This Is What Happened When Cosabella Fired Its Ad Agency

Jessica Binns
Senior Editor
Faced with the options of hiring more in-house marketing employees, finding a new agency or exploring marketing automation via artificial intelligence platforms such as Albert — which had been on Connell's radar for about 18 months — Cosabella opted for AI.

It's curious to think that a company that was forward-thinking enough to have a website and use chat rooms to talk to customers in the mid-'90s didn't have a digital marketing program in place in 2013. But that was largely because lingerie brand Cosabella, like many companies that start out as wholesalers, struggled with the advent of direct to consumer, says former marketing director Courtney Connell.

Today the family-owned company is making up for lost time by pushing the boundaries of digital innovation. In the years after Connell joined Cosabella in late 2013 as e-commerce manager, the company restructured several departments to streamline digital activities and replatformed e-commerce with Upshot Commerce, which was acquired by Mi9 Retail.

After Cosabella's double-digit growth began to slow, the company cut ties with its ad agency. "We were outsourcing every part of our digital program to this agency," explains Connell. "Our in-house team was creating the content but the agency was executing and I was in the middle. It was very inefficient. I saw that the people who knew the brand best weren't doing the campaigns."

Faced with the options of hiring more in-house marketing employees, finding a new agency or exploring marketing automation via artificial intelligence platforms such as Albert — which had been on Connell's radar for about 18 months — Cosabella opted for AI.

Albert tests creative content in seemingly endless combination in search, social and display channels, incorporating his learnings along the way and optimizing ad spend to deliver exponential results.

Implementation took less than a week and, says Connell, Albert took a few weeks after "ingesting" all of Cosabella's creative to analyze the content and optimize it for new campaigns. Now Cosabella runs one "campaign" per country, so in the United States, for example, Connell will give Albert a budget, tell him who to target (new customers, lookalikes, etc.), and which channels: search, social and display. From there, Albert "takes that broad spectrum and starts to pare it down," explains Connell. At first, the process was terrifying, she adds, with the fear/expectation that Albert was going to waste a lot of money. "But he didn't, and that's pretty cool."

Discovering new audiences means rethinking how to market to them. "Because we've noticed these pockets [of potential customers] that we've ignored, we've changed our content strategy," adds Connell. Now Cosabella works with multiple types of influencers, pairing campaign photos with bloggers' images to show how different types of women are interpreting the brand.

In the first month after launching Albert on Oct. 1, 2016, ad spend dropped 12 percent while return on search and social spend increased by 50 percent. Black Friday and Cyber Monday campaigns doubled the revenue from the year prior. Albert took social media paid ad revenue from between 5 percent and 10 percent to now 30 percent. Conversions coming from Facebook jumped 2,000 percent.

Albert has produced significant results on just about every level. Cosabella also is optimizing its website by using Ascend from Sentient Technologies, another AI provider. Ascend enables the retailer to  test different elements of the website, from the promo header ("Made in Italy" vs. "Free Shipping" vs. "Family Owned") to button colors to dropdown menus and photo sizes.

The program splits the website traffic between all of the possible combinations and once it understands which candidates for each element are strong, it starts to group them automatically, says Connell. The result: a 30 percent conversion lift and "a lot of work taken off my plate," she adds. The lingerie brand is also experimenting with Sentient's Aware program, figuring out the workflows.

One of the program's out-of-the-box capabilities is a discovery tool that refines the product assortment displayed to a shopper based on the product photos she clicks on. But the more intriguing idea that Cosabella is working to establish is an interface between Albert and Aware such that Albert can "tell" Aware what kind of ad visitors clicked on that led them to the site. So if they clicked on an ad featuring a blue bra, then the first product merchandised on the homepage they see should be that bra — a feature Connell describes as a "living landing page," which no one else is doing. From there, Cosabella would evaluate how to further merchandise the homepage — would similar colors be featured? Or silhouettes? Or maybe something from the same collection?

The goal, says Connell, is to deliver the kind of experience you'd expect in a high-end luxury boutique. The sales associate isn't going to show you the exact same product she shows to every other customer who comes in; she's going to tailor the shopping experience to you and your preferences.

Ideally, Cosabella would never have a human being merchandise the website ever again. "We just want to upload product and have everything be automatic from there," she says. "The whole website should be living, not just the category page."

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