John Veichmanis can lay claim to a rare distinction. Not only did he start his career at almost exactly the same time as the internet reached the masses, he has also worked entirely in online roles ever since.
From his beginnings as a university ‘internet co-ordinator’ in 1996, via stints at Apple, Skype and Expedia, through to his current position as CMO of luxury marketplace Farfetch, Veichmanis has seen online innovations come and go at some of the leading digital businesses of their time.
At Apple in particular, he describes a company that was in total control of its destiny thanks to a culture that generated a huge amount of excitement among its own staff, even though they often didn’t know what the next innovation was going to be.
“A consistent theme throughout my career has been agility and the pace of change. It was there from the very beginning,” says Veichmanis. He sees marketing today as a technology-driven discipline, so the fact he learned to code in his first job has proved constantly useful in solving the marketing problems that arise with rapid technological progress.
I had nothing to do with the invention of the iPhone, but to be part of the process – I’ll always look back on that with a huge amount of fondness.
“The role of technology within the brief of the CMO is now really important because the majority of CMOs are trying to figure out how to expand globally, operating in multiple markets across multiple channels,” he adds.
The global nature of his roles has also been a long-running theme, in his career to date. Veichmanis sees the twin tasks of responding to change while serving a worldwide audience consistently as the key challenge in business today. “How do you keep that momentum without either driving too much cost into the business or getting to a place where the complexity causes the business to slow down?”
At Farfetch now he has the taxing job of building equity in a luxury brand that has existed for only 10 years, but acts as a sales channel for those that have been around for hundreds. He says: “Our luxury positioning is built on the fact we’re working with the very best brands and boutiques, and it is their capabilities to spot new designers and products and curate their range that allows us to build a genuinely unique selling point.”
Building a website from scratch
University of Central Lancashire, internet co-ordinator (1995-1997)
“The university was looking for somebody to make its first ever website because it wanted to recruit international students. Even within academia in 1995, the majority of universities didn’t have a website. I was using a dial-up modem and was the only person in the office who had access.
“I taught myself the code and it was a great place to work in terms of people to learn from. I learned Pearl and HTML. From that I evolved the site in terms of looking at other stakeholders such as internal comms.
“I was only there for 18 months before I wanted a more commercial role, but we went from having nothing to publishing all of the syllabuses and course details automatically.”
Experiencing the variety of agencies
Poulters, head of PoulterNet (1999-2004)
“Poulters was quite a well known regional agency in Leeds and I set up the online division. It was really important in building my credentials in brand marketing and communications. It was the start of understanding the intersection between the creative arts and the creative process of building marketing campaigns with technology. It was the first place I worked where we had creative and technology people working together.
“Agency-side, you learn what are the business and communications problems you want to solve and how you build a framework and methodology.
“The discipline is amazing, and the variety as well. The ability to work across different categories accelerates learning and the level of commercial acumen. Being accountable for the results of a business was the thing I really wanted and why I left the agency world and haven’t gone back to it.”
Analogue lessons for a digital future
Otto UK, head of ecommerce (2004-2006)
“Otto was a somewhat dated and old-fashioned mail-order brand and in 2004 they desperately wanted to figure out how to build an online and ecommerce strategy.
“The traditional mail order tactics were phenomenal learnings and I hold dear now, even at Farfetch, to the ability to segment and predict customer behaviour and invest behind it. Those guys have been doing it since the 1970s. Only now is much of that discipline starting to emerge in the online space.
“I regularly go back to those days and think ‘what’s the 2017 version of that?’, given we have more data and the ability to use that data to make better predictions. Those guys were amazingly good at measuring impact and predicting customer value. The fundamentals of the role were how to make it an online business, because the writing was on the wall in terms of the catalogue business diminishing.”
Launching the iPhone
Apple, senior manager of online store Europe (2006-2009)
“Apple organised itself to deliver absolutely consistent quality while also keeping the element of secrecy. The products tend to leak a lot more now than they used to back then.
“The motivating thing for me is how you run a business without telling anybody what is going to happen. Even when we were forecasting we would have no idea what products we would be selling in three months’ time.
“Everybody who works there has a huge passion for product and for what Apple is doing. The secrecy creates operational complexity but also creates a huge degree of excitement. There are very few brands that can pull that off.
“Obviously I had nothing to do with the invention of the iPhone, but to be part of the process – I’ll always look back on that with a huge amount of fondness. It was a landmark time in the history of technology.”
A step up in leadership
Skype, director of Skype.com (2009-2011)
“There was a significant sized team so it was a step up in terms of leadership and commercial responsibility. Skype.com was the principle mechanism to monetise Skype in terms of the ‘freemium’ model. My role was driving revenue from the 1.3 million people a day who downloaded the app. That was a huge value creation opportunity.
“There was a big focus on technology, a big focus on product. We were moving Skype.com from a place where you download an app to an ecommerce business, so the complexity increased massively.
“We built a product organisation, a commercial organisation, a pricing team. It was a good leadership role trying to accelerate the maturity and capabilities of the team.”
Learning demand generation
Expedia, vice-president and director roles in strategy and search (2011-2015)
“I joined Expedia in a product role then moved back into marketing. A marketplace is a global business so marketing depends heavily on technology.
“I started looking after the search engine marketing programme with a huge focus on how to use technology to build scale. As soon as a new hotel landed on the site would build up the keywords automatically, determine what the bids are, the profitability of each – all that went from being manual to exclusively automated.
“It was a nice mix of marketing communications and demand generation in terms of delivering results and having profit-and-loss responsibility. Expedia was the fourth biggest spending advertiser on Google so the scale of the programme was immense.”
Applying technology to luxury marketing
Farfetch, CMO, senior vice-president of online marketing (2015-present)
“We have an array of luxury products from more than 700 brands and boutiques. The key challenges for me at the moment are how you become a globally recognised brand.
“Farfetch is a luxury brand and therefore has a very defined audience. Technology comes into play to achieve targeted reach and increased frequency of customer visits.
“Much of the capability is in applying performance marketing to brand marketing, using data to find consumers and tell them a compelling story to build authority.
“A marketplace by definition is a demand and supply vehicle, therefore marketing is, for me, the best place to work because it is the business – building a demand pipeline. We don’t outsource anything to agencies or third parties – we have built up core capabilities with 130 people working on creative, editorial, paid search, AI and data science.”
John Veichmanis: CV
CMO, senior vice-president of online marketing
Vice-president and director roles in strategy and search
Director of Skype.com
Senior manager of online store Europe
Senior manager of EMEA online demand generation
Head of ecommerce
Head of PoulterNet
Vice-president of marketing
University of Central Lancashire