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Voices: A Route Interview Series Feat. Lilli Izumi
Meet Lilli Izumi!
Lilli Izumi is no stranger to creativity. Living it, learning about it, making the boundaries budge, and finessing all that creative deftness into the brands that’ve been lucky to pick her brain. Born and raised in LA, we’re starting to wonder if creative vibes actually come straight from that California sunshine.
When it comes to ecommerce and building bonds between brands and the people who love ‘em, Lilli has a long roster of experience. Before her current role as Director of Retention Marketing, she spent time as a brand marketer at D2C-disruptor MVMT and basically being the entire marketing department at wildly hip (and sadly defunct) life/after/denim.
(Pssst. She’s also a total boss and runs her own marketing agency, IZUMI Agency.)
We were lucky enough to hear what she has to say about her personal experiences, professional lessons, and life as she works with brands that have to continuously adapt to today’s consumers. Without further ado, Lilli Izumi!
Q: What’s one thing you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
A: One thing I know now has to do with taking up space and speaking my mind when I have an opinion about things. This goes for inside the workplace as well as outside of the workplace, but it’s really helped me to move forward with my career and level up in the conversations that I was having in the workplace as well as the sorts of projects that I’ve been fortunate enough to work on.
In what I would call my first true marketing job out of college, I worked for a small menswear company called Life After Denim. The staff for this menswear company was all women, but everyone was 10+ years older than me at the time. Because it was a small company, I was actually running the entire marketing department. But even though I was given this tremendous responsibility, because I was the youngest in the room, I had a hard time speaking up and a hard time speaking my mind and challenging other people’s opinions.
From there, I went on to work for a company called MVMT Watches and it was quite the opposite. It was mostly male and they were all younger than me. There were a lot of really smart, brilliant people, but I was the only female most of the time in senior leadership meetings. Not only that, I was also the only person of color most of the time. MVMT is a really great company. They’re doing a lot of things that are challenging things in the luxury world, but in terms of marketing at the time when I joined, there wasn’t a lot of diversity in the faces that you would see on the social channels and in the marketing materials.
That was something that was a problem for me. I had a hard time speaking up until maybe a year and a half in. When I did start to speak up, I realized that I should have spoken up sooner. As soon as I started seeing issues, it ended up being to my advantage to be a different perspective than what else was in the room. I’ve been able to use that to craft some really cool campaigns that I did at MVMT.
Now I know that it’s a good thing to sometimes be the outlier in a group of people and speak your mind because people just don’t innately have that perspective.
Q: What does the future of ecommerce look like in your mind?
A: Ecommerce is constantly changing, especially over the last several years. We as marketers and branding people just don’t know what’s going to happen next, between the pandemic, modern political events, and whatever else is to come.
I think that, especially since the start of the pandemic, companies are realizing that consumers want things immediately and they want it in the most convenient way possible to them. I think companies that are pushing the needle with convenience and speed to get products to people are going to be the ones with the advantage over the other players.
For example—this is something silly—but I just purchased a subscription to my favorite kombucha company called Better Booch and they’ve begun offering text message purchasing. It was super easy! You just text the number what you want. Plus, I could change my order and change the delivery day via text. It’s such a natural thing to text versus having to log into an account or dig through an email to look for an order confirmation.
People in other countries have been doing this for years now. In China, they use WeChat and WhatsApp to purchase. They’ve been doing that for so long, but in the US, we’re just a little bit slower to those sorts of channels. Companies that do that first will have an advantage. Aside from that, something that I’m hoping will dominate the ecommerce space is the value of sustainability. Gen Z and millennial consumers—and hopefully more—will continue to have an affinity for companies that care about the environment whether it’s through packaging, sustainable materials, purchasing carbon offsets, or other things like that.
Q: What is your best failure?
A: I have a silly little story, but it was definitely a memorable failure that I will never forget. When I was at MVMT, I also managed the retention marketing channels. That meant email. If you’re familiar with MVMT, they can be a little cheekier with some of the messaging. It’s a millennial audience, right?
There’s obviously a lot of noise during the holiday season. Everyone’s trying to get their message out and their emails opened. So we thought we would be a little cheeky with one of our subject lines. The subject line that we decided to use during the holiday season was “Santa is not real.”
We just thought it would be something that would get opened. The next morning, our customer service team basically grilled us because they were getting all of these emails from customers that were pissed saying their children saw the email as they were digging through their inbox and that we ruined Christmas for them. Needless to say, we learned our lesson from that. But it did have a good open rate for the record! It was definitely a lesson that you should be aware of who could possibly be seeing the messages and how it might impact certain people.
Q: How have you pivoted strategy during the pandemic?
A: Marketers are also having to shift the way that we speak to our customers to accommodate for the new lifestyles that people have. Even taking another look at things as simple as email send times or SMS send times. Before, it was best practice to send emails in the mornings, in the afternoons while they were on their lunch break, or after hours when they were done with work and scrolling through their phone. Now those rigid schedules don’t really exist for people because they’re working from home.
I was also still at MVMT in the early months of the pandemic when you were having to think, “Oh shit, what do I do now?” Influencer marketing used to be a big avenue for them. The imagery and messaging for the brand at the time was heavily travel-focused.
So, we were thinking, “What types of influencers do we still want to engage with? What kind of content can still be relevant during this time and won’t be tone deaf? It’s just having to constantly see what’s going on and be able to be flexible with your strategy.