Q&A: Debenhams marketing director Richard Cristofoli

As Debenhams prepares to launch its latest Life is Fabulous TV ad campaign, Marketing Week speaks to marketing director Richard Cristofoli about digital, loyalty and data.


Marketing Week (MW): What does Debenhams stand for that’s different to other department stores?

Richard Cristofoli (RC): Our brand promise is three fold. Firstly, making designers more accessible – I don’t mean design, I mean designers. No one can do that as credibly as we can as most of our designers work exclusively with us.

Secondly, it’s providing value every day and thirdly helping to inspire customers to feel fabulous.
We have an incredible blend of own brands, designers and power brands. Fifty per cent of what we sell is exclusive to us and as a proportion of sales that is a rare thing for any department store globally to have.

MW: Christmas marked Debenhams’ first TV ad in six years, have advertising and marketing become more important to Debenhams and have you increased investment?

RC: There’s no doubt that we have increased spend, but it’s not just about what we’ve spent, it’s about where you spend. Our marketing mix has changed to more high grade media and to those things that drive the best return on that spend.

MW: How does your marketing help drive the business?

RC: Twelve per cent of our business is online, three years ago it was 3 per cent. A third of our online visits is from mobile. We were the first department store to have mobile apps. We’re about to launch a Kindle app, already have Android, iPad and iPhone.

Things are constantly changing so we’re making sure our shopping app keeps up with that and it’s optimised for all devices. We publish an iPad magazine every two months and that helps with the goal of providing inspiration for our customers by giving advice and practical fashion tips.

We also use social channels to provide a “first in line” strategy so that our Twitter and Facebook fans are always the first to get offers and deals, the first to see our TV ads and get to hear about what’s happening first.


MW: What’s the next step in the digital/multichannel journey and how is Debenhams keeping up with changing technology?

RC: I was at a conference recently and one of the speakers said ‘the biggest device in the next two years hasn’t been made yet’ and that is something to keep in mind. For example before Christmas day we had 5,000 visits a day to our site from Kindle and the day after Christmas we had 45,000 visits a day from Kindle devices. The whole point has to be about keeping up and being light of foot so that you are able to change.

[The fast pace of change] is an opportunity and it’s the reality. Marketers have to manage that and undoubtedly the pace of change is a big deal for marketers, but probably every generation of marketers has thought that the pace of change they had to deal with has been the fastest. We just have to get on with it and in things like social we have to clarify the role and make sure it’s true to the brand. For Fashion Week we were updating customers from behind the scenes and it’s what you’d expect from a brand like Debenhams. The worst thing for brands is to be someone you’re not – it comes across like embarrassing dad dancing.

MW: What is Debenhams approach to building loyalty – how is the Beauty Card scheme developing?

RC: Beauty Cub is still growing. One third of our sales in the beauty department use the Beauty Card and it’s been an important part of our share growth since it launched. We’re always looking at how to keep it fresh. It has a very active social base and the community is all about tips and style advice as well as the points based side.


MW: How does Debenhams use data to boost the wider marketing?

RC: All our systems are currently built on legacy systems so if you’re shopping with Debenhams in store or online or mobile, I could think you’re three different shoppers so we’re working on increasing the level of personalisation in our marketing by bringing it all together under a single customer view. We’re building it over the next 12 months. At the moment we’re using email as a broadcast channel and everyone gets the same email, but with the single customer view we’ll be able to take shopping behaviour and target our offers and messaging.

It will have a hard cash impact on the business but more importantly it will develop a deeper relationship with the customer, and we’ll be able to show Debenhams customers that we understand them – that in itself is a way of building loyalty.

The more contact points there are between the brand and consumer then the more valuable that customer is. A multichannel customer is three times more valuable than an online shopper and twice as valuable as a store shopper.

What we’ll see in the coming years is that customers are seeking a deeper relationship with fewer brands rather than a shallow relationship with a greater number.

MW: The high street is going to have another tough year so how does Debenhams stay ahead?

RC: The way we see it is that customers have become acclimatised to the downturn, there is not going to be a big bounce back. We have to constantly keep abreast and make sure that we are on shoppers’ agenda. The spring campaign is about getting people in the mood for the new season after the dull winter.

MW: Debenhams strategy is highly promotional, particularly in the final quarter of the year with sales and discount events. Is that going to stay or is it something you’d want to move away from?

RC: Debenhams has 30 years of history of big sales and our blue cross sale is a brand. We’re the first brand that comes to mind when consumerism hear about a blue cross sale. We’re not ashamed of our big promotional events. They are strategic and preplanned part of our marketing DNA.

How we present them to customers has changed over the last two years to make them proper branded events as opposed to purely addressing a sale message but it’s part of our brand DNA and customers love it.

MW: What are your priorities for the next 12 months?

RC: Keeping a relentless focus on the customers and building on the success of our brand campaign. It will evolve throughout the year and the single customer view will be a major focus for the year ahead.

We’re also revamping out Oxford Street flagship store. It’s more than just a store refresh. As a retailer your customers judge the brand on their local store – Oxford Street is that for a lot of customers so it’s a way to show off the best of our brand.



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