Former Starbucks Exec Pushes Kohl's Forward in Digital, Social Space

Michelle Gass Plans to Roll Out 'an Evolved Playbook'

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Michelle Gass
Michelle Gass

Michelle Gass is gearing up for her first holiday season at Kohl's.

The former Starbucks executive joined the retailer in June as the chief customer officer, overseeing marketing, e-commerce and omnichannel experiences. In the absence of a chief marketing officer -- a role Kohl's has had previously -- Ms. Gass is leading the retailer's holiday push, which is slated to kick off in early November. She hedged when asked whether she planned to bring on a CMO, saying only that she's been busy assessing the organization, and that she's been pleased with the in-house talent.

"I've spent a lot of time in the field and stores, doing customer roundtables in back rooms of stores, talking to associates and getting a lay of the land," Ms. Gass said, adding that she's looking for ways to activate "an evolved playbook."

"There will be an element of surprise, disruption and social engagement," she said. "Coming in, there was an opportunity to amplify that a bit."

Kohl's has been vocal this year about its need to revamp its marketing approach, shifting more spending into TV and digital, while focusing on moms, particularly in the 35- to 54-year age group. The retailer has also slowly shifted away from an agency of record model, preferring to work with a broader roster of shops. It has worked with Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson New York and DeVito Verdi, New York.

Ms. Gass said she isn't ready to share the retailer's holiday plans just yet, though it's clear she plans to push Kohl's forward in the digital and social space. She highlighted the brand's exclusive relationships with the American Music Awards and "The Voice." The brand has been tweeting up a storm during NBC's signing competition.

It plans to use the American Music Awards, taking place the Sunday before Thanksgiving, to kick off its Black Friday campaign.

As it looks to better leverage its fans in social media, Kohl's plans to offer surprise sales and flash sample giveaways to its Facebook fans this holiday season. Store associates will also use an app that lets them share photo, video and customer stories from inside stores.

"We need to look at what's relevant in reaching our customers, and it will vary throughout the season," Ms. Gass said. "How we'll connect with her or him, we're looking at it very specifically day by day."

From a product perspective, Kohl's is expanding its toy, electronics and beauty offerings this season with exclusive products in addition to brands like Leapfrog, Beats by Dre, Pur Minerals and Lorac Cosmetics. The chain will also be adding TVs to its stores for the first time in years.

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