Former CEO of Victoria’s Secret on how to build a brand empire

Posted on November 17, 2021

Updated on November 19, 2021

4 min read time

Sharen Jester Turney is Victoria’s Secret’s former CEO. A woman that doubled profits and increased revenue by 70% in her decade working there and the powerhouse who is now responsible for advising global brands, like Marks and Spencer, Gloria Jeans and Cosmo Lady. 

 

Nadim Sadek is a multiple founder and CEO, currently of ProQuo AI and previously of whiskey-to-music brand, Inish Turk Beg and Sadek Wynberg Research, the world’s largest qual agency.

 

In this exclusive interview, Nadim Sadek interviews Sharen Jester Turney about her time at Victoria’s Secret, her top tips for building a relevant brand, and her opinion on technology and data in marketing.

 

 

Tune into the webinar here or keep reading to find 5 key takeaways from the session.

 

 

Sharen’s top tips on building a relevant brand

 

1) Focus on your customer and your product

 

Working for Neiman Marcus early on in her career taught Sharen a thing or two about process. In her own words, ‘process is essential for ensuring controlled chaos in any business’.

 

Sharen’s advice for marketers is to focus on product and customer at the beginning of any process.

 

To do so, you need a firm understanding of the category you’re operating in.

 

Using Victoria’s Secret as an example, Sharen explains how the company is in the ‘lingerie market’ not the ‘underwear market’. This clear category distinction guides everything they do, informing the types of products they create and the types of customers they target.

 

If you’re creating lingerie, you then have to think about what would be aspirational and appealing to the types of women that buy lingerie, and you have to consider what kinds of products and category extensions fit into this picture. For example, it makes sense for a lingerie brand like Victoria’s Secret to expand into perfume and swimwear, as these categories are closely related to lingerie – with ideals like ‘making a woman feel confident’ at their core.

 

Ultimately what you create needs to sell, so there must still be a clear commercial motive behind it. And since everything a brand does is for its customer, it’s crucial to drill down into the customer’s wants and needs before you can begin on creative development.

 

Consider:

  • What types of customers are you serving?
  • And what are their most important needs? 

 

2) Making your brand relevant

 

Sharen discusses the beloved character of Mickey Mouse.

 

Mickey started out as a cartoon but quickly evolved – moving onto movies, merchandise and books. He became a huge commercial entity, and his legacy is still intact today, over 90 years later.

 

To ensure relevancy, the character has evolved with the times – becoming cooler as time went on and adapting to new situations as they arose.

 

It’s important to think of your brand in these same terms. As it’s not just what you sell that will determine whether you’re a success but it’s also your voice, how you present yourself, and how you keep yourself relevant over time.

 

As Sharen puts it, ‘once you’ve got a good idea, everyone will be coming after it, so how you adapt it will be the determining factor in ensuring relevancy.”

 

She advises marketers to think of a brand like a lifecycle. Young brands are fresh, in tune with the times, and relevant. But older brands need to work harder to keep up. Sharen places the emphasis on design, quality and newness when evolving your brand, and on continuously thinking about what your customers want to see from you.

 

The most influential people to impress at this stage are the 18–28-year-old age range. This is the group that changes the most, that’s the most open to new things, and onto the latest trends the quickest. In Sharen’s opinion, you must ensure you target this group well, otherwise you’ll die out.

 

3) Big ideas or details?

 

Sharen believes you need a firm grasp of both in order to be successful.

 

She describes the process of building a brand like making a movie. Take, James Bond. He’s been around for a long time but there are some things that never change about his character. He’s always English, he always drives a fast car, and he always says the lines ‘shaken not stirred’.

 

The actors, gadgets and cars may change but there’s always some key elements that stay the same.

 

If all of a sudden James Bond became French and chose to drink red wine, it’s not the same movie.

 

With brands, it’s the same idea. You need consistency for your customers to believe in you and to want to continue to buy your products.

 

You cannot develop a brand without consistency of message and clarity of mission.

 

 

Sharen Event Blog - Body

 

4) Embrace data

 

Data is the most important thing in determining success. If you want to know whether you’re delivering a product your customer wants, data is the answer.

 

Research, seeing what’s happening in the world, and asking your customers, are all valid ways of informing what your next innovation should be.

 

But data collection is still no simple feat in the marketing world.

 

“We used to spend a lot of time segmenting data, collecting it, looking at our competition, and analyzing this information to find actionable insights out of it. We didn’t have the luxury of bringing all that together in a quick way. It would take weeks to analyze this data.”

 

So many businesses are struggling to find efficient ways to analyze data. Even at Victoria’s Secret, Sharen admits they had too much data to handle – from product analytics to e-commerce metrics, and more. A huge challenge facing the brand was assimilating this data and finding value out of it.

 

That’s why Sharen is such a technology advocate. She believes not in ‘technology for technology’s sake’ but in choosing smart tech that brings you speed, efficiency, information, and knowledge.

 

At ProQuo AI, our platform helps brands to create strategies, optimize assets and monitor ongoing progress.

 

Having worked closely with us, Sharen has seen first-hand the value of our always-on AI powered platform.

 

“When brands spend so much money on advertising, engagement and building a narrative for themselves, it’s crazy that so much of this cash is wasted. But with ProQuo, you can walk in on Monday morning, look at your dashboard, and know instantly how you’re doing. You can find your success story in seconds, rather than having to wait for one ROI stat to come in and then try to find action from this single result.”

 

5) What 3 things should brands have to grow?

 

People - Do right by your people. They are the heartbeat of your brand, breathing life into it every day.

Innovation - Be open to new things and look at innovation in different ways. Innovation can be the smallest thing. Take Apple’s thumbprint on the iPhone or facial recognition system.

Passion - Love what you do. Be passionate, have fun, and be curious.

 

To watch the full talk with Sharen Jester Turney and Nadim Sadek, click here.

 

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