Do you need words to explain the benefits of a raincoat? How can you find your business hidden heritage? And how do you turn a languishing brand into a multi-billion dollar success story? We have a chat with British brand-builder and digital marketing star Justin Cooke.
Before joining Topshop, Justin spent six years at Burberry as Vice President of Public Relations, VIP, Events and Copy, where he helped transform Burberry into a luxury brand driven by technology and innovation.
Fresh from Ascend '15 Stockholm and London, we spoke to him about his experience, as well as the roles of storytelling, content, innovation and technology in commerce.
How did you get your first job in fashion?
I fell into it. I got a Saturday job in Richmond, my best friend at school was in a band and she was working part time at Gucci. She said “it’s free clothes and you get paid, come join me.” So I did, and the rest is history. I worked my way up from the shop floor to worldwide PR manager in about three years. As Gucci group expanded lots of opportunities arose and I ended up being one of the first ten people at Stella McCartney’s label before being headhunted by Burberry.
You famously helped turn Burberry around from declining sales to a fashion-forward and contemporary British brand, what was the secret?
The company was a mess in so many ways when I joined. So there was only one way to go, and that was up. The management empowered young people like me to just feel and dream and do the things that we loved with the brand, and that’s rare. I became very close with Angela Ahrendts, the then CEO and now number two at Apple to Tim Cook, and Christopher Bailey the current Chief Creative and CEO. We approached it by creating a story, almost a narration of how to turn this business around. It was really about seeking emotion in the business, making the company bigger then the product and about the experience around the coat. Nobody understood digital in the luxury sector at that time so we went out and owned it.
Are retailers getting the balance of content and commerce right? How do you see this evolving?
Yes, more and more you see retailers focusing on content and getting that balance right. But there is still a lot of opportunity and now everyone is doing the same thing as the market leaders there is an opportunity to set the bar higher again – to lead and not follow.
Most of us would die to work for Topshop, what makes you decided to leave everything behind and start your own business?
I thought there was a massive opportunity for someone to become the number one place to share, discover and experience music in a social environment and so I created Tunepics!
You’ve moved from retail to founding an innovative startup. How important do you think it is for brands to innovate?
I think it’s everything. Ron Denis of McLaren famously said “As a person if you stand still you fall behind but as a company you die."
What are some current examples of brands innovating that you think stand out in the market?
Airbnb is breaking the mould on travel. Uber is achieving the same with a service that you didn’t really think you needed that often until they made it so easily available.
As a very ‘tech savvy’ marketer, do you think marketers use tech enough and how do you think they can take better advantage of digital technologies?
I think they often use if for the sake of using it and that’s what the customer doesn’t want. What you need is to integrate it seamlessly and meaningfully, focus on what it means to the customer.