In an interview for the WARC Marketer’s Toolkit 2023, Vanessa Yeo Barger, Vice President of Brand at fashion brand Love, Bonito, spoke to WARC’s Rica Facundo about why a reliable supply chain is a brand advantage, customer loyalty and data privacy.

WARC subscribers can access the full Marketer’s Toolkit 2023 here. Non-subscribers can access a sample version here.

Vanessa Yeo Barger

Vanessa Yeo Barger, Vice President of Brand, Love, Bonito

How do you see the climate of uncertainty impacting Asia and your category? What are the key challenges and opportunities?

One of the challenges that retail brands are facing is the disruption of the supply chain. Nobody expected such attention to the supply chain and logistics and suddenly it has become this sexy thing to fix. For us, we've worked really closely with our partners to make sure that we mitigate those disruptions and also try to make it more accessible from a pricing perspective.

Our mission at Love, Bonito is to empower the everyday modern Asian woman, so making sure that our pricing is relatable and accessible for our consumers is incredibly important. We need to make sure there’s value for money and great quality.

How do you see the supply chain being used as a brand asset?

There are two parts.

One is logistics. From a brand perspective, we keep a really close relationship with our logistics and warehousing team. The brand is the custodian of the customer’s experience, which is why we always make sure that we’re transparent. If there’s a delivery challenge from our warehouse, we communicate that to our customers so that their experience is not disrupted, or they’re not wondering what’s going on. That’s how we mitigate those disruptions from a brand perspective.

And then there’s the supply and supply production side. We’re always in conversation about our relationship with our partners. How can we relate our brand purpose in those B2B conversations?

Are you saying that one way that supply chain can become a brand asset is through the customer experience?

Yes. When we think about the customer experience, it is not just about the product but the checkout, delivery, opening your package, etc. As a brand we need to think about those touchpoints and make sure that it’s really relatable and that the whole experience is as seamless as possible.

Love, Bonito is about providing accessibility to the modern day woman. Price plays an important part of accessibility. How is the inflationary environment impacting that?

I’m a very romantic person, so I look at the product and our mission as the brand journeying with women.

For example, when we think about the women going to parties and occasions, we want to make sure that we produce these occasion dresses that also match what they want to wear to the party. But we want to be a brand that’s not wear and throw. We want those party dresses to also work in your day-to-day time. And that’s the really sweet spot we’re looking at from a design perspective.

So it’s the versatility and the value of the brand and product that helps you manage pricing tension?

We really stand by our quality. We think about the accessibility also from how much value you can get from it. There’s so much longevity and so much confidence you can get from a piece that you can rely on and trust each time.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk in the industry about how it’s the end of “profitless prosperity” and “cheap money”, especially for digital commerce. Do you see the need for profitable growth impacting how retailers in the region are approaching digital commerce?

We definitely try to strike that balance between profitability and growth. For the fashion industry and Love, Bonito specifically, it’s all about the omnichannel strategy.

I always come back to the customers. When we're growing, are we growing with them? Are we investing in our business where the customers want and need? So we think about offline stores, investing in our people, investing in the supply chain, investing in data analytics to understand our customer and to give them that really good experience with us.

How do we secure our customers and also retain our old ones? Over 30% of our customers who used to shop with us 10 years ago still shop with us today. This is a very good marriage of profitability and growth. It is possible for the customer to grow with you, as long as you have a very customer-centric or omnichannel approach in this retail industry.

How do you define sustainable growth?

It’s striking that balance between investing in the areas that are going to help the business and the customer, and growing at the pace that makes sense for the customer and the business. And I think that is the summation of profitability versus saying that you think about growth but you're sacrificing the customer experience.

In these volatile times, what do you think will be the most important priority or metric for marketers to measure effectiveness?

The greatest brand measurement is loyalty. What does a customer think of Love, Bonito as a brand who cares for her throughout the different stages of a journey? So being able to be a brand that cares deeply and measures loyalty is super important because that’s how you get your retention, your stickiness and you can also understand how the acquisition works and how loyal they stay.

The key to retaining loyalty is understanding customers, especially through data. Do you see that a lot of Asian consumers are being more discerning about data privacy and their data value exchange with brands?

Definitely. This is a super valid concern for all consumers in our region and beyond for customers who are very familiar with online shopping. During the pandemic, digitalisation required them to input their personal details, which include their addresses for delivery purposes. This is more so than shopping in stores where you go to the cashier and you only have to make your payment.

Customer data at Love, Bonito is a privilege to have and we do not take this for granted. Our way of protecting and respecting customer data is to create a better experience for them. If we were to use this data, it would definitely make that customer preference and shopping experience so much better. Personalisation is a big theme.

When customers give you data, they want you to personalise that experience.  And it goes beyond just “Hi Rica” in an email. That's no longer acceptable. It has to be quite intuitive.

Can you give an example of this personalisation in action?

Offline we have style ambassadors in the store. And when women walk in and they book that session with the style ambassadors, they get a 45-minute session where they talk about their personal styles. That experience is something that we learned from our data is what customers have always said they want.

With the pandemic we saw an exciting opportunity to bring that online to use that insight to address what they need online. So now customers can go online and have a very similar experience with what they have in-store to find out what their style is to discover some options. So that's one way we've really made sure that we're respectful of what is being shared with us and making sure we convert that into a great experience and make that omnichannel experience happen.

Is it harder now to get people to give up their data compared to before?

Yes. It’s not about pushing a customer into a direction. Our approach is to be transparent about how the data is being used. We try to make it as anonymous as possible. And we have a really clear opt in and opt out. So those things help the customer in making a decision on inputting that data.

The death of the cookie scares a lot of marketers. Is that a concern for your brand?

Initially, that was the case. But what we have in our marketing ecosystem is a very strong organic relationship with customers and we do communicate with them outside of that paid performance base. The trend that I'm seeing is that organic marketing, and using authenticity to drive a very strong content strategy is a far better way of connecting with your customer and helping her with her purchase decisions.

 Can you give examples of how the brand is innovating in their content strategy?

As a brand that is purpose driven, we definitely want to talk more about women's issues and flag those topics that may be considered less discussed and even a little bit taboo. For International Women's Day, we were talking about women who don't want to be mothers or asking women what they think about egg freezing. The responsibility here is not fear but conversation.

Given that you are a digital commerce brand, what are some new channels you are exploring outside the digital media space?

Because there's a lot of revenge travel and revenge experiences of people spending time outdoors, we’re looking to play up OOH more. How would it look like for a purpose-driven brand to use that real estate to describe who we are?

The other day I asked somebody if they ever click on a banner ad? They said no. But I asked, “What’s the last bus stop ad you remember?” and he told me what it was. I'm sharing this insight because there is a part of that digital media strategy which works. But I think as human beings, we really want that tactile, visual and in the moment experience with a brand, which is why our retail stores are doing well.

What does creating “shared meaning” look like, especially when marketing in such a diverse region like SEA? How do you balance creating shared meaning and that one-to-one personalisation?

Southeast Asia is so diverse so we can't go down to the person. But as an Asian community, we have a lot of shared moments that feel personal. One really great example is in the way we ask “How are you?” as “Have you eaten?” There are Asian nuances that are a red thread.

I’m always excited to work with our data team to see what are those commonalities that make people feel the experience in a very personal way. Personalisation doesn't have to go down to that specific person. It is the feeling that you get. My friend at Coca-Cola shared what they did for personalisation, where you can personalise the drink can with your name. When they did it in Australia, they found that if they had 300 names, they’d cover at least 80% of Australia. But when they tried to do it in Singapore, it wasn’t as simple because our names are so diverse. But the Asian nuance they found was in the names we call our parents. It is very general, we all call our parents mama, papa. But this is something you and I share when you say we feel that personal connection.

How can brands be smarter about how they stitch messaging across channels and communities? Where are the areas for improvement?

We recently did a brand refresh, where we have our first tagline ever “Come Into Your Own”. And what I really love about this message is everyone that I've asked has a different interpretation of what it means. And it has done exactly what we want it to do. We want people to create their own experience with it. So that's the headspace we're in. It's not one size fits all. It's not one thing, all channels, it's about how you can make sure your message is interpreted by the customer in her way.