Five Questions for Cole Haan's New CMO

Ivan Wicksteed Looks to Fine-Tune Brand Identity

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Ivan Wicksteed
Ivan Wicksteed Credit: David X Prutting / BFAnyc.com

It seems like the Windy City just doesn't have the flair it used to. Cole Haan, a luxury brand originally founded in Chicago, is moving away from its past to focus on its future as a New Yorker.

Cole Haan tapped Ivan Wicksteed, an alum of Converse and Coca-Cola, as its chief marketing officer three months ago. Since then, Mr. Wicksteed's focus has been on providing the 84-year-old brand with a fresh marketing perspective and a clear identity. In the process, he has shaken up the brand's marketing mix by moving away from print media, the mainstay of most fashion brands.

"I think one of the reasons that Cole Haan has struggled a little bit with its identity is because it hasn't had a clear sense of where it's from," Mr. Wicksteed told Ad Age . "I'm just trying to break that paradigm."

Mr. Wicksteed declined to comment on Cole Haan's sales figures, and parent company Nike does not break them out.

Working with agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York, Cole Haan is hoping a focus on the Big Apple will translate to its 180 retail locations throughout the U.S., Canada and the Middle East. Although the marketing budget has not increased significantly, Mr. Wicksteed says he's done away with traditional marketing approaches and directed more attention toward content development and digital content.

Here, Mr. Wicksteed, stepping aside during a recent event at the brand's SoHo flagship, fills Ad Age in on his new role, Cole Haan's identity crisis and the big push for a different strategic direction.

Ad Age : How was the transition from Converse to Cole Haan?

Mr. Wicksteed: It's pretty different. Even though Converse and Cole Haan are both owned by Nike , Converse is a brand that has a pretty good sense of who it is and where it's going. Cole Haan is more of a turnaround, from a brand point of view. I think it needs a pretty fundamental, deep dive into who it is , where it's going and who it sells to. So it's really interesting. I've never really done any kind of brand turnaround before, so it's a completely different type of challenge.

Ad Age : What preconceptions did you have coming in and how did they change as you became more familiar with the brand?

Mr. Wicksteed: Well, I'm still getting adjusted to it but the first order of priority was to really try and figure out what the soul of the brand is all about; try and get to the heart of why this brand exists. I spent the first month focusing on that question.

Ad Age : What is your strategic vision for the Cole Haan brand?

Mr. Wicksteed: It's a pretty radical departure from what they've done in the past in terms of their communication. This is really my first job in fashion, because I think of Converse as a culture brand. Coming into the world of fashion, pretty much every fashion company behaves in exactly the same way. It's very print-driven, very much about the models and photographers and styling -- there's kind of an absence of ideas in the approach. It's more about style than substance. So I pretty much killed the entire traditional print budget in my first week and channeled all of that into content development, social media and digital. It's not a significant increase from last year; it's just a different use of it. I think we've pretty much been doing something similar the last 15 years, so that 's about to change.

It's as much of a social-media campaign as it is an advertising campaign. Mostly nontraditional media, although we are starting to own some real estate in Manhattan, so you'll start to see, increasingly, Cole Haan having a presence in out-of -home.

Ad Age : What prompted this new campaign?

Mr. Wicksteed: We feel like it's important to put a stake in the ground to say Cole Haan is from New York City, because this is where all of our products get designed. This is the first campaign that really expresses that attitude of being from New York City. The campaign is "Subway Stories." It follows different people on their journeys around New York.

Ad Age : You launched the 'Urban Explorers' campaign last month. How does that relate to 'Subway Stories'?

Mr. Wicksteed: They're different chapters of the same campaign. The campaign is about being from New York, but specifically it's the idea of capturing the movement of New York City. The Urban Explorer campaign was really about how do you get about New York City during the winter. So it was about the hidden watering holes and the ice skating and the different places people go -- an insider's guide to getting around the city during the winter. The "Subway Stories" is about spring, and on the back of [it] is the spring campaign. Then we've got the summer campaign coming in a couple of weeks, so it's all one campaign.

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