Jessica Myers is obsessed with the customer experience. Now, this is probably integral for the role of chief marketing officer at a billion-pound company, The Very Group (Very). After all, she has 4.4 million customers to obsess about, not forgetting the millions more the company would like to bring on board. But Myers is anomalous because she is not just a people person, she’s also the money guy, having spent most of her career in financial services. She started at American Express and has worked across the board for, she says, “large, FTSE 100 banks, [and] small challenger banks”. What fascinates her is “the role we play from a financial wellbeing perspective, supporting the communities which the banks serve”. When the opportunity arose to move from the financial industry into the retail waters at Very, she jumped.
- Be laser-focused on your customer
- Work with creators who are invested in your brand and vice versa
- Test and learn with different communications tools
- Use AI to enhance the customer experience
A little about Very. Its tag line is “Helping families get more out of life”. Its roots lie in independent mail order and retail companies in the north of England, in particular Littlewoods, which eventually glommed together to form a business called Shop Direct. In 2019, Shop Direct rebranded to The Very Group. Very offers thousands of products across a number of different categories, but also offers financial services and flexible payment options. Very, says Myers, was looking for someone with regulated financial services experience who could also lead the marketing team to drive greater outcomes. “I was like, ‘I can offer you all of that’,” she beams, adding, “and it’s been absolutely extraordinary.” Just one year into the job she is hooked: on the data, “I’m sitting on so much wonderful data that we can use to understand customer value and to meet customer needs”; on the fast-paced e-commerce environment, “marketing is so incredibly important. We don’t have a store or a branch, we’re not on the high street”; on how she can harness AI tech to “really improve the user experience”.
The Very Group financials for Q3 2023 show a year-on-year growth in revenue of 2.2%, 6.8% growth in Very Finance, and strong performances in electricals, toys, gifts and beauty. Indeed, “Toys, Gifts and Beauty” says the report “continue to be standout performers”, growing 12.8%. Myers may have been laser-focused on the user experience in her past professional life, but she has met her match in Very, which stakes everything on understanding its customer in “an extraordinary way that I’ve never quite experienced before”. Myers brings to life the Very woman in seconds: “She ranges between 35 and 45-years-old. She has definitely got children and she works full-time, so you can start to paint a picture of an incredibly busy mum, who is looking after the needs of the family.” The data demonstrates that the Very woman is: “Always putting the family first, always making sure that the children have what they need. Always being incredibly generous and looking after others during birthdays and Christmas and that sort of thing. But, of course, she’s also a budgeting queen.”
Due to the cost-of-living pressures, the Very messaging has doubled down on talking “about things that are really valuable”. This translates as deals and payment plans, yes, but also durability, attainability and the tightrope being walked between tightened belts and the desire to celebrate life’s milestones. As a result, Myers says, the Very woman expects “brands like us to show her content, whether that is get ready with mes (GRWMs), seasonal capsule wardrobes or influencers and celebrities that help her get outfits together”, while also providing affordability. She wants to know what the right product is and to be able to get it. Very builds its proposition around her.
The Very Group influencer collaborations “must be authentic”
One of the ways that Very speaks to its target audience is by working with celebrities on brand collaborations – celebrities who represent the brand’s values and, more importantly, the customer’s values. Myers says: “We make sure that they are ‘authentic’, and, what we mean by that, is a true representation of us as a brand and representation of our target customer as well.” Reality TV star Lucy Mecklenburgh’s third collection with Very went live in October, alongside a range of activewear. She is “the family ambassador” says Myers, “our mum-of-two girl next door. She likes fashion, she’s following the trends, but she also knows that she needs to go from day to night, and play with the kids.” Actress Michelle Keegan, a multi-year partner, is the sophisticate. Indeed, her Instagram shows a deft blend of her Very collection with hyper-luxe brands such as Bulgari.
Myers’ creator strategy is equally crystal clear. “We have been nurturing the Very creative network,” she says, “different influencers who identify with the brand and can communicate the Very offer.” The team prefers not to invest in short-term collaborations. “You don’t want to just flick people in, flick people out,” says Myers. Instead, they are focused on “creating partnerships with influencers who relate to the brand, who build that relationship with our customers and their followers through their networks”. Brand and style alignment are crucial, because otherwise the audience will see through it in seconds. Myers says: “The last thing you want to do is bring in an influencer and then tell them how to create the content. They won’t stand for that and the customer sees it really, really quickly.” What is the point, says Myers, of superimposing your brand messaging into someone’s feed? “It will look like a brand has done it and their followers will disengage.” A glance at the Very Instagram feed shows the brand’s relationship with creators such as Karina at Style Idealist, Freya Killin, Laura Byrnes, Lauren-Nicole, Lydia Rose (AKA Fashion Influx), Clara Holmes (AKA Rollin Funky). In October, Irish creator Carol Byrne debuted her first collection with Very, a partywear line.
Myers also stresses the value of having a creator who buys into your brand because they will continue to post, even when they are off the clock. “Having that shared set of values”, she says, is seen for example in the collaboration with Mecklenburgh and “the amount of organic content she creates for us. We have a contract with her but it’s absolutely fabulous to see her on holiday with her children, going to the local farmers market, popping out to Peppa Pig World, dressed in Very, and her audience are asking ‘What are you wearing?’”
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With platforms evolving, Myers says a key to unlock 2024 will be in understanding where people are shopping from, where they are being influenced, and “how we can make sure that we are there in the most relevant way, not in a forceful way, to help with that inspiration”.
The brand has been “dabbling with Live Shopping” and testing its way through it, working with Mecklenburgh and The LDN Family. AI also looms large, targeted towards advancing that digital customer experience. Very is working with Constructor, an AI-first discovery platform, to enhance the predictive element for search on the site. If a new user looks up “ladies converse”, says Myers, for example, “we will know what she’s really looking for is ‘ladies Converse high tops’ because that is the most searched term”.
One of the key changes that Myers flags is happening because of the blurring between creator and celebrity. She says: “Creators have some serious followers out there these days and are heavily influential, especially in how they connect with an audience.” As a result, the relationship between creator and brand is changing, and “we’re starting to see influencers demanding higher commercial fees. Rather than doing lots of content, they’re doing bespoke content. They’re streamlining the brands they work with.” Myers sees this as an opportunity to deep dive into the metrics and the return on investment (ROI). She says: “Tracking will be an essential component of everyone’s influencer marketing strategy. We’ll probably use analytics and measure first party data the same way we do across our other digital channels to make sure we’re tracking the ROI. It will work at a brand level to drive awareness and consideration, but most importantly, how we bring the customer right through the funnel to purchase and drive loyalty.”
Loyalty, finding the perfect balance between customer and commercial, how to be extraordinary for people in extraordinarily difficult times – these are the things that keep Jessica Myers CMO up at night. And she adds: “Inspiring my team to be absolutely magnificent every single day.”
By Emilie McMeekan, CORQ features director. Picture credit: Jessica Myers