In this episode:

Wendy Liebmann talks with Martin Waters, CEO of Victoria’s Secret, about the transformation of the iconic Victoria’s Secret brand, with lessons for retailers and brands about how to stay relevant, always, and how to boldly move ahead when evolution is not an option.

They discuss:

  • How to ensure a company is sensitive to cultural shifts that ensure a brand’s continued relevance to shoppers
  • How to tell the new story fast and boldly (no small steps allowed)
  • Becoming a digital-first company, personalizing relationships with shoppers, and how and when to integrate technology into physical stores
  • Building a corporate culture of openness; the importance of listening to retail associates and internal executives

Download and see Victoria’s Secret new brand image concept in the NYC flagship with this exclusive Retail Safari® Virtual Tour.

Access the full report by logging into our Shopper Insights Library, or contact us directly.

Don’t miss upcoming episodes, stay up-to-date by visiting the WSL Shopper Insights Library, or our Podcast page.

Wendy  00:09
Hello, I’m Wendy Liebmann, CEO and Chief Shopper at WSL Strategic Retail and this is Future Shop. This is where I talk to innovators and disruptors about the future of retail.

Wendy  00:27
The topic today is how to rebrand a retail icon. You know, especially in these times of changing shopper habits, values and cultural shifts, many retailers from mass to luxury around the world are seriously considering what comes next and how to ensure their brands remain relevant. So on that subject, there is no one better to talk to about all of this than my guest today Martin Waters. I first met Martin when he was managing director for Boots Retail International. Yes Boots, the iconic UK retailer, now part of the Walgreens Boots Alliance. Martin and I worked together to bring the Boots No. 7 and other Boots brands to the US even before Boots and Walgreens merged together. And we had a rock and rolling time of it. Hence, we think it’s continued success today we enjoy doing that. Martin has spent much of his life wandering around the world after Boots, he continued his illustrious career growing retail brands such as Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret and Pink around the globe. Today, he’s leading this extraordinary transformation of Victoria’s Secret from what I call the brand of angels to a brand of glorious, every woman. Welcome, Martin.

Martin  01:44
Oh, what a fabulous introduction. Thank you so much for that. And so lovely to talk to you. I love the notion of you being chief shopper. And as you know, I’ve always been a huge fan of your work. So it’s an absolute honor and a privilege to be here.

Wendy  01:57
Well, thanks for doing this. Martin is sitting in London as we speak. So he’s kindly agreed to come over the airwaves for us and have a chat. Martin, let’s start at the very beginning. What was the inspiration or even the urgency to rebrand Victoria’s Secret right now?

Martin  02:21
Yeah, it’s great question, Wendy. You know, I joined the business back in 2008. And at that time, Victoria’s Secret was kind of at the peak of her powers. Everything that we did from probably 2007, 2008 through to 2016 was like magic. You know, all the charts were going up in a northeasterly direction. I was opening stores all around the world, and there’d be 1000 people lined up outside, you know, queuing up to get in, we would run fashion shows around the world and break the internet, it was just incredible time to be part of that brand. And on just about any kind of survey or metric that you looked at Victoria was the hottest thing since sliced bread. And it worked like a charm, you know, this idea of being the cultural definition of what sexy was very, very compelling. And just work brilliantly until it didn’t. And so you know, what happened? Well, was a really rough period, from 2016, to 2020, when all of that magic all stuff that the brand brought to the table kind of evaporated. And we went very quickly from being an icon and a tremendous success and a vision of what good branding should be to being almost tone deaf. And that was partly the result of the world around us changing the ‘me too’ movement, and changing attitudes to women, and how women felt about sexuality, lots of change in a societal sense, at a time when we weren’t really at our best. And so I tend to talk about that period as a period of execution missteps. When we sort of lost touch with the consumer, we failed to face into necessary brand positioning changes, we were overly focused on stores and under focused on digital, and just all around, not at our best. And so when I took over the leadership of the company, in November of 2020, it seemed to me that it wasn’t time for a small adjustment on the brand, it was time for a revolution. You know, we’d lost so much time during those years of execution missteps, that we just had to move very, very quickly. And so, you know, rather than ‘Is it time right now?’, I think it’s ‘why wasn’t it time earlier?’, we should have been doing what we’re doing now, earlier. But luckily, the customer is with us. And she’s very, very pleased with the changes we’re making.

Wendy  04:37
So how do you determine within all of this, what to leave behind and what to bring with you because you know, I think about the gloriousness not just the sexiness of Victoria’s Secret, but the sort of aspiration, wonderful playfulness of it all. And so some of that is still appropriate today. And so how do you determine the balance of what stays what goes?

Martin  05:02
Yeah, it’s a great question. I guess the origin of what we do comes from what do our customers want to know. So the first thing we did was say, well, let’s find out what’s going on. And so we listened really hard. Firstly, to our associates, we have about 25,000 women work in the company, and they had a point of view, we just hadn’t spent a lot of time asking them, but they had a point of view, we asked our customers through a series of different panel work, focus groups and other activities, what was going on. And of course, we listened to influencers, and doyens of the industry, like yourself and others, you know, even financial analysts had a point of view. So we took stock of all of that, and then formed an opinion. And it was pretty clear what the opinion should be. And it goes like this, Wendy, in the old days, the entire premise for Victoria is going to market was around a single world that was called sexy, single word, sexy. And so everything that the brand did, or said or showed or photographed or spoke everything that the brand presented, had to pass through that filter. And if it did pass through that filter, it was sexy, we did it. And if it didn’t, we didn’t very simple. Now that we’re in a different world, I don’t think that single word is enough. So what we’ve come up with this notion, and it stems from work that we did around finding a new mission and purpose and vision for the brand. It comes from a belief that we can be the world’s biggest and best advocate for women.

Wendy  06:23
That’s a big switch from a singular concept sexy, to a more socially relevant and considerably more nuanced position. How is that being delivered today?

Martin  06:33
So if you take that word, advocacy, word, advocacy for women, and you say, Well, how about we use that as the lens? Well, of course, you can still do sexy, because being sexy is advocating for women, most women like to be sexy lots of the time, but it’s just not the only thing that you do. So what were the examples of things that were out that are now in be? Well, let’s take maternity, when we launched the change in the brand back in February, we had Grace Elizabeth, who was kind enough to appear on the front cover of Vogue in her all pregnant state. And then just about four weeks ago, she launched our maternity bra. And believe it or not, that’s the first time in the history of Victoria’s Secret that we’ve been in the maternity business. So we sell bras, we’re the world’s biggest purveyor of bras, except when you’re pregnant, we don’t want to sell your bras when you’re pregnant, it doesn’t make sense. It does make sense if you look at the brand through advocacy for women, and there are sort of other aspects of women’s life that we want to champion. So for example, mastectomy and breast cancer, we knowing women as we do, we should have point of view on Breast Cancer Awareness. And we should have a point of view on mastectomy. So we’ll be launching a mastectomy bra within this month, actually. So those are the kinds of things that we do now, within a context of the way the brand is positioned today rather than it was previously. And so you know, it gets back to the heart of your question. Is it a full swing the pendulum that takes you to a completely different places? Oh, I don’t think so. I think you should expect to see in our customers do see a healthy balance, a very provocative, very sexy, very playful imagery. And equally some stuff that’s a little more serious, and maybe a little healthier, and definitely more inclusive, definitely more inclusive. And so I think it’s a balance in all things.

Wendy  08:19
So Martin, how did your shoppers react to that?

Martin  08:21
When we first announced the change in positioning? There were a few people who raised their eyebrows and said, Oh, no, you know, ‘what about my Victoria’s Secret, I want the old Victoria’s Secret’, we’re still left with them, we will be showing up, you know, in an appropriate way for them. And the great thing about media today, as you well know, is it’s not like you have a single campaign, or even a campaign every month, or even every week, you have campaigns every day. So we’re talking to the consumer through TikTok, through Instagram, through Facebook, through emails through our website, with a constant barrage of communication. And that gives us the opportunity to have multiple personalities and to project multiple different ways of advocating for it.

Wendy  09:00
Yeah, it’s really interesting, because I think about it, when you talk about sort of the multi dimensional view of women, sometimes you want to be sexy in sometimes you want to be pragmatic, you know, sometimes you’re a mom, and sometimes you’re a girlfriend, you know, those kinds of things. So that feels very relevant to me. What I’m really interested in too is this notion of the ability to sort of customize the messaging through media. Do you see that as an opportunity here to be looking at segments of Victoria’s Secret shoppers in all the ways you’re delivering communication and product and service?

Martin  09:37
Yeah, definitely. Before we get to that now call it personalization, just to categorize it before we get to that, if you just think about what we’ve all been through in COVID in the last 18 months or so, when we were just starting to get to grips with repositioning the brand and COVID came. Well, it wasn’t a great time to talk about provocative merchandise. It wasn’t a great time to talk about date night or you know, being out and about or party because nobody was doing that. So we pivoted the message to be more about comfort, and more about being at home. And so our PJs, and our robes and comfy cotton slouchy merchandise, they all became our bestsellers. And we realized very quickly that what women want from us is multiple things at multiple stages of their life and stages could be half a day, it could be a day, it could be a period of time. So it’s that responsibility as a brand to show up in a way that’s appropriate for the consumer at the appropriate time. Now, that’s with something big like COVID going on. In our normal lives, and assuming we all get back to normal, you’re absolutely right, that there are different days and times when we can show up differently and personalization in our messaging really supports that and enables that. And so you should expect all marketeers, but particularly marketeers with a platform, the size of ours to be much cleverer about the content that we pointed individual people. So, you know, if you’re to use the maternity example, again, if you’re not in any way interested in maternity, and have shown no sign of being interested in, potentially, you don’t really want an email from us on a regular basis about maternity clothes, you know, at its most simple, it’s not quite as straightforward as just following patterns of what people have bought before. Because as you know, we buy for multiple people. And sometimes we’re inspired by things as consumers that aren’t necessarily things that we want to buy so you can create a halo for the brand by talking about things that are in a relevant space without necessarily wanting to buy those things. Today, we have 70, I think number 73 and a half million Instagram followers, that’s a big community. It’s an enormous community. And it would be irresponsible to think that all of those people want the same thing all at the same time.

Wendy  11:43
It’s also a community where and we see it in all our shopper research that you’re so familiar with, that, you know, we see shoppers, talking to us about brands that are relevant to them in more meaningful ways, not just about stuff, and product, but also brands that value their values and with the community, the size of yours, the ability to do good things, or to have the power to engage and transform and deliver messages and as you said, be more inclusive. That’s a very big platform to have, and in fact, a big responsibility to have.

Martin  12:22
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And actually, when we started the process of talking to women, to represent for us who would be different from the historical angels positioning, and so we thought about who resonates with a young consumer who’s culturally relevant today? And how will they work alongside our brand? And so we started to talk to some of these women who are now our partners, people like Stella McCartney, for example, people like Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and I was a little anxious, that I wonder how these people are going to respond to taking a call from Victoria’s Secret. You know, even people like Megan Rapinoe, not people that you would traditionally expect Victorias to be associated with. And to be fair, when we first made the calls, they would say, ‘Why are you calling’, ‘What message do you have for me’, and we very quickly get to the fact that we, you know, we changed, we want to inspire women, we believe that we have a platform, which can talk to more women than just about anybody else. And so that gets people curious. And then you start to look at the metrics behind the brand. And that actually, consumers despite those four years of execution missteps are really rooting for us. People want Victoria’s Secret to be successful. And they want to come on this journey with us. That if we can harness that, and start to partner with the right people to communicate the right messages to transmit the right messages, boy, that could be a force for good in the world. So while I don’t want to bore people to death, we should have a point of view about issues that are important to women. And we should use this incredible platform that we’ve got to advance the causes that are important to women, whether they be in battery, whether it be in homelessness, whether, you know, whatever they’ve been, we need to take more of an active stance in in that sense.

Wendy  14:04
Yeah, that feels very relevant to what we hear shoppers telling us around the world in terms of what they expect from brands that they wish to engage with, and be they product by themselves or vertically integrated, like you’re suggesting. So when I think about Victoria’s Secret, I also think about the the store experience, all the high texture, high touch, you’ve opened the new flagship in New York City on Fifth Avenue. How do you see the physical store versus the digital store evolving? And in the US and around the world, obviously, because you’ve had a big role to play in that.

Martin  14:41
Yeah, great question. It’s about consistencies. And it’s about delivering a message in a holistic way, in every aspect of a woman’s life. And so, you know, you know yourself, you go into stores, and you see people with their device in their hand and while they’re looking and feeling the public, they’re also on the device. That notion of being bombarded with content from all around the world brings the responsibility to be more consistent. And so if you only had one store, it would be fine, it would be easy. When you’ve got 1000 stores, then in just North America, you know, and several 100 around the world that brings in new challenge to say, boy, we better move quickly. And so part of the insight that we had, you know, back to your world, and your expertise is really around customer insights, and you’re brilliant at it. But you know, the insight that we had is that women were kind of looking for change, and they were bored with the presentation that we were giving them and not just bored, they were kind of offended by it, they projected a notion that the brand was tone deaf and out of date. And so once you get to that, is that, okay, we now have a new mission, it becomes important to make changes in every aspect of what we did.

Wendy  15:46
So with all those stores in the US and around the world, and with all those shoppers and followers around the world, and the great urgency to resurrect the brand, what came first?

Martin  15:57
So the first and easiest thing with digital assets, because the, you know, same day next day. Second thing was to hire a series of top talent around us, the guy called Raul Martinez who joined us from Vogue who’s just brilliant, and he gets it. So start to create content that can be used in an authentic and genuine way. And then as it relates to the physical environment, we just had to cleanse the palate, honestly, Wendy, we went into every store in the United States, and said, we don’t have time to pick and choose every single image say, well, that one’s okay, this one’s not okay, we know we can’t do that, at this scale as take everything down. It’s just take everything down. So we de-imaged the stores in their entirety, which you can probably imagine, has generated 10s of 1000s of images, you know, beautifully brand images in sizes from here to enormous screen sizes of pictures that are in a warehouse somewhere in Columbus, Ohio, it was a pretty blunt instrument in order to move us forward. And it speaks more to the notion of transformation than evolution, kind of a hard stop moment to say, let’s not do that anymore. It’s not that anymore images of the fashion show connected to our brand. Let’s cleanse the system. And then we’ll start again,

Wendy  17:08
This is so stunning to me, in the sense that you came from a different kind of retail concept. I was thinking about how would that apply if you were at  Boots or Walgreens, you know, wherever, in the US where we have so many stores under a corporate brand, that are talking about, well, we need to make changes, and they’re making, you know, a little change here and a little change the, one big flagship, and everything else still looks the same. This is extraordinary to say in 1000 stores, let’s start quickly from scratch. That’s bold.

Martin  17:44
It is bold it is bold and I kind of felt the choice was binary. Because you know, if you live in Sydney, Australia, it’s not reasonable to say, well, it’s different here, you know, we don’t have your brand position as your global position. So actually, we extended that same mandate to all of our partners around the world. And now I think I think as of today, just about every store in the world has been de-imaged. And that brings an interesting challenge, Wendy, because the cultural receptivity is different wherever you go in the world. And so we clearly were at the sharp edge of being out of touch here in North America. Whereas if you take markets like China, and to a lesser extent continental Europe, our customers, we’re not saying hey, we’re offended by your positioning, they were saying we’re inspired by you, because we love what you do. We love the fashion show. So it’s a that’s a challenge. Our biggest market is North America. We’re a North American brand, we need to project for North America first. And we got to take the rest of the world for us. So we did spend a bit of time debating whether it would be reasonable to have two faces of Victoria. And I just don’t think it is I think in in the lifestyle that we lead now in the way that we run our lives. All images are global images transmitted around the world in lightning speed.

Wendy  18:55
Yeah, that was evident at the recent Met Gala. For those of you who don’t know what that is, this is the big New York Fashion moment that showcases the annual fashion exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And this year, Victoria’s Secret reintroduced itself to the global fashion world,

Martin  19:13
Those images have gone everywhere. And that was another moment, another proof point and as getting back into the business of fashion and being proud to show up in a non traditional way, not a wing inside. But being there to support a very important cultural moment with women who are not traditionally associated with our brand, you know, kind of big, big important steps.

Wendy  19:34
So since we’re focused on New York City for a moment, tell us more about the new flagship store.

Martin  19:39
We went a little further on Fifth Avenue because it’s such a an iconic store and hopefully it will be so well trafficked when tourism returns to New York. And the store is only three years old, but just look dated in its positioning. So we took some time in the store about six weeks to completely gut it from top to bottom. And I’m really pleased with the way that it came out because the change that we’ve made is instead of talking about the heritage and the story of the brand, and how it’s about relating to other people and being inspired by other people, it’s now about you, and your shopping journey and your experience and how the merchandise fits on you. So a little tricks like having what we call diverse mannequins, but they’re not diverse at all. They’re just mannequins of ordinary shape people. Women come in all shapes and sizes, and we want to be there for all of them.

Wendy  20:39
Yeah, what’s interesting also about that is it made me think about Pink as the younger sister brand. And it always felt like Pink was very inclusive, and quite aspirational. How does Pink fit into all of this, as I think about different, not only different segments of shoppers, or different generations of shoppers for the brand?

Martin  20:59
Yeah, love that. So we’re super proud of Pink. I mean, the idea of Pink in it from its inception was quite brilliant, to say we’ll take a grown up female brand, and we’ll create an entry level brand for it. And feed customers, you know, kind of through the system, as it were inspire them at a young age, collegiate age, teenagers, and then they’ll stay with us for life. It’s very, very clever and smart thinking. And when the brands were at their absolute best, there was clear blue water between the positioning of the two. And they sat nicely as sisters, you know, so they fed from the same table, they were clearly part of the same family, they weren’t at all embarrassed by each other. They were in harmony. And then over time, with Victoria’s, you know, losing touch with its consumer, it started to look less and less like Pink was part of the family and the Pink team did an amazing job didn’t miss a beat, they have been culturally relevant continuously. And they’ve continued to show up in an incredibly positive and body positive way. So that the mantra for Pink is about people purpose and planet. And they’ve just been so far ahead in terms of vision, purpose and mission, that the older sister is kind of catching up. The other thing that’s kind of systemic, which may or may not be interesting, is that we run the companies we run the brands is different companies, you know, we didn’t really communicate. There’s some, you know, logic for that. But I think in the world going forward, we want not just to communicate, we want to be in lockstep. And so, Amy Hauk, who runs that business brilliantly. And I, and Greg Unis, who runs the beauty business, the three of us together all the time, and we’re trying to make a single movie, which is about Victoria’s Secret & Company, you know, the total brand, and hopefully, all parts of the movie will have consistency and will resonate.

Wendy  22:41
What struck me too, in the Fifth Avenue store is the messaging in certainly the Pink area, about mental health and wellness. And those issues that, you know, are relevant, well, more and more not just to young people, but all people particularly through the pandemic. And that seemed to me very true to the Pink brand. And that older sister being relevant as part of that discussion.

Martin  23:05
Yeah, and you know, what I love about that observation, and thank you for being so clear about it. What I love about that observation is the notion that we older people should be learning from the younger people. And they’ve been incredibly confident, incredibly comfortable with the notion of gender neutrality, of non-binary persuasion, inclusion of diversity, you know it’s second nature, you don’t kind of think about it and say, I wonder how we should tackle that subject. It’s just natural. And so, you know, issues like sustainability, which is now going to be table stakes for fashion brands going forward, Pink is at the cutting edge of sustainability. And so she, the Pink brand is kind of leading the way and teaching the older folks like me how to get with the program, and it’s very energizing Wendy

Wendy  23:52
Yeah, I do see that inclusiveness, which I think is incredibly powerful. And then it’s not just learning from older to younger, it is what we’re seeing, and also that relevance of that message around the world. Because again, in all our shopper research, we certainly see, you know, the youngest shopper leading the way and all those new values of sustainability and inclusiveness and what their expectations are for brands. And in this environment, the one you’re now creating, it feels, overused word, authentic, but that the younger Pink shoppers actually are leading that conversation in ways that in many households and families, they are often driving the conversation.

Martin  24:33
That’s exactly my point is exactly what what I mean, yeah. 100%, right. If we talk about sustainability, we think about Victoria’s old positioning the only lens, we look at things very sexy, you wouldn’t really get to sustainability. And that would be a terrible miss. Because sustainability is just increasingly incredibly important for all consumers driven by young consumers. And so now with the new positioning of Victoria’s we get to have a point of view of it.

Wendy  24:57
Yeah, it’s interesting to in the latest research that we’ve done, what we’re calling The New Shopper Truths, one of the real ahas , and you and I have often talked about these sort of aha insights that come out of this sort of work is this desire for fairness, fairness, in, you know, expectations of companies to be fair, not only to me and my family, but fair in the way you treat your employees, fair in the way you treat the community and the earth and all of those things, which is such a nuanced brand value. And what struck me not only in the work you’re doing, but actually the fact that you took advantage in a positive way, listening to the associates, because I always think whenever I would spend time talking to the associates, Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, and they, in your former days, that the power of the associate, and the relevance of the associate, even if the brand had started to go off track was was extraordinary. So listening to those 25,000 women and men in around the world is really extraordinary. So that feels much more inclusive, too.

Wendy  26:07
So hold that thought, before we continue our chat, you know, what Martin said about missing key cultural shifts, and how that dramatically impacted the Victoria’s Secret, that’s actually the underpinning of what we do at WSL the need to continuously understand what we call Shopping Life®. That is the cultural context, how people live their lives, what they aspire to, and how that impacts how they choose to spend their money and their time. We track that constantly. So for more on Shopping Life®, go to our website at And take a look there, you’ll see lots about how we do that and our research. And one more thing, also on our website is our latest Retail Safari® that showcases the new Victoria’s Secret flagship. So take a look. Now back to my chat with Martin.

Martin  27:04
It’s been one of the absolute highlights of my career in the last nine months or so to receive so much communication from people who’ve worked for the business for say 25 years, 30 years, a single year, all kinds of different tenure, taking the trouble to write to me and say I’ve never been more proud to work with a brand. Now interestingly, many of those people that have written were not so not proud of the brand that they wanted to work somewhere else, they wanted to stay with us they just couldn’t quite articulate, they couldn’t kind of find a form of words that says we really need to change. And so it’s a bit like that, you know, notion notion of boiling a frog, the frog doesn’t notice when you boil, our brand was getting sort of less and less relevant. And the people inside the system were uncomfortable with it, but actually took a short, sharp shock to say, Hello, it’s time for a change, we’re going in a new direction. And when you do that, it’s incredibly liberating, and very energizing and positive. So it also is a healthy link to culture. So company culture, which is one of my favorite subjects. So when I took over the job, I wrote down on the back of my hand four things that would be my priorities for me. And I explained to people and I put a tattoo on the back of my hand, not literally, but you know, I have an image tattooed on the back of my hand. And people say, well, Why’d you do that? So I said, Well, two reasons. One, I look at the back of my hand about 100 times a day. And I should feel that way about my priorities. And certainly the back of my hand is pretty small. And so I can’t write down 24 priorities. And so four is my limit, maybe five, but four in this case. So I went public inside the company to all of our systems and said, Here are the four things we’re going to concentrate on together. And think number one is we’re going to create a happy and healthy culture. And so there’s no reason why the company should just believe this English guy who’s worked at 14 years, you know, taking over and saying sure sure you believe in culture, how you show up, you know about how quickly you make change, and how positively and how transparent you are and how much you communicate. We want to encourage people inside the system to say, you know, don’t just be quiet and wait for someone else to decide. I’m sure there were so many people that knew we were going down the wrong path who could have helped us if they felt comfortable? And if we developed an environment where it was not just okay to speak up, but it was expected to speak up.

Wendy  29:27
Yeah, I think I will ask you what the other three were, you’re gonna tell us quickly?

Martin  29:31
Yeah, we’ll take number two is to focus on profitable sales underline the word profitable. Why? Because I think there are choices around going after market share going after every last item of apparel. And we don’t want to do that. We don’t want to be specialists in bras, focus on constructed added value, high emotional content bras, that’s our focus on number two. Number three is obviously leaning into the brand repositioning in a very heavy way. And that’s where my word revolution comes up rather than evolution. And then the fourth is to be digital first. And that may be surprising for a company that has as many stores as we do. But I think we were behind on our digital presentation. And so in order to make the point that we need to get better in a digital environment, we’re going to think about digital first, let’s do a second tour on a day to day basis, you know, this, when the the retailers like me talk about floor sets all the time, Well, if you were born as a digital business, imagine, imagine being in a digitally native business, talking about a floor set, we’re looking at you like you are crazy. So we now talk about screen sets, and then the floor sets will follow. So we have meetings about screen sets and floor sets.

Wendy  30:38
I also remember in my first exposure to Victoria’s Secret, it was the catalogs. And I always thought that so there was Victoria’s Secret as a brand that in a direct to consumer, it was a direct to consumer brand through a you know, non physical environment. And then it became all about the physical space and then to your point fell behind in terms of the sort of digital communication, discussion, sales, all of those elements about experience and connection,

Martin  31:08
we were a first mover in terms of direct to consumer. And then we, you know, we kind of lost our way we found the transition out of catalog and into digital to be difficult. And at a time when other brands were expanding that portfolio of offers through the limitless walls of a digital environment, we were contracting our offer in the digital environment. And so you know, I think there is significant opportunity for us to expand the way in which we provide platforms, the way in which we help women, which the physical constraints of the building, can’t do.

Wendy  31:39
So you know, if you step back for a minute, before the Victoria’s Secret experience and you think about your life in pharmacy, drugstore around the world. Is this a model, if I’m a brand, either a product brand or a retail brand?

Martin  32:14
I wouldn’t want to opine about how to go to market with consumer brands. That’s not necessarily my forte, but I’m a shopkeeper. So my degree from finishing high school, I went to college to study retailing and I have a degree in retail marketing. I’ve worked for two companies and my entire life has been dedicated to retailing. So when I talk about what I do, I talk about the noble art of shopkeeping. You know, I think it is a noble art, just like when other people were going off to be doctors or lawyers or whatever else. Because you help people on a day to day basis, you get to inspire millions of people every day, and what I would offer is that when you’re at your best in the world of shop keeping is when you’re running that business as if you only had one shop, meaning you know, every customer that comes in the shop, you probably know their names, you know them like a friend, and you can predict what it is that they want. And you can finish their sentences for them, you know, and you know whether they want to wrap it or they don’t you know if they’re in a hurry, or you know, because you’re just so in tune with what the consumer wants. And that is the art of shop keeping, it’s the thing that enables you to be flexible and agile in the way you go to market depending on how your individual consumer in your geography or your screen shows up for you.

Wendy  34:07
I think about that vision of not just a physical store anymore, but a shopkeeper of how I deliver goods and services in ways that are relevant to people to your point. So but what all that talks about is not just as you said, screen set and floor set, but the value of the people in the physical store the value of the information gleaned and the personalization you talked about in the digital store and the ability to communicate in those kinds of ways. So it is sort of a new vision of shopkeeper but it’s still the shopkeeper.

Martin  34:40
It’s a new vision of the shopkeeper and I think that we are those that have a combination of bricks and mortar and digital businesses are incredibly advantaged that we have all these points of distribution or around the world because it gives us a fleet a feedback loop, which digitally native businesses struggle that’s not impossible. They struggle to get it gives us an opportunity to build an emotional connection that’s incredibly rich and deep, and a sensorial aspect to the total consumer journey that, again, is difficult in a digital only. So I think the future, if you asked about is there a model, I think the model going forward is to find a way to know consumers like your best friend, and to speak to them in a way that they want to be spoken to, not the other way around. So, you know, we think about media. In the old days, when you were buying media, you were buying it on your terms, it was the media companies and the media agencies that defined how you go to market, not anymore. The consumer defines what media she wants to be spoken to, once you get your head around that, oh, the whole game has changed, and hasn’t it? Yep, the whole game has changed.

Wendy  35:44
Well, as we’ve always said, follow the shopper to see the future. And I think this is a perfect example of the way you’ve described all of this. And even in the work we did with you in the Boots days, when we looked at the US market when people thought Boots was a shoe chain, or something. And so what does Boots No. 7 really mean? That ability to sort of take what the essence of the brand was and find the right type of distribution for the right shop to deliver to the right shopper, it feels like the process is very much the same. It’s just the ecosystem of the shopping world has changed. If we keep the shopper in our mind’s eye.

Martin  36:19
I think that’s right, and I think brings a higher level of relevance for what you do, which is listening to consumers and translating, all consumers have got to say, you know, I think back to the Boots days. And in the beginning, we heard from research all around the world that the idea of having a pharmacy and color cosmetics and a fragrance led beauty business just just crazy. And we kept for years and years and years, we kept trying to persuade the customer. No, if the consumer says I don’t want to shop those categories like that, in my particular market, just listen, rather than trying to persuade her why she’s wrong. That took us a long time to learn that lesson.

Wendy  37:00
Yeah, when you’re preaching to the converted, just before I let you go, I didn’t ask you about the beauty business. And so that’s been a very important business and your success in that. Anything you’re doing differently there in your fragrance and beauty cosmetics businesses for Victoria?

Martin  37:20
The Victoria’s beauty business is a fabulous business for two reasons. One, we’ve got three of the top temporary fragrances in the United States. So what a privilege that is, you know, people genuinely love our fragrances. And secondly, it’s a good entry level into the brand. So for people who are trying the brand for the first time in different parts of the world, or it may be, you know, less economic means you can get into the Victoria’s brand and get some emotional content from it through a body lotion or a relatively inexpensive item. So I think it’s a wonderful business. And it has a great match to the emotional content, there is in the brand. You know, the idea of the romance in Victoria’s Secret speaks well to beauty, the idea of dressing up the idea of dates, all of that is a great natural partner. So when I think we’re at our best, we’re combining those two together and running the company as a single brand ,rather than two brands. Single brand with multiple lines of business going forward, you should expect to see our fragrances for example, matching our bra launches, if we have a new bra launch called Bare it wouldn’t be a lovely idea if we had a fragrance called Bare at the same time. And so the total story is one of beauty and lingerie combined in perfect harmony.

Wendy  38:24
That’s great, great to hear. Well, I can’t thank you enough for sharing all this the your excitement and the and the success already, as I know of the of the revolution. And the boldness with which you have absolutely undertaken this is breathtaking in many ways. So thank you, Martin. I appreciate it. It’s great to see you. And I’m glad that you are well.

Martin  38:45
Thank you, Wendy. It’s been a privilege to be your friend for the last 16 years. So keep doing what you’re doing. You’re very inspiring to all of us. Thank you.

Wendy  38:52
So here’s the thing, Martin said it bluntly, you’re successful until you aren’t. So how do you ensure that doesn’t happen? Well, Martin was very clear. First, you must stay in close and constant touch with shoppers, not just how and what they buy, but the cultural context of their lives as we call it, their Shopping Life®. He also said you need to listen to your associates on the selling floor, be it physical or digital. They are tremendous assets if you create an open opportunity for dialogue. Third, he said that Victoria’s Secret was overly focused on it stores and under focused on digital and now the company is becoming a digital first organization. From the influential ways shoppers engage with the brand through to how they choose to buy it. He also said that you need to use media to personalize the story to ensure a brand is both consistent around the world, but also intimately relevant to each individual shopper. And last Martin talked about being bold. Rebranding an icon required a revolution not an evolution. Victoria’s Secret basically ripped off the Band Aid if you will, in one quick, bold step and eliminated all the old brand imagery from every, yes, every one of its 1000 or so US stores. As I always say if you follow the shopper you will see the future and that’s certainly what Martin said today. If you don’t, failure will be fast and painful. So that’s the thing. See you in the future.

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