Charlie Cole, chief digital officer of Tumi, has been overseeing and developing the luggage and travel accessory brand’s global e-commerce and digital platforms since 2015. When Samsonite acquired Tumi last year, he also took on the official role of global chief e-commerce officer, which includes oversight of global strategy for brands such as Samsonite, American Tourister, Hartmann, Gregory, and High Sierra.
Prior to Tumi, Cole held various leadership positions, including CEO of The Line and head of e-commerce for Lucky Brand and Schiff Nutrition.
1. What topic matters most to you as an innovator?
The balance of art and science in marketing is the single most important topic to make sure I am open to being self-critical and constantly evolving my thinking. When I was younger, I believed that nothing was more sacrosanct than listening to the numbers, and if you did that, you’d be fine. However, I’ve realized that at a premium brand, in particular, everything starts with creative and merchandising–and your job as a marketer is to support that, not overrule that.
This requires reciprocation. Merchandisers and creative directors need to be open to analytical feedback and evolve as well. I have framed this to other people as: Creative and merchandising set the guardrails, and it is my job to widen those guardrails as much as possible through education provided by the digital marketing sphere.
This is a big ask for a lot of marketers: You’re not the center of the universe, and you are, in fact, a service department. It’s very normal for marketers to be fairly exalted in business because we get to do a lot of sexy stuff. But, in reality, we are a support industry, not the driving function.
2. Why is this so important to understand?
You can’t be binary. You are seeing the ultimate personification of this taking place in the e-commerce ecosystem today. Amazon–arguably the greatest analytically driven company in history–is struggling to penetrate the luxury market. Brands rightfully fear Amazon’s completely democratic approach to brand protection. While this may be a bit unpopular to say, great brands still drive the conversation. Yes, social listening and feedback is important, but the fact of the matter is people still wait for truly special brand newness.
If you are not self-aware and don’t evolve, you will lose. The scariest thing? We’re not talking about losing your job. We’re talking about losing your career. If all you are is a brand marketer who can’t listen to numbers or just a brilliant analytical marketer with no respect for the brand you’re supporting, you’re a dinosaur and more likely already dead.
3. How does this relate to the customer experience?
The customer is the big winner. You get creativity, inspiration, and aspiration, and then it’s mixed with evolution and personalization as you engage with the brand further. My mom bought me a pair of Air Jordans when I was 9 years old, and now I’m 34 and can design my own Nikes! Talk about a win for me.
4. What is the takeaway for innovators?
Customers will get what they didn’t expect, what they didn’t know they needed, and then practically give you the playbook on how to continue to market to them. For companies, you have to let your artists take the first guess; that’s their job. Raw, pure creation. From there you can invest in iteration–which means investing in analytics plus science. If you balance those two things, you are letting people do what they do best. The biggest challenge for a larger company culture is to instill the trust throughout the organization to drive a collaborative environment between two types of people who think completely differently.
Bonus question: What is your favorite activity outside of work?
Well, it’s 70 degrees and sunny outside, so that may be influencing this answer a little bit, but I would say my absolute favorite thing to do is to sit on my back porch with my wife, throw the stick for our lab Tucker, and watch him romp around while sipping on a nice, dry rosé. Yup, that’s the ticket.
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