Ted Baker’s marketing head on the FTSE brand that hasn’t run an ad in 25 years

The FTSE 250-listed, British clothing retailer, Ted Baker is a brand with personality. Having a name like Ted might make it easier, but an avoidance of paid advertising has meant the team has built the brand internationally with zero dollars spent ‘traditionally’.

Marketingchatted with Craig Smith, brand communication director at Ted Baker, ahead of his visit to Melbourne next week where he’ll keynote the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival Marketing Breakfast, presented by Deloitte, hosted by Russell Howcroft, and supported by yours truly.

Marketing: 25 years, global expansion, publicly listed, with zero traditional advertising – as the marketer, does that terrify you or is it liberating in some way?

Craig Smith: To be totally honest, when we started to really get into the international expansion, it was quite a tricky challenge to get your head around, but I think it galvanises you and forces you to really focus your creative efforts accordingly.

It certainly gives you license to try and innovate and do things you probably wouldn’t otherwise.

On the international expansion, was there a temptation to say ‘now is the time to go the traditional route’?

Yes, and it’s fair to say we debated that at length, on multiple occasions, and still do, because one should never just assume that what you’ve done thus far has worked and will continue to work. You have to reevaluate and as you bring on new marketers and investigate new territories and those cultural developments you’ve got to take stock and really decide whether your existing approach is going to deliver the goods.

How then has the brand been developed over the, almost 26, years?

I think we’ve just really become more polished and more sophisticated with our approach. As our creative endeavours gathered pace over the years, we’ve just brought in better quality people so the production values, if you like, and the investment in particular areas, and the things we use to interact with the customer are much better now.

Every single store opening, every single location we deliver, is completely unique. It gives us a fantastic blank canvass each time, working with the store design team who crafts that interior design narrative gives us a great jumping off point for all of the things we do around each location. That’ll be what informs the press outreach and the social media strategy and layers of digital if there are some. All of those things need to dovetail into a creative approach which is holistic and cohesive across all of these things – so it’s fair to say that’s where the focus goes.

So is it fair to say that if the product is amazing and the experience across the purchase journey is amazing that should be enough?

We’ve seen that organic growth of the brand is inextricably linked to what we do and how we sell, which has customer first and foremost. With product we, as a design-led business, put product first and foremost. It’s what drives that repeat and that advocacy and I think that’s really important.

And what we do as a brand and comms team is we give those other layers to the brand, we give it that warmth, we give it that depth… which people really enjoy and buy into. But they support the product first and foremost.

What role does social media play?

Social has really played into our hands, because as a brand, Ted is very social and he’s very engaging and he’s very rich in layers. So we’ve got lots of things to talk about, so just carving those things up across those different channels works really well for us.

What challenges has ecommerce brought up?

Fundamentally you’ve just got to ensure that all the traffic driving mechanics you are using are very clear in what they are doing, and all the signposts are easy to follow. Customers will invest time in searching either for specific products or just really getting under the skin of the brand, so all we do alongside the ecommerce team is make sure we’re putting things in the right place where people expect to see them.

We don’t try to complicate things buy putting content somewhere where people are confused about where it stands. We’re very clear about that. We don’t try and mix up convention too much when it’s not necessary. You can be too clever for your own good sometimes, and we certainly don’t subscribe to that.

The brand comes across as very readily accessible – you call it “him” or “Ted”…

It’s one of the best things we have in our toolkit, if you like, we have this brand character who means so many different things to so many different people and that’s absolutely what we want. We don’t want to be prescriptive with Ted is this or Ted is that. We give people the framework where we say to them if they’re going to invest their time thinking about Ted that’s absolutely fine, whichever version works for you. We don’t get too precious about how people perceive that. Because we haven’t said Ted is this, he drives this car, he’s married – we don’t do that brand profile stuff, and it allows people to be more flexible in their approach to the brand, and that’s brilliant.

What’s the secret to keeping physical retail engaging and successful?

I think ultimately you’ve got to put customer front and centre and so many businesses don’t do that and it baffles me. Ultimately, if you haven’t got product that’s the right type, in the right place, at the right price – and those things aren’t easy to do – then everything else is going to be a struggle. But the retail environment has got to be something where the customer says ‘I really enjoyed that… I want to go back there… I want to tell my friends about it’.

You’ve got to get those things in the right place, and we do those things very well.


More information about the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival Marketing Breakfast can be found here »