Going In-House: Why You Should Take Your Agency Expertise Client-Side

CMO Spotlight: Jackson Jeyanayagam, Boxed.com

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Jackson Jeyanayagam, chief marketing officer at Boxed.com.
Jackson Jeyanayagam, chief marketing officer at Boxed.com.  Credit: Boxed.com

"Can I say something controversial?" asks an energized Jackson Jeyanayagam, chief marketing officer of Boxed.com. "The ultimate goal is to take all of [your agency-side] experience and then end up on the brand side." Although Jeyanayagam spent 15 years working at digital agencies and just shy of three for brands, he's unequivocal about his recommendation.

"Starting out in agency life is an amazing experience," he admits. "You're doing so much and you have to keep up, and the people around you make you stay competitive and ahead of things." But he praises his first client-side leap to Chipotle (during its E. coli crisis, no less) with getting him closer to the business, the key decision makers and long-term strategic planning.

The case Jeyanayagam makes for brand-side migration -- especially to a fast-growing start-up like Boxed.com -- is indeed compelling. It also provides a remarkably precise blueprint for other CMOs for assembling the critical elements for success in this increasingly complicated role.

The singular goal
"New York agency life is so fast paced," Jeyanayagam recalls. "You're going a 100 miles an hour and working across 10 different verticals." In contrast, he now revels in the focus at Boxed.com. Driving the point home, he adds, "I love being brand-side because I can go deep and think long-term with one specific goal in mind." When asked about that goal, he offers two words: "delivering joy." This motto does triple duty as a rallying cry for employees, a simple promise to consumers and a commitment from leadership.

For employees, delivering joy provides a clear directive that customer satisfaction is the No. 1 organizational priority, and that they are empowered to surprise and delight every day. Jeyanayagam points to examples like handwriting personalized notes to customers and including creativity kits with crayons, with instructions for turning your delivery box into a "Beauty and the Beast"-inspired castle with your kid.

For consumers, delivering joy transforms what could be a basic transaction for paper towels into a unique and sharable experience. As the customer service team continues to raise the bar with personalized touches, the result is remarkable customer loyalty and strong word-of-mouth. They've also generated enough brand trust that Boxed.com can sell its own house brand, Prince & Spring.

For leadership, delivering joy translates into surprising acts of largesse. In one case, Boxed.com's CEO heard of an employee who was getting married and struggling with other financial obligations. So he decided to pay for the wedding, and subsequently set up a fund for other employees to help pay for their weddings or their kids' education.

As he describes each level of delivering joy, Jeyanayagam can't help but gush. "The unified approach toward building a business and having everyone feel like they're vested in the success of this company is like nothing I've seen before," he says.

The in-house team
When asked about his leadership style, Jeyanayagam cites tried-and-true principles like focusing first on building his team. "I knew it was really critical for our success to have the right people in the right places," he says. But rather than just hiring brand managers, he elected to bring both media buying and creative in house, noting, "We have a couple of great agencies, but I wanted that media-buying strategy to be tied at the hip with creative."

Jeyanayagam also saw advantages in having his creative talent inside Boxed.com. "I wanted my creative lead and my leadership to live and lead the brand," he says. "I wanted my creative director [an agency veteran he'd worked with in the past] to be here all day, every day and to sleep here if he had to. I wanted my Don Draper in here." The result is a team that knows the brand and the target inside and out, and can turn around work as fast as the rest of the operation.

As for the advantages of bringing media in house, Jeyanayagam says his team can focus on finding high-value customers and use data to better target them. "One of the things we're building up now is what is that segmentation looks like from a syndicated media standpoint," he says. Among these segments is one called #Adulting, which refers to millennials who are in the process of making grown-up life changes.

The in-house tech build
While many CMOs are agonizing over how much to spend on martech and which vendors to align with, Jeyanayagam and Co. are building out tech like AI and predictive analytics systems -- you guessed it -- in-house. Given that all of the Boxed.com founders come from tech backgrounds, "We inherently believe in building things first if we can," he says. "We are as much technology as e-commerce."

True to their commitment to delivering joy both internally and externally, the addition of a new automated fulfillment center did not lead to employee layoffs. "We're retraining the workforce with the goal of mirroring and matching human and intellectual capital with great technology," Jeyanayagam proudly says. By building all of this in-house, Boxed.com will have total control over both the employee and customer experience, and be able to "constantly iterate on that."

The accountability factor
While he acknowledges they're "flying the plane while we're building it," Jeyanayagam nonetheless wholeheartedly embraces the brand-side world. "I've never been more accountable for myself, what I do and how [much] I put in," he says. "The level of effort, from the intern all the way to the CEO, is at a level I've never seen before. Everyone is truly invested in this company and cares, and while it puts more pressure on you, it also makes your game that much better. "

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article identified Boxed.com's house brand as Princeton Selects. The brand is Prince & Spring.

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