id you know that Social Media Marketers rarely use the word “viral” anymore? “When you enter your next internship or job and a non-digitally-savvy executive tells you to ‘Put this video on the internet and make it viral’, you can tell them “Social is not that simple, but it’s so much more powerful!” said Linz Shelton, the Global Social Media Director of Michael Kors. With today’s marketing tactics and algorithms, you can count on a marketing message to go viral with the right media dollars and targeting.
Last semester, Linz Shelton came to the University of Pennsylvania to share lunch with a group of Penn students and talk about her career in the ever-changing social world of the fashion industry. Sponsored by the Baker Retailing Center, the event gathered a long wait list and around thirty lucky students, many of them MBA candidates, had the opportunity to attend. Drawing on a range of diverse experiences in companies such as Michael Kors, YOOX Group, L2 Think Tank and her own handbag brand, CUFFZ, Shelton discussed entrepreneurship, MBA, digital marketing strategy, and career tips for new graduates to face the game changer, Amazon, in the ever-changing retail realm.
“When things level off, when the industry starts to change and competition becomes fierce, those companies who will win are those who are willing and able to pivot immediately. As a recent graduate, or if you are coming to Retail from another industry, you may have a fresh outside perspective to bring to this industry. Consumer spending is not gone, it has just shifted. You need to meet the customer where she is and talk to her about something she finds valuable, as opposed to what you want to push.”
Shelton graduated with a degree in English from UCLA, followed by an MBA degree from NYU Stern. The fascinating story of entrepreneurship that led her from the “Paris Hilton days of Los Angeles” to one of the centers of fashion was what truly amazed the crowd. When she was studying abroad in London, she was a young, excited and perhaps careless punk kid from California, who was new to the English club scene and constantly losing her purses. It got to the point where people jokingly asked her, “why don’t you handcuff your bag to your waist so you don’t lose it?” and that’s exactly what Shelton did. As she walked into the club with her new, made-from-scratch handbag, she was quickly noticed by a London it girl. She asked if she could buy one for herself and Shelton was able to pay off her rent with this exchange.
Her handbag business quickly kicked off with simple, word-of-mouth marketing by London street “influencers”, and she continued her project when she returned to California. By manufacturing the products in her living room with the help of fraternity brothers and delivering them with the help of sorority sisters, Shelton’s unique handbag brand grew and finally made it when Paris Hilton, at the height of her party girl days, purchased 10 bags in every color. With the press attention that followed, the brand flourished to be the It bag of the early 2000s and eventually was sold to a larger Japanese fashion firm.
“Because we really took the time to build the brand, we were able to sell more expensive products at a higher price point to a consumer base that was so fascinated by American celebrity that we didn’t need to spend traditional marketing dollars there. The story got me into Stern, and the sale of the business made it possible to go!”
However, as Shelton ascended into the luxury fashion community in New York, the same level of word-of-mouth marketing became insufficient in the big fashion houses that have their corporate headquarters along Madison Avenue. Shelton joined L2 Think Tank, a research and advisory firm where she studied and ranked how well luxury brands perform across E-commerce, Digital Marketing, Mobile, and Social Media in the L2 Digital IQ Index, ranging from genius, gifted, average, challenged, and feeble.
As one of the most successful American fashion brands in the market, Michael Kors has embraced the development of data and insights in terms of content creation, consumer community, and influencer marketing, Shelton said. It’s not surprising to know that Facebook and Instagram are important platforms for the brand, and it’s clear the brand is focused on “making sure that the creative matches the mindset of the person when she is on one of these platforms” as Shelton puts it. She also stressed that data can be leveraged in the selection of influencers for collaboration: “Influencer marketing in general all about amplifying our brand stories through partnering with others on their platforms, in their voice, to their audiences. A lot of the selection process is more art than science, but having data to inform your decision-making process is immensely valuable.”
In addition to an encouraging note to the students about bringing their fresh skillsets to the industry, Shelton concluded her talk with an emphasis on the importance of a clear brand identity, especially when facing a challenging retail landscape. “Across all industries, the companies that are winning out there, even with all of today’s challenges and shifts in consumer behavior and spending, are clear about who they are.”