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Voices: A Route Interview Series Feat. Marlee Rosenblum

Apr 27, 2021

Brands, Ecommerce, and Marlee

With 2020’s surge of ecommerce and shopping from sweats on the couch, there are more online stores than ever. With so much Big Entrepreneurial Energy flooding the internet waves these days, there’s a greater need for actually good advice from retail and branding OGs. Filling this gap is Voices and experts like Marlee Rosenblum.

Marlee is Vice President, Global Head of Marketing at direct-to-consumer sustainable lifestyle brand ettitude. Previously, she led marketing strategy teams at Uber, and in her pre-Uber days, she supported a broad range of clients, including Nestle, Starbucks, Taco Bell, PacSun, and others from the agency side.

When it comes to lessons learned and wisdom to offer, see what Marlee has to say. She’s an experienced retail  expert-gone-ecommerce with lots to offer DTC brands young and old.

Q: What’s one thing you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago? 

A:  I wish I had known to trust myself more to say no, be decisive, and deeply know that I have the right mix of hard and soft skills to make the right call on a variety of situations. A lot of that’s because I’ve been in startup environments where things are constantly changing. You don’t always have prior experience doing exactly what you are doing in the moment, but I know now that I’ve had the right bits and pieces to make the right call. Having confidence in that and being decisive is important.

I would also add not being afraid to give feedback in the context of a rapid growth organization. I think it’s so critical to have feedback coming upwards, downwards, and sideways across the organization. Today, I really deeply believe in and practice radical candor. But it sounds so much easier than it is in practice. Five years ago, I was probably letting fear stop me too often. Fears of hurting someone’s feelings and fears of not being liked. From where I am today, I’ve seen that being compassionate and direct with your feedback actually deepens the relationship and the respect that the person on the other side has for you.

Q: What does the future of ecommerce look like in your mind?

A: From my viewpoint, I think that the path will be less linear and more personalized at every stage in the funnel. I don’t think it’ll look like a traditional funnel. It’ll look kind of like a jungle gym, if you will, in the sense that it will be omni-channel.

You’ll be able to make or modify a purchase or subscription not just from your browser, but from connected devices, text messages, or other alternative channels. Just yesterday I was asked by my Alexa, “Hey, you’re running low on cat litter. Do you want to order more?” That’s a great example of where we’re at with personalization and automation today, but I think it’s going to advance even further in the future where it’s based on a deeper level of personalization. 

A good example is my new Peloton. I love it. I’m so excited. And I’m wondering when, at the end of my ride, they’re going to start trying to sell me the gear that my instructor is wearing or accessories to help enhance my workout. I think that they’re well-positioned to do that in a really seamless, nuanced, and subtle way that still fits their brand.

If you asked me from an organizational standpoint, since I do spend a lot of my time thinking about that, I think work is becoming increasingly cross-functional and both of those examples show how deeply cross-functional our teams need to be.

I think too often in ecommerce, and frankly in any business, we wear our org charts on our sleeve. The email marketing team does the email marketing, and the customer service team does the customer service. But we need deeper integration across all of those human beings in order to push forward these developments that we all want to see happen. So, cross-functional awareness and leadership is part of what we need to strengthen as leaders in order to get there. 

Q: What is your best failure? 

A: I would say that I set myself up to fail all the time. I’m often getting myself into situations that I’m maybe not 100% prepared for. I’ve had that annoying habit since I was very young actually. I grew up as a competitive gymnast, so I was literally throwing myself off apparatus’s just for the sake of sport.

I think that’s sort of symbolic of how I think about growth. I love throwing myself into new situations because I do believe that’s where growth happens. And I think a prime example is joining ettitude, a direct-to-consumer brand, as one of the most senior leaders at the company with very little ecommerce experience. I had some retail experience from agency days in the past, but much has evolved since then.  

More recently, coming from big tech, I think my failure was underestimating the growth curve associated with running an ecommerce team. There is, however, tremendous value in coming in with an outsider’s perspective and applying what I know from a different environment. And in the months that transpired—with 2020 being what it was for all industries and especially for retail—I think my newcomer’s perspective was really valuable. I hope my team would say so as well.

Q: How have you pivoted strategy during the pandemic?

A:  I think as a leader during the pandemic, especially at a high-growth startup, you need to be a lot of things. On any normal day you wear a lot of hats, but if you add a global pandemic into the mix, you need to be there to support your team and customers in a different and deeper way. The pandemic also forced me and my team to prioritize better and ultimately forced the business to prioritize.

I had a mentor who always used to say, “What is your war skill?” I feel like that’s never been more relevant than in 2020, when it almost felt like the world was at war. So I asked myself that question in the early days, and I think my war skills are two things:

  • #1: People management and looking after employee well-being and empowerment inside and outside of work.
  • #2: Brand marketing. 

So that’s where I tried to focus my time. I think the first order of business was making sure our employees were OK—that we were enabling wellness for them, empowering them to have time to cope, but also scaling a business that had an unexpected opportunity to take off given that we’re in the home space and home was at the center. So that was a tough balance, but it was one that we were really conscious about.

The second highest priority for me was on the brand marketing side. We were actually working on a complete rebrand behind the scenes. We were nearly ready to roll it out, and it would’ve been really easy to pause that or scale it back to conserve resources at a time when the future was so uncertain. We balanced that risk with some really tight performance marketing. We got to profitability goals where we knew that if we achieved them, we could sustain the business no matter what was coming. So, once we felt comfortable with that, we went forward with the full rebrand mostly as planned.

There were some tweaks here and there given production challenges, but we took the brand through a complete change and it paid off. We were able to measure direct lift as a result of the rebrand and saw customer LTV and our overall marketing health metrics improve consistently over the last 12 months.

At the end of the day, I think our success as a business started with putting people first, then taking care of the long-term vision for the brand, which to us also means putting the planet first because we are a sustainable brand.

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