What Levi's Learned from Apple

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Ad Age's first Digital West kicked off Tuesday morning on the same stage where Steve Jobs introduced some of Apple's biggest products, at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Arts Center. So it's serendipitous that two Apple veterans, Levi's global marketing leaders Rebecca Van Dyck and Brian Irving, would deliver the opening keynote and share some of their insights from their days at Apple headquarters in Cupertino.

Brian Irving, Rebecaa VanDyck and Ad Age editor Abbey Klaassen at Ad Age's Digital West conference in San Francisco Tuesday.
Brian Irving, Rebecaa VanDyck and Ad Age editor Abbey Klaassen at Ad Age's Digital West conference in San Francisco Tuesday. Credit: Tony Avelar

Ms. Van Dyck, Levi's global chief marketing officer, said she joined Apple in January 2007 on the same day as the MacWorld expo where Mr. Jobs introduced the first concept for the iPhone. It was that experience that left the most lasting impression on her as a marketer.

"[The iPhone] was something created from the outside in, by how it felt to the consumer and the user experience going through it," she told Ad Age editor Abbey Klaassen. "He gave it to the engineers and said, 'Make it fit in there.' It was first and foremost about the user experience. And that's how I approach marketing, that theme of focusing on the user experience and what's important to the customer."

Mr. Irving, Levi's VP-global digital marketing, said he gains the most insights and motivation just by being surrounded by the companies neighboring Levi's San Francisco headquarters. "I feel a responsibility to not only interact with that but be industry-leading on a global scale. If it's not going to be done here I don't know who can do it," he said.

Apple also taught Ms. Van Dyck that her customers don't differentiate between analog and digital experiences. "The checkout process at an Apple store is phenomenal," she said. "You're not there thinking 'That was a great technology experience. 'You're thinking that was a great experience.' That's our goal for everything that we do."

Levi's is just over one month into its first major global marketing effort, Go Forth, which encountered a major hiccup in the form of the London riots in August. Mr. Irving said technology played a huge role in helping the company adapt its message in a matter of hours. "It's not always just a digital response, it might be because of the conversation we're having in one medium that provides us the insight to act elsewhere," he said.

The Yerba Buena Arts Center in San Francisco
The Yerba Buena Arts Center in San Francisco Credit: Tony Avelar

Ms. Van Dyck added, "In the stores in the U.S. we say, 'Now is our time,' and in the U.K. we hold brooms as a symbol of solidarity for positive change," she said. (Brooms became a symbol in the U.K. as residents cleaned up after the riots.)

Levi's is still scratching the surface of its potential as a digital marketer, having just formally joined Facebook in 2009. Two years in, the brand has over 7.4 million fans there. "Facebook is a great relationship because it's a partnership and they take the time to be empathetic and understand who we are as a brand and what we're trying to achieve," Mr. Irving said.

And the company is open to further collaboration. "I don't have a list of the partners I'm dying to work with, but our ambitions are high for what we want to achieve with Levi's," he said. "We're looking for help building great connections with consumers and to understand what that means to us and to our consumers, more so than what the technology is that exists and how that can be sold in."

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