CMO of the Week: David Yurman's Carolyn Dawkins

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As chief marketing officer of luxury jewelry brand David Yurman since January, Carolyn Dawkins has the opportunity to tell a brand story about a family of visionary designers to a wide range of consumers. 

Carolyn Dawkins likes to talk about “balancing heritage and a little bit of heresy” when it comes to brand building and storytelling. 

As chief marketing officer of luxury jewelry brand David Yurman since January, she has the opportunity to tell a brand story about a family of visionary designers to a wide range of consumers. 

The company was founded by David and Sybil Yurman in New York City in 1980 and today is run by their son Evan Yurman. “David and Sybil Yurman are exceptional artists who through their creativity, crafted this beautiful jewelry, this beautiful lens on design,” says Dawkins. “Evan Yurman has continued the tradition. To be able to pick up a founder-created brand and tell that story to that next generation of consumers is super exciting.” 

Dawkins says her vision is “unlocking what is the essence of the story.” “There are so many stories to tell, because all three humans have got such a strong vision and had such a strong fingerprint in terms of guiding this brand,” she adds. “I have the opportunity to amplify and bring to life this phenomenal brand.” 

The brand works with celebrity ambassadors including Scarlett Johansson and Shawn Mendes, and the recently signed Sofia Richie Grainge (Lionel Richie’s Gen Z daughter). She stars in a fall campaign to promote a new Sculpted Cable collection. The campaign helps the brand connect to younger audiences and has led the brand into the holiday season. “There's so much opportunity for us to become more connected to consumers, for consumers to be more familiar with our brand, and also some of our key collections,” explains Dawkins. 

Dawkins joined David Yurman from The Estee Lauder Co. She has also held senior marketing positions at GSK, Google, L’Oreal and Coty. Brand Innovators caught up with Dawkins from her office in New York to talk storytelling, innovation and holiday. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

What is your approach to storytelling?

The first thing I always spend time on is unlocking the truth of the brand. What is the brand story at the core and then how does that structurally come together? What matters to different customer segments when you're trying to connect with them upfront so they start to feel that awareness and familiarity, but then also to really engage them and start to shift them to consideration and conversion. What makes the brand either new, better or different versus the competitive set and then how do you translate that for different consumers? 

We have got so many different customer segments that interact with that brand in social –both behavioral –how they think about the category– but then also demographics. It could be age, it could be geolocation. There's a lot of different content on there to tell the different facets of the brand. Evan Yurman’s very passionate about the multiple facets in his brand. For example, you'll see some beautiful content focused on Sculpted Cable with Sofia Richie Grange, telling the story of a very unique innovative material. Those different facets of the story coming to life is what makes this brand so magical to consumers.

Can you talk about who your main audiences are?

Because we've got such rich first-party data, we can look at our consumers from a number of different angles. One of the areas that has helped us really understand the consumer is the psychographic approach to the category. There are some consumers who may be coming into prestige jewelry for the first time. They have a really different need, in terms of what stories they'll engage with. What are the barriers for them to decide on a brand or a product? What are the products that they find most relevant to them and then how to curate a collection so they are actually engaged and stay within a brand. 

We look at it a lot based on the psychographic approach to the category but then we can also cross tabulate that with behavioral segmentation. So when are they coming in? What is the frequency, what's the collection they purchase? What's the most likely second purchase? It does vary based on the mindset for the category, but then it's also based on what they actually do. 

The reason we have to do that is because our appeal is really broad. We're just as relevant today to Gen Z as we are to a 55-60+ consumer. There's different psychographic references across all of those. For example, one of our segments is a prestige beginner. In theory, you would think that's Gen Z. But for some consumers, that could be a 40 year-old. It could cross multiple different demographics. Using that type of model has allowed us to become much sharper, particularly when we start to think about personalization.

How are you thinking about personalization?

Your online platforms are always the best place to start in order to test and learn. We run a lot of test and learn throughout our CRM. We are in some early stages of personalization. We'll see a lot more personalization starting to come through in email and on site for 2024. We also have a really rich, loyal customer base. So really building out the plan to reward, engage and celebrate that consumer will also have much more personalization. 

One of the other things that you can see us doing as well is starting to evolve creative and campaign structures to reflect that. So the creative we are crafting depends on the phasing of a campaign, the consumer segment, the particular product that we're focused on. The other piece is how we work with our media partners and how we're using much stronger AI-based signals and machine learning-based signals to sharpen both the targeting and the laboring up and down of certain creative.

How are you thinking about innovation?

One of the most exciting things about David Yurman is the innovative materiality that is sitting inside of our product. You see a lot of this in our Men's collections. Evan [Yurman] has a really creative mind and has focused on identifying unique materials that can be elevated to create prestige jewelry experiences. In some of our men's collections, we use forged carbon. It's fundamentally the same material that you would see in a Formula One vehicle. It's been really carefully honed, exposed to extreme temperatures to solidify the material. It's such a unique component. There's another collection that is based on a meteorite, that has been crafted into a beautiful, unique product, which is not common in this industry. Evan is constantly on the quest for what other materials can we identify to push that further out.

One of the other areas of innovation is our content. We are evolving a lot on TikTok. One of the other places that we're really focused on innovating is also experiences. Experiences can include physical-based retail expressions all the way through to highly immersive digital experiences. 

Can you talk about how your experience at other brands has helped you in your current role?

If you map my career working in CPG, you get learnings in terms of the strategic structure of how to approach marketing, what to look for, what are the problems? What are the opportunities? What's the data needed to solidify the optimal direction, how to craft a strategy. Then how to execute against that. What does the powerhouse 360 go-to-market look like? 

The analytics and the structure I've learned through CPG, moving into beauty and spending time in organizations like L'Oreal and Estee Lauder. This is where innovation and creativity really came through. L'Oreal is a master of innovation and creativity. Being inside of that organization, working with such brilliant talent, who are masters in that domain, definitely helped embed that within me.

The time at Google was such a gift in terms of understanding the inside out of digital platforms, and data-driven marketing. Having the opportunity to mine segments of Google's metadata to support multiple brands on their campaign journeys was such an opportunity. I get to wrap all of this up and bring it to David Yurman. I get to balance all of it whilst I'm continuing to learn and grow. David Yurman has some of the richest stories to tell that I've ever had the opportunity to work on. The luxury space continues to evolve. David Yurman is continuing to build my skill set.

How is inflation impacting your consumer and what are you doing about that?

One of the things that has definitely come through that impacts our consumers is demand for brands that they can trust. Consumers want to believe in longevity. They want to believe that they're buying something that the brand is committed to. This idea of an “it bag” or item has really dissipated, particularly in the luxury space. Consumers want to ensure that their investment is a long term investment. We do very well in terms of consumer trust scores and longevity. That's a key tenant of our brand. We will continue to focus on building that trust and ensuring that we are focused on collections that we continue to evolve and grow so the consumer can believe in and can stay with those. 

What's interesting about our brand is we see gifting through generations. What's beautiful about our brand as well is that consumers will often come in through a gifting moment or a self purchase moment. We have multiple materials inside of our brands. We range from everything from silver to gold, all the way through to high jewelry. We do see that consumers can flex and they can navigate throughout our collection and throughout our pricing tiers, depending on whatever moment it is. It could be a different gifting moment, it could be a different self-purchasing moment. It could be a different financial threshold that they're focused on. Our brand is able to help that consumer stay within the brand and move through. As a result, we have a really strong retained customer base, who are very passionate and loyal to the brand. 

Can you talk about your holiday plans?

Brands have started their holiday programs very early this year. They are very much jumping in front of the consumer as early as possible. But what can happen when you start this early is the consumer can fatigue very quickly. We have the exceptional Sculpted Cable campaign that launched in September. The campaign has performed extremely well for us. We don't want to turn it off anytime soon. We're continuing to focus on this, whilst we're watching consumers get ready for holiday. 

The second piece is we have a phased campaign that's really focused first on how the consumers shop throughout the period. Consumers actually start with self purchases. They have a different price point for self purchases. We have content designed for self budgets that will start to go first. Then they move closer towards family in the next phase and then extend whether it's friends, teachers, etc. We have a phased campaign that allows us to move as the consumer moves.

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