Igloo coolers doesn’t have much to prove. A brand that’s been part of the fabric of American life for 75 years, the Igloo name is also known by a whopping 90% of consumer households.
But that doesn’t mean their work is done.
Today, Igloo is going back to basics and charting a new DTC strategy. Far from aiming to compete with its healthy retail partnerships, the goal is to enhance them.
Connecting with the consumer one-on-one is always a good thing. Brian Garofalow is the Chief Marketing Officer at Igloo, and he’s excited to be working on things that customers want.
Whether that’s a limited edition Star Wars partnership, a cooler made out of recycled materials, or the matching lunchbox and water bottle that a busy mother is craving, it’s all about - in his words - creating things that are “cool as heck.”
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The Igloo legacy
Igloo’s logo conjures up memories of childhood camping trips and fishing excursions. The result of this decades-old nostalgia is that customers are already hard-wired to want to love the Igloo product.
For Brian, strategy at Igloo starts with tapping into that deep-seated brand equity. But dusting it off isn’t enough - the next step is figuring out what modern customers are looking for from the Igloo brand.
That's our cheat code. So when you think about consumer brands and authenticity, like, we can do what we do today because the generations before us did that in the 50s, 60s, 70s. So we're doing our best job in brand-building to create these emotional connections to consumers.
“But it's relatively easy for me to do this with a consumer like you, because you already want to love us so bad because of that experience you just talked about. And we literally invented the world's first plastic cooler in the early 50s. And there's so many stories like that.
Also a big part of our brand is we're durable. We make products that are generational. So there's literally millions of stories in the US of people that are core consumers today that remember the brand with fond memories because of road trips with their family way back when. And they still have that product in the garage somewhere. And there is a big secondary market for that.
But again, like cheat code for Igloo, like people love us because of what happened 40 years ago, 30 years ago, 20 years ago. And we can dust off some really great brand equity and bring it to the forefront of what we do today.”
Seeking a one-to-one relationship with consumers
While Igloo has been around for decades, their direct-to-consumer strategy has not. In the quest to figure out what modern-day customers desire, the brand is retracing their footsteps and seeking to establish a DTC audience.
For Brian and team, the challenge in pursuing DTC relationships lies in doing so without cannibalizing their existing retail business. When done right, the data gained from DTC can only serve to enhance all of the brand’s strategies, across all of its many channels.
“We have had all these incredible relationships with retail customers and buyers, but have been at arms length from our end consumers. So I think to your point, it's really about having that one-to-one relationship with the consumer.
So the challenge internally was, OK, we don't have a ton of data, because we haven't been dealing direct with consumers for so long. So one, we had to go build a thesis around it. And with what we can scramble together, who are our core consumers? How are the consumers that want to buy directly from us different than those that are buying from one of our retail partners?
And then, what are the products that we need to put in the pipeline to go design, develop, and distribute direct to consumer versus at retail? Because we are a ubiquitous name. People love us at retail. They're trained to buy us at retail. So we don't need to go compete with that sale.”
“And there are products that we're not offering at retailers that we can be offering direct to consumer. And the more success we have there, the more data we get, the better informed our product development team can be. And I think that was really the difficult piece, is kind of getting that data engine built.”
“But then the real benefit from it that we've been able to experience at the business is now we understand so much more about our consumers that we're able to use our direct to consumer channel as a testing ground of hey, we're seeing a lot of activity over here. I think those consumers would also like this product, and we can launch it so much faster on a direct to consumer channel.”
DTC as a testing ground for retail
Smart businesses don’t look at channel data in isolation. When Igloo learns something new from their DTC relationships, they are quick to circle back and implement those findings within the framework of their retail partnerships. From content creation to customer reviews, everything Igloo learns in one area serves to drive the brand forward in another.
“Retail is so sophisticated today where they have all of this data because they're selling direct to consumer as well. And there's just so many different paths for this to happen, where sometimes we act as a job shipper for a retailer.
So we're getting an EDI data transfer daily that's telling us what's happening and when it's happening. Or we have a third party relationship with potentially Amazon or we have a direct selling relationship with one of our retailers, like Academy Sports or a Wal-Mart, where they're owning their entire DTC function.”
“And we're working with them on everything from merchandising to content creation, a go-to-market calendar, and supporting them with everything from content on PDPs to customer reviews, et cetera, et cetera. So all the learnings that we're able to take from our direct to consumer relationships, we're also able to work with our retail partners.”
Identifying key consumer groups
Whether a company is large or small, every brand has to confront the question of where to allocate limited resources. Igloo’s market is complicated since their product serves many use cases across many geographies.
Brian describes how the bulk of Igloo’s resources are channeled to four key groups that account for the majority of the brand’s sales. After aligning resources in those pillar areas, they can fill in the gaps with interesting experiments and fun opportunities.
“I think every single person out there that works in consumer goods as a brand marketer has the exact same question in their mind at all times of resource allocation. So when you're selling a very specific type of bicycle part that only a very specific amount of consumers want to use that might even be tied to a geography like, great. I'm spending 100% of my time, people, and money focused on that effort.”
“But when you're Igloo and you sell coolers for every single use case across every single outdoor activity - lunches, commercial applications - our job with the resource allocation is to understand what are the big swings.”
“So we've actually defined four key consumer groups that account for the vast majority of our distribution. We know in kind of the macro-scale how much of those four consumer groups spend or take up of our overall revenue chunk. And we align the resource there.
And then when it comes to filling in the gaps with interesting opportunities that pop up or something like that, then it's kind of the opportunistic resource there where it's like if we have time for this, great. But we're really, really focused on something like a new mom who ends up in the head of household purchasing role as well. And she's buying products for herself, her children, and her family. That's a customer that is very important to us, and we definitely over-index on.”
Identifying trends versus anomalies
Igloo hasn’t identified its core customer groups by accident. With the help of modern technology, Brian and his team can analyze consumer sales data in new and useful ways.
Perhaps the most useful to date has been the ability to pinpoint true sales trends, such as the fact that 25% of group X is likely to buy product Y. Once you understand what the numbers are telling you, you can recommend new products in ways that are more personalized and authentic.
“I think there's a really standardized playbook these days of, you know, all these different things that everybody should be doing all the time. And if you're doing them right, things are just going to work as long as you've got the right brand, the right product, the right story, and everything fits together.
So what we've been doing I think well, that has been working for us, is matching a lot of our different digital marketing tools, specifically getting some consumer data, working with a CVP platform, working with some marketing automation software, specifically email.”
“And we've been able to identify things like when a consumer buys a specific product, that cohort is always likely, or say 25% of that group, is coming back to buy product number two. And I'm a big data nerd. So we get to the point of like this is a trend, not an anomaly. We've got statistical significance. And then we just get to automate marketing and wow.”
Now at scale, 25% of the people that bought this product are buying this product for no cost. Just because we've identified it and emailed them, or put a pop up in front of them hey, you're likely going to like this product as well.”
Licensed products come with a built-in audience
Igloo has worked on special designs with everyone from Disney and Star Wars to the Parks Project though licensing agreements. The definition of licensing is borrowing somebody’s IP to create something new and exciting. For Igloo, licensing is all about positioning. This means determining what types of license categories of licenses make sense, and what products consumers are interested in.
At first glance, licensed partnerships are expensive. But Brian explained that when you think about the huge fanbase and lower acquisition costs of these built-in audiences, it makes a lot of sense. Plus, it’s just plain fun.
“The hook with licensing and why so many people do it is because you're getting access to a built-in audience.”
“And if I'm going to build out the business case on an Excel spreadsheet, then we're kind of trading apples and oranges when you think about the cost of the license and a royalty fee versus a customer acquisition cost to how many people are going to be coming to you without having to spend on one of the tactics you normally would, just because they love the brand, they love the idea, they heard the news.
The licensed product definitely spreads faster on social media. And when people buy it, they love sharing it. And that's a huge part about our businesses and our positioning, is we're fun. And licensing makes a lot of sense when we do fun licenses because it puts smiles on people's faces and they love showing off their coolers.
You know, they're the hit at parties when you walk in and you've got this big Igloo Playmate with amazing graphics over it, and immediately says something about the person who's holding it. So that's kind of your acquisition part.
And then your attention part is you build an emotional connection with the consumer, and chances are they're going to come back to buy another product regardless of what it is. Because they're immediately just going to be turned on to the brand.”
Retail shouldn’t be a chore
At the end of the day, Brian believes that the best retailers provide an experience. This means that instead of just a clinical translation that exchanges money for a need, it’s something innovative and memorable.
Brian pictures an exciting future of immersive, creative retail experiences. In his fantasy, the world is one filled with shopping opportunities that meld the digital and physical worlds - such as limited edition pop-ups, digital art galleries, and customized products.
“What I love, the trend that I've seen over the years and where I've had the best experience personally, is when retail becomes more of an experience rather than a chore.”
“As you know in our conversations, I kind of have a little bit of the futurist mind where, you know, any time something turns into a chore and you have to do it more than a couple of times, I want a robot to do it for me. But a robot can never give me the emotional experience that I have when you go into a store that has just incredible merchandising, you learn stuff, they have a phenomenal staff, limited edition products, pop-up stores, things like that.
Anybody in the L.A. area, if you went to the Stranger Things pop up that happened and that’s still going on in downtown L.A., I thought that's a phenomenal experience. I could see more of that happening.
But also, I love the idea of like a digital art gallery. Like I want to walk into a physical store and see all these pieces of NFTs as holograms and be able to, you know, not touch but kind of have an experience with something and be able to buy a digital good with almost a physical experience. Or to be able to go into a store and just build any product that you think you want, and be able to have it made immediately. I think things like that could be super, super cool.”
Some brands are fortunate to experience a “moment:” a time period when they experience a craze in popularity. Others are iconic, keeping a slow burn of interest going over many years. Igloo captures both. With a long-time fan base across the nation, they have also generated excitement over limited-edition licensed products and artistic partnerships. The secret to success lies in a lot of traditional testing and research, combined with a whole lot of fun.
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