawn to the idea of discovering and communicating the brand narrative for a fashion house, allowing consumers who appreciate that story to discover who you are and, through that process, earning their loyalty.

Kenneth has a unique story to tell, and his brand is easily distinguished from the competition. This was likely the most important element in my motivation to join his team.

Kenneth Cole’s 30th anniversary is fast approaching. What key components of the Kenneth Cole brand have remained intact over the years to preserve brand identity and maintain loyalty amongst its original customers?

While the Kenneth Cole brand is known for its distinctive yet functional style, it’s perhaps best known for its social voice. Kenneth believes that business and philanthropy are interdependent, and this approach is evident in everything we do. So, while the style has evolved to remain relevant to our target consumers, our sole has remained intact (forgive the pun, but Kenneth will be proud).

Alternatively, how has the brand evolved over the last 30 years to engage new customers?

Our marketing team continues to evolve to provide our clients with an extremely high level of service complemented by compelling messaging. For our 30th anniversary, we have developed an interactive archive that showcases the entrepreneurial genesis of the brand and the story of how we came to be. We also leverage that platform in our marketing to provide a context for our philanthropic ventures to address many social ills.

With regard to our products, the design team has built a highly crafted collection supporting key fashion and innovative textile trends while staying true to the iconic Kenneth Cole aesthetic of cool and confident. Personally, I am eagerly anticipating the release of the Fall 2013 line.

We also have a unique approach for our 30th Anniversary campaign, but we’re unable to share those details just yet. I can say, however, that we have an amazing story coming together that will engage consumers who perhaps have not grown up with the brand.

“The good news is that we as marketers have never had more opportunities to craft a message and connect it to a medium. I always keep Marshall McLuhan’s phrase in mind: ‘The medium is the message.'”

Some would argue that digital marketing has taken over as the most effective and widely used tool to connect with today’s tech-savvy consumers. How has Kenneth Cole transitioned into the digital marketing space? How has the way in which you communicate with customers transformed overall in the past five to 10 years?

The process of listening is likely the most important aspect of how our approach to marketing, specifically the client service aspect, has been modified. The sheer volume of marketing opportunities, as well as the somewhat subjective nature of the discipline, can result in wasteful planning and misguided strategies. By establishing a social media listening process early on, we’ve been able to make more educated decisions, craft stronger programs, and respond better to consumer needs.

Which channels have you found to be the most effective and, alternatively, least effective in connecting with the modern consumer?

It’s all relative and depends on a variety of factors—the message, the season, the desired level of immediacy, branding vs. traffic driving, and the mood in our environment and of the consumer. I am always surprised when a brand shares a message in the digital space that would have clearly been so much more effective in a clever outdoor installation.

The good news is that we as marketers have never had more opportunities to craft a message and connect it to a medium. I always keep Marshall McLuhan’s phrase in mind: “The medium is the message.”

How has Kenneth Cole approached the social and mobile commerce space? How have you customized your brand on these platforms to more effectively engage with your target customers?

It’s an interesting question because, in some ways, the platforms have customized our brand rather than the other way around. Due to our need to be able to convey all aspects of the product as well as our social causes across various platforms, we have had to develop stronger internal relationships across organizations to better understand the nature of each. As a result, our organization and teams have grown increasingly cohesive with more of a collective stake in building our brand equity and driving the bottom line.

Have you continued investing in more traditional marketing channels while exploring these newer mediums? Do you foresee your focus on more traditional marketing channels decreasing over time, or will they remain just as important?

I think they will remain extremely important, especially for those brands that support an omni-channel approach. We would like our clients to experience the brand, not a channel within a brand, so we continue to investigate opportunities to reach and connect with a potential customer at the right time and place. A great example is our iconic West Side highway bulletin—it makes an impact that would be difficult to recreate in another medium. Also, for the fashion industry, print continues to be an extremely relevant platform.

“The clutter and overabundance of information that you mention has made developing a meaningful brand narrative more important than ever before, and it’s crucial not to overcomplicate your story.”

In today’s hyper-connected, data-rich world, consumers have more information at their fingertips than they could ever possibly absorb. What are you doing to break through this clutter and make your marketing efforts meaningful across multiple channels?

Telling a great story is an enduring aspect of civilization. It’s a very human communication tool, and we do it all the time with our families and friends. So we at Kenneth Cole work hard to tell great stories with our brand.

The clutter and overabundance of information that you mention has made developing a meaningful brand narrative more important than ever before, and it’s crucial not to overcomplicate your story. We marketers need to think critically about the media we use to tell our story, making sure that it properly captures the tone and purpose while, at the same time, remains transparent because no one likes a phony in the social or personal sense. Authenticity is important.

Which campaigns or approaches have your customers been most responsive to?

A good example is our planning for the 2012 holiday season. Our team agreed that the marketplace was far too cluttered to add yet another traditional CTA for holiday wares. Instead, we built out the concept of capturing and celebrating a “Holiday in the Life” in New York City, offering to tell an individual’s story centered around aspects of holiday shopping and celebrations without an aggressive attention-grabbing approach. We partnered with ELLE magazine and fashion blogger Rumi Neely to curate the day, which included stops at ABC Carpet & Home, Fresh, and L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolates. A specialized site showcased the campaign and included a shoppable video, must-have products of the week, and a Pinterest contest. We utilized as well as our social platforms to drive program awareness and engagement. As a result, we received a strong consumer reception to the content, which was measured through social media buzz, engagement, and intent to purchase.

Do you have anything else you would like to add before we conclude?

Marketing should serve to educate and entertain but never at the cost of distilling brand equity. The proliferation of new media channels requires the various marketing disciplines to work more collaboratively than ever before to ensure that all messaging passes through agreed-upon brand filters before reaching the consumer. Lastly, we are wired to respond to compelling storytelling. A simple, authentic narrative around your brand is the best opportunity to emotionally connect with consumers.


Robert Genovese
Robert Genovese is responsible for leading the media and communications strategy practice at Kenneth Cole Productions. In his role, Robert oversees all traditional, non-traditional, digital, social and emerging media. Additionally, Robert leads strategy for original branded content, supporting seasonal advertising campaigns and corporate responsibility programs.

Formerly an associate of Wieden + Kennedy NY, Robert helped develop and manage breakthrough integrated communications solutions for brands such as Nike, Virgin America, ESPN, JetBlue, and School of Visual Arts.

Robert is passionately involved in the rescue, rehabilitation and adoption of dogs, supporting the Montclair Animal Shelter as well as Stray from the Heart.

Steve Rotter
For over 20 years, Steve Rotter has been helping organizations drive business innovation with technology. Currently,
Steve is the vice president of digital marketing solutions at Brightcove. Brightcove is a leading global provider of cloud content services, offers a family of products used to publish and distribute the world’s professional digital media.

Prior to joining Brightcove, Steve was the director of product marketing at Adobe Systems, where he drove the global launch of Adobe’s rich Internet application technologies, including Flex 3, Flash Player 9 and Adobe AIR.

Before joining Adobe, Steve was co-founder and VP of marketing for venture-backed startup Q-Link Technologies, which was acquired by Adobe in 2004.

Prior to founding Q-Link, Steve was co-founder and president of Paradigm Research, a marketing and business strategy consultancy focused on the Fortune 500.

Steve received his M.B.A. from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management. He has volunteered on advisory boards for several non-profit organizations, including World Vision and A Child’s Right.

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