Martha Velando is the Chief Marketing Officer for luxury jeweller De Beers. She spoke to WARC’s Anna Hamill for Marketer’s Toolkit 2022 about scaling up omnichannel strategies, focusing on effectiveness, and why shoppers expect more from brands on sustainability.

Toolkit 2022

This interview is part of WARC's Marketer's Toolkit 2022. Read more.

Key insights:

  • With its retail stores closed, De Beers accelerated its online channels and used technology to its advantage, shifting a lot of communication to email, chat bots, and text messages, while embracing ‘virtual’ try-ons.
  • Through its data and analytics teams, De Beers is already aiming to adopt a holistic measurement framework and move away from reliance on third-party cookies.
  • To measure the impact of its various sustainability initiatives, De Beers has goals broken down annually and quarterly, then uses dashboards to track its progress.
How has COVID-19 impacted your business, especially given the very different situations in your biggest markets  the US, China and India?

The last year and a half has been extraordinary for all verticals, including luxury. In our category, consumers were looking to choose fewer, better and more important things when it came to consumption. Diamonds retain value and are used to mark special milestones in people’s lives.  What COVID taught all of us was the importance of relationships: the importance of love, the importance of family, and the importance of those really fundamental things in life.

Source: De Beers

We had many store closures in India, China, and the US. There have been differences across [those] markets in dealing with the crisis. Among other things, obviously we had to shift gears to build a robust business online, but also to fortify the message about the emotional connection and charge that we have in our category. There's been many great lessons that I'm sure will pave the way as we move forward.

Martha Velando, Chief Marketing Officer, De Beers

Have the ways in which you engage with customers directly changed?

Our stores were closed and we had to reach shoppers online. There were a lot of trial barriers when it came to trying the actual products. We used technology to our advantage and shifted a lot of communication to email, chat bots, text messages etc. It was a change for the business, but we were surprised by the response from consumers.

There is, at the same time, a craving for human interaction. We're making sure that while we are leveraging technology, we're also not losing human interaction. As stores re-open around the world, we're inviting consumers back to stores for special events to have that sense of getting together again and pampering consumers. They have been longing for that.

Has the last 18 months helped your brand rethink the role of online interaction and e-commerce within your business?

Absolutely. Every brand has had to pack years of technology advancement into weeks or months. When I joined De Beers at the beginning of this incredible situation with COVID, we were already trying to build our online business and e-commerce strategy. But COVID truly accelerated that massively.

At the beginning, there were some hypotheses about how well luxury and diamond jewellery could travel online, but we have been very pleased with the performance of our online channels. As stores are reopening, we're making sure that we are building an additional business online and not cannibalising the business that we have in the store.

De Beers has a 60/40 split on brand building versus performance and a 70/30 split for media investment versus asset production. What is your thinking behind these splits?

I truly believe marketing is the perfect blend of art and science. We are all here to create consumer desire and tell great stories, but marketing is also a scientific discipline that brings a yield or a result. Marketing is not a cost or expense, but it must bring return on investment.

We have tried to create specific ratios for how we invest our money. Of course, those ratios will vary depending on the maturity of the category in a specific market. When it comes to brand building versus commercial activations, we are in a luxury category where the purchase frequency is quite long. We know we are in a marathon of long-term investment versus specific commercial activations. We do, however, have very marked peak consumption periods: Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Single’s Day in China, and Diwali in India.

Is the end of the cookie and multi-touch attribution something that you are concerned about and planning for?

Yes, of course. We're planning ahead, noting obviously that Google has moved the goalposts for the sunsetting for third party cookies. Through our data and analytics teams, we are already starting to optimise some of the infrastructure to mitigate these risks. We're aiming to adopt a holistic measurement framework and move away from reliance on third-party cookies.

We're trying to focus on methods where we have control, such as first-party data capture, CRM and sign-up programmes. We are also consolidating our different marketing measurement solutions. We are working to be as prepared as we can.

What type of measurement tools are you employing to drive more effective marketing?

I really wanted to make sure that we have marketing effectiveness as a discipline within the team. What we have done is build KPIs across mental availability, physical/digital availability, and portfolio availability.

First, we had to create a common language within the team. Once we did that, we all got familiar with specific effectiveness frameworks and then specific KPIs that we're measuring to track our progress. As you will expect, we use brand health measures such as brand awareness, saliency, and purchase intention. When it comes to ‘phygital’ availability, it’s about making sure that the brand is distributed in the right venues with the right presence both online and offline.

Data does play a central role, both in e-commerce and beyond e-commerce. We're trying to make sure that we collect data and can use those KPIs to measure effectiveness and our progress against goals.

How are you structuring your marketing team and integrating new skill sets to capitalise on the rise of these digital channels?

We are making sure that our digital teams are working with our brand and content teams – from asset creation and creative ideation, all the way to working with our local teams on the ground. We're trying to make sure that the digital team is not sitting in an ivory tower, and that digital marketing is fully integrated across the full funnel... It has been quite a ramp up in terms of skill-sets for our teams in the stores, but also for our digital teams, as we went through COVID.

[Our approach] has been all about recreating a luxury experience online, and lowering the trial barriers – for example, with virtual try-ons – and making sure that we remove obstacles to offer a seamless shopping experience online.

What lessons have you learned about ensuring a seamless and high quality experience across traditional and digital touchpoints?

We had to work in real time to make sure that we both reached and were able to answer to our consumers in a timely manner. Even though our stores are now reopening, all that tech that we ramped up during COVID will be here to stay: we are using much more tech in our stores.

When consumers are choosing to feel our reach out through our online channels, we are making sure that we are recreating that sales experience with our brand ambassadors, but we're also using virtual try-ons, virtual stores, and virtual tours.

Source: De Beers

The overlap we have in terms of consumers who are reaching us online then coming into the store is incredible. That omnichannel experience is really critical... We are working to make sure that whether the experience is in a physical store or in a virtual store, we can leverage the right tools to ensure that throughout that interaction, the journey is not interrupted. 

How are you using the data that you're generating to optimise your marketing decisions?

Data plays a critical role, not only in e-commerce, but all types of commerce. Without data, we are blind because we don't know what consumers want.

At a very macro level, we have regional and market-specific playbooks where we have data aggregated on luxury or high household income level where we can see trends... then we can use that into our marketing efforts. At a micro level, we are using Google Analytics and more UX-focused tools to see and measure live interactions. It's important to use commercial instinct in combination with the data, because data sometimes can lead you to the wrong decision… There's not going to be a perfect solution, but we’re focused on continuous improvement.

The diamond industry historically has been challenged with regards to its environmental record, and product sourcing. How is your brand responding to new expectations in those areas?

This is really at the core of what we do, and the De Beers purpose. As the world's leading diamond company, and in partnership with the countries where we operate, it is our responsibility to protect the natural world and improve the lives of people all along the value chain.  We launched ‘Building Forever’ which is the blueprint for creating a positive and sustainable impact that will endure well beyond the discovery of the last diamond.

We partner with the thriving communities in the countries where we discover, polish and cut our diamonds. We partnered with National Geographic to protect the Okavango Delta in Botswana. We are working to accelerate opportunity, and are partnering with our communities to make sure that women are well represented. And finally, we lead ethical practices across the industry, making sure that consumers know and understand that De Beers diamonds are ethically and responsibly sourced.

What are the core metrics that you're using in terms of charting your progress across initiatives that you have?

Every year, we publish our compliance report on sustainability. We also have published our  2030 goals with four pillars: doing good in communities, protecting the natural world, accelerating equal opportunity, and leading ethical practice across the industry. In these four pillars, we have goals broken down annually and quarterly... then we can use dashboards to track our progress, just as we do in our marketing effectiveness dashboards.

Today consumers expect brands to do what they say, have the right values, and be able to  tangibly show what they're doing to make a positive impact in communities and on the environment.  It's our duty to be true to our word, and to make sure that we find the right mechanisms to show progress we're making towards those goals.