The Empowered Marketer: Catering to the High Fashion Buyer

High fashion is a highly competitive space.

Between powerful legacy brands and new, upstart ecommerce companies, it can be hard to reach picky, high-end customers.

But Aneesha Rao has fashion buyers down to a science. She’s the Strategy & Digital Marketing Manager for two different high-fashion online retailers: Need Supply and Totokaelo. Both brands have an intense focus on curating the very best products from a mix of well-known brands and up-and-coming independent designers.

The challenge is in appealing to buyers who all have very different needs, preferences, and styles all on one site. Aneesha is constantly working to provide value through marketing that is both thoughtful and highly personalized. She has a background in digital advertising at Google and later transitioned to working at Betabrand, a crowdfunded ecommerce fashion brand. This combination of tech skills and fashion savvy has served her well.

In this exclusive interview, Aneesha shares:

  • How to build an audience of incredibly loyal and engaged buyers
  • Why editorial content is so important in high fashion
  • How to personalize your marketing to individual buyers
  • …and much more.

Listen to Episode 18: The Empowered Marketer

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1. How do you balance managing two different brands that also curate products a number of different fashion brands?

A unifying factor across both companies is the styling team, which is so unbelievably important. Customers can view a product from an in-house line (for example Viden, within Totokaelo) paired with something from Acne Studios and really understand that stylistically, different brands can cohesively work together. We have a really impressive merchant team and our brand matrix is varied.

I’m very lucky to have a bird’s eye view of performance across both brands. The interesting thing about the digital space is that it’s a little bit agnostic in terms of company. In managing a digital advertising portfolio, the fundamental strategies are oftentimes very similar no matter what the brand is. That being said, I have been surprised over and over again when taking successful strategies from one brand and trying to apply it to the other to see it not working and vice versa. Understanding that the consumer for both brands is fundamentally different.

I like to think of consumers in terms of a variety of personas, and we certainly have a variety of demographics represented at both companies. I have to engage in thought exercises to conceptualize who I’m talking to and deliver a product or experience that’s valuable to them. This is really the fundamental strategy behind our marketing team — ensuring that each consumer is spoken to on an individual basis.

2. What are the differences between those two personas? What are the consumers for Need Supply and Totokaelo?

Our consumer skews young for both Need Supply and Totokaelo. Someone who is interested in fashion, certainly. Most of our customers live in coastal cities and are interested in: personal finance, travel, and fashion. I’m trying not to say the word “Millennial”, but yes, Millennial.

I think what’s really interesting are the differences. So for example, Need Supply has a really prominent customer in Dallas, and that person usually prefers bags and professional accessories. So they’re buying our Maryam Nassir Zadeh shoes, or J.W. Anderson bags. We also have our Los Angeles customer for Need Supply. Our female L.A. customer really likes Norse Projects. Our male customer in Los Angeles likes Alden shoes, which are of a higher price point and have a lot of brand notoriety.

We have a male customer in Canada who is usually wearing John Elliot Jeans and he really likes the Chelsea Boot, which is a boot by Common Projects. He’s also really into our assortment of  Stone Island jackets.

I’d say our best customers are probably our existing customers. So our goal is to make sure that not only do you love our products, but you look to us for trends in fashion, recommendations, and beyond. We want you to be a fan of our two companies and we want to earn that.

3. You have a really robust editorial section for both brands. Why did you choose to invest in this magazine-like feature for both sites?

The editorial sections are where we choose to comment on fashion going-ons. For example, Totokaelo has an office in New York, so a lot of the editorial content is New York-focused. But our creative team for Need Supply is based out of Los Angeles. Both cities provide beautiful backdrops and we’re trying to tell various stories whether those are predicting the trends for the summer, or casting light on the re-emergence of certain sartorial trends. Our editorials are a combination of what’s going to happen next, and a commentary on what’s happening. I think that we’re expanding our ability to comment on the industry of fashion as a whole the more we build out our editorial section. I think our creative teams at Need Supply and Totokaelo really knock our editorials out of the park.  

4. It seems like you really treat your customers like individuals. How do you think about that idea of personalization when it comes to marketing to your audience?

I think that that’s really, really necessary when it comes to speaking to your audience. As far as marketing strategy goes, we try and ensure that every action a customer takes that is relevant is factored into how they are delivered messaging. Whether that’s a dynamic brand insertion in an email, or a browse abandonment email, or an abandoned cart email. We want to understand when you have expressed an interest in our brand, and we’d like to further your interest by delivering content and products that you, specifically, are interested in.

As far as where I see personalization going, I think the way we think about email right now in the B2C space is pretty static. I think the entire process can be a little more dynamic; really, no two people should be receiving the same email. I’m not talking about just a dynamic component of the email, like a grid. I’m talking about the construction of the email: the layout, what content you’re delivered, etc. B2C companies, in order to stay in this space, have to progress quickly from a technology perspective to ensure that we’re always delivering what’s best for our customer.

Perhaps you have a customer who’s really interested in buying shoes once a month. Let’s make sure that they can do that. Maybe you have a customer who’s interested in reading editorials and they’re not really interested in buying. Let’s make sure that they can read the best editorials that we have.

We really just want to serve either content or products to people who want to see them. I think that effective marketing isn’t about convincing someone to buy something. That’s nice when it happens, but ultimately if it’s not the right fit and the customer isn’t happy with their product, that’s not a win for us.

It’s about showing the right products and the right content to the right people and hoping that something resonates that’s maybe a little bigger than our companies. I think fashion in its purest form is about identity, about assuming an identity that is yours and also constructing an identity. Fashion is so ephemeral and personal. The kind of intention that you take in building your outfit in the morning and being someone who cares about that on a fundamental level, I think that’s the person that we’re speaking to. That’s the kind of self-assured, self-possessed voice we hope we have. And while there are bumps in the road, you rebuild yourself, your outfit every day. Each time, you understand yourself a little better. It’s great to be part of a company that helps people find themselves.

5. When you offer buyers a mix of content, editorial, and different items that they might be interested in, how do you figure out what is the right mix? How do you test what will work best with each individual?

The trick is good logic. Logic constructions that allow the flexibility of, one, evaluating the testing method. Two, just giving us an indication of whether or not it’s working or not.

In terms of logic constructions, you can apply certain weights to various actions. For example, if someone clicks on a product that can have a certain weight. If someone buys a product that can have a certain weight. If someone looks at a product that can have a different weight. It’s a translation of a series of logic statements that reflects a successful customer journey based on behaviors. You’re working to quantify behavior and then, in turn, transform that into execution.

There are myriad ways to do that. The basic component is a strong foundation in data science. Applying your own biases and just testing whether or not your predictions actually materialize is a great way of understanding your customers. It’s a combination of quantitative and qualitative intelligence.

6.  How do you actually incentivize repeat purchases for your buyers and push them to become a loyal customer?

The way we think about our customers is certainly in the context of trying to ensure that if they feel passionate about the brands, they are a loyal customer. A lot of the strategy regarding the editorial content is part of this overarching loyalty strategy we’re actively working on. Ultimately, you want to make sure that you’re cultivating great customers and that they feel really connected to your brand.

We also have events here in Richmond, and in New York and LA creating that physical space for our loyal customers. We’ll have events and store raffles for Yeezy’s, for example. I think that that our local customer base really appreciates that there is that physical presence ensuring that people who really love fashion have a space.

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