CMO of the Week: Bloomingdale’s Frank Berman

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Bloomingdale’s CMO Frank Berman is a brand veteran that has seen the evolution of retail first hand. From catalog marketing to the invention of the internet, mobile and social media, Berman has had a front row seat to how the retail industry has evolved and navigated new ways of doing business.

Bloomingdale’s CMO Frank Berman is a brand veteran that has seen the evolution of retail first hand. From catalog marketing to the invention of the internet, mobile and social media, Berman has had a front row seat to how the retail industry has evolved and navigated new ways of doing business.

Berman joined the retailer as a merchandising buyer in 1991 and has worked his way up to the chief marketing position, which he has held since 2008. When he joined the company, which was then a part of Federated Department Stores, it was coming out of bankruptcy and looking for a new direction.“It was a transitional moment for Bloomingdale's brand to establish a path and direction,” says Berman. “We really made a choice to go after more of the advanced contemporary and luxury business.” 

And it proved the right direction for the retailer. The brand is still going strong despite challenges in retail. Even as they have closed some stores, the company is experimenting with smaller concept stores in new markets. And last year, the company marked its 150th anniversary with a series of in-store events, interactive experiences and a virtual store in the metaverse, celebrating its history and embracing its role in contemporary culture. “150 years is a long time to maintain your business, stay relevant and continue to have opportunities for the future,” says Berman. 

The flagship store in NYC hosted a 2000 person gala in the store with a performance by Jack Harlow and guests including Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger, Lindsey Vonn and Jared Leto. 

“It was so vibrant, it was like a nightclub,” recalls Berman. “The energy that came from it was amazing. The goal was for everybody to see the brand in its best light but it also garnered billions of media impressions. Our colleagues, our customers and the industry really felt phenomenal about this milestone and we want to maintain it. We can't rest on our laurels.”

The brand’s mission is to guide and inspire customers to make fashion a source of creative energy in their lives. “It should just feel fun,” Berman explains. “I don't want to say it's not serious, we are a serious business. But we're a place to buy wants not needs. You want the things that we carry, you want luxury brands, you want the luxury lifestyle, you want to have fun and feel good and look good and that gives you the confidence to be the type of person that you want to be.”

Brand Innovators caught up with Berman from his office in New York to talk about 150 year anniversary celebrations, omnichannel innovation and more than 30 years with the brand. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

What is your vision as CMO of Bloomingdale's?

The overarching vision is just to continue to ensure that our brand remains as relevant today, as it's been for the last 150 years. There's been 11 different CEOs over the course of the last 150 years and lots of changes socially, economically and in the retail space, obviously the whole internet era. When I began my career over 30 years ago, media was more of a one-way communication stream. Today there are influencers, social media and mobile devices. 

The landscape is very different but who we are through all of those changes has remained relatively constant. We're a place that guides and inspires. It's a place of discovery. We're a fun destination for an experience versus just a transactional business. People come to the store for retail therapy. It's a fun place to shop. It's aspirational, but also approachable. We serve four generations of customers, multiple genders in different categories across multiple price points.

Who is your core audience?

We have a core consumer in mind who's fashionable, stylish, fun and youthful in spirit regardless of age. She is up to date with the latest trends not just in fashion but also within pop culture. Bloomingdale's has managed to purposely stay attuned to what's happening in pop culture, which has influenced the experience that we provide for our customers beyond just the merchandise that we highly curate. 

Our 150th anniversary our vision was yes to make a nod to our iconic past, but really with an eye toward the future. How do we make Bloomingdale's continue to be the No. 1 destination for all of your personal style needs with our current customer base? It’s about who are the customers we have today and who are the customers we want for tomorrow? How does our marketing and experience tap them so that there's more mindshare for Bloomingdale's? 

The same can be said about keeping our colleagues inspired. We talk a lot about brand storytelling to three different constituencies –our customers of today and tomorrow and colleagues of today and tomorrow and then, of course, the industry.

Can you talk about your digital business?

We have made a commitment to be customer-centric and customer-obsessed. A lot of brands say that, and then don't necessarily do it. We are really committed to trying to do that. As we think about the consumer, it really doesn't matter to us where she or he shops, whether it's in stores or online. 

There are sales professionals you see in store and then the sales professionals you can interact with online. It's really about how we can deliver the total Bloomingdale's experience, regardless of where you're engaged with us in the shopping funnel. We're moving in this direction of not talking about our online business and our store business, it’s more about our customer base. Instead we are looking at the customer journey. There are limitless ways where the customer can engage with our brand, which is great. 

Can you talk about the Bloomie’s concept stores?

Beyond our full line store experience, we have concept stores called Bloomies. It's a more highly curated smaller box. We've got two locations that are open right now, one in Old Orchard Mall in Illinois and Bloomie’s Mosaic in Fairfax, VA, which was in an existing market where we have a full line store. It’s about 30,000 square feet and about more casual fashion and provides a more intimate experience. Sales professionals sell the whole store. There's a big dedication to the stylists program. It is also a hub for picking up merchandise or buying online and picking up in a store location. We have a third location that will be opening up in Seattle in the fall, which will be an entirely new market where there is no full line store. That'll be interesting, coming in with a 19,000 square footprint in a major market, in the backyard of a major competitor. 

We're learning from these stores. How many of the customers that we already have from the full line store went there and who are the new customers that we're attracting? We are trying to make the experience as personalized as possible by connecting with sales professionals, stylists or personal shoppers. 

You had been with Bloomingdale's for more than 30. Can you talk about how having all of this experience within the brand has helped shape your perspective in your current role?

It was much less noisy when I started. We were primarily focused on direct marketing. We did catalogs. We didn’t have the targeted ability we have through email and other digital channels. It was very much a one-way communication of what we as retailers and also the brands under us thought. We could tell the story, and there was no one talking back to us. We told you here are the trends you want to go after and the brands you should like.

My first 15 years, it was much more than in that direction. Then the rise of the Internet and mobile devices and social media came into play and it's a completely different world. There are many more voices out there. It's required us to really sharpen our efforts and make sure that Bloomingdale's distinct point of view is clear. What's important from merchandise curation to the way we go about telling our stories, we think of ourselves as fashionable and fun. Getting dressed in the morning shouldn't be a chore. 

How are you dealing with the impacts of inflation?

One of the things we've learned through the pandemic is how to stay more in control of our inventory. We also talk about a chase mentality, how do we make it so that we can be more agile and flexible to make decisions in the moment versus burden ourselves with buying everything upfront? It can be about merchandise or about our marketing plans and who we're partnering with. We've got to be a little bit more nimble with the way that we allocate our budget in different media distribution channels. You don't want to miss an opportunity, but you don't want to be in a place where, ‘Oh, my goodness. Now we have to liquidate all this stuff. Now our marketing efforts have to shift more toward fixing a problem versus going after an opportunity.’ 

We're also thinking a lot about the top of the file. Like a lot of aspirational brands, we do a disproportionate amount of business with a small group of consumers. We’re in the fortunate place that things like inflation haven't impacted our core customer base, as much as they may have impacted other more mass retailers that reach different economic levels. We are focusing on that top customer who spends a disproportionate amount. Top-of-the-list customers spend an average $15,000 a year with us minimum. They're shopping with us more than 30 times a year. They have preferred sales associates. Through relationship building with this small group and thinking about how to make their experience better, there's a lot of opportunity. It's just incredibly important to the future of our business. 

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