Be transparent: This is generally true, but even more so for brands like Worthy dealing with high-ticket items, and particularly so when those items are the property of your customers. One of the ways we do that is by communicating every movement of the seller’s jewelry to them via text message and email at every step of the process.
As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steven Schneider, Chief Revenue and Operating Officer at Worthy, the premier online marketplace for fine jewelry. Worthy connects sellers with an exclusive network of professional buyers who bid against one another in an auction, earning the seller the absolute most for their piece. Steven is responsible for the Sales, Marketing and Operations and has been at the company for over two and a half years.
Prior to joining Worthy, Steven had various roles at Gilt and Hudson Bay Company, most recently serving as the SVP of Corporate Initiatives at HBC and as the President of Gilt City, Gilt Business Development International & Japan. In this role, he oversaw strategy and operations for Gilt City, the local experiences division of Gilt, which offers a curated selection of lifestyle experiences at insider prices in select U.S. cities. He also led the company’s Business Development and the execution of strategic partnerships, as well as the company’s Japan and International businesses. Previously, Steven served as the Vice President of Business Strategy for Gilt Groupe.
Previously, Steven served as the Chief Operating Officer of Gilt City and was responsible for strategy, marketing, events, and finance functions. He joined Gilt City in January 2012 after serving as Gilt’s Vice President of Business Strategy and, prior to that role, Senior Director of Operations Strategy.
Before joining Gilt, Steven was an Engagement Manager at McKinsey & Company for over five years. In that role, he worked with leading global retailers, digital media companies, travel purveyors, and logistics players on a multitude of topics tied to strategy and operations. Previously, he held various management roles at McMaster-Carr Supply Company for nearly four years.
Steven holds a Bachelor of Science in Business from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as well as an MBA from Columbia Business School.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was a consultant for years at McKinsey & Company where I worked with global retailers and digital media companies. I was always drawn to helping companies manage their business online and pave a new way for a customer experience. From there I went to Gilt which was really an industry disruptor at the time. I joined Worthy because it had many of the same qualities as Gilt: nothing like it existed. Sadly, before Worthy, consumers had no control over reselling their jewelry. They would walk into a jewelry store or a pawn shop where they were told what the shopkeeper would pay without having a sense of whether or not it was a fair price. Or, they would turn to sites like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist which are less effective in selling high priced jewelry, and often riddled with scammers. Worthy has completely changed the jewelry resale market, allowing sellers to receive 2–3 times the amount at auction than they can get locally. And I take pride knowing we are really helping people. When someone has to sell jewelry, it is often surrounded by a difficult life transition such as a death, divorce, retirement, financial duress — and the ability to get some much more during those hard times is deeply rewarding.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of our programmatic display ads apparently got served on some type of horse supply site and it must not have included a clear enough image or copy, so when a reader of theirs saw that we resold bridal sets, they shipped us a literal horse bridle. It got a great laugh around the office!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Apart from our unique auction process, where Worthy really shines is our service. Often when someone decides to sell jewelry, it is after a big life change such as a divorce, death of a parent, or retirement. That being said, our experts understand what sellers may be going through and they listen to them with compassion. We educate and empower our sellers by giving them complete control throughout the entire process. Ultimately, we want the best outcome for every seller, so we work very hard to get them the absolute most for their jewelry.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Last year we launched a new product that gives users a turn-key way to sell an entire jewelry box in one transaction, which is a much-needed service for someone that has just inherited those valuables from a loved one. In addition, we have invested heavily in machine learning and personalization, which has allowed us to really optimize the consumer experience.
Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
I think of advertising, in general, as the tactical set of elements that impact our ability to grow and scale the business with great unit economics. As part of this activity, we ask ourselves across hundreds of daily decisions: for every marginal dollar that we put in, can we get out at least that amount in contribution margin? It involves understanding which of the channels are best positioned to get the customer’s attention fast to drive them to click and ultimately sell their items. Some of them cater to high intent audiences (e.g., paid search, SEO) while others are focused more on discovery (e.g., programmatic display, paid social) or driving conversion (e.g., online retargeting, direct mail).
Brand marketing is, ultimately, about understanding who your potential customers are, what value to offer them — and leveraging that to build a long-term relationship with them. It runs the end-to-end gamut — from building awareness to market research to learn about who they are, segment them and present the right value proposition across all touch points.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
Over time, building a brand allows audiences to come to you before having to prospect to find them. By developing a relationship with target segments, the company is able to create a level of awareness that allows people to come to you when the time is right. Particularly for a company like Worthy that serves people during so many of the more difficult transitions in life, this is a very important aspect of engaging with potential sellers at every stage. As an example, we have built a robust lifestyle blog that covers major topics — such as divorce and retirement — not just about selling jewelry.
Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.
- Be transparent: This is generally true, but even more so for brands like Worthy dealing with high-ticket items, and particularly so when those items are the property of your customers. One of the ways we do that is by communicating every movement of the seller’s jewelry to them via text message and email at every step of the process.
- Build 1:1 relationships: Knowing that there is a real person when a customer needs help is critical to building trust. We make sure that inbound communication is always responded to extremely quickly and accurately. And we invest in making podcasts, blogs, organic social posts.
- Partner with other trusted brands: for us, we provide up to 100K dollars in insurance through carriers at Lloyd’s of London, partner with the authority in grading diamonds, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and use FedEx to send our packages. Having great and trusted partners like these definitely helps create credibility with our sellers.
- Build community / domain expertise: We have invested heavily in creating compelling content for our audience — whether that is the lifestyle blog we host, our branded podcast (“Divorce and other things you can handle”) or our closed Facebook group — we strive to be a resource for our community whenever possible.
- Manage online reputation: People rely heavily on the experiences of other people, and what they find about you online, particularly for such considered decisions, can be the difference between someone converting and not. Which means that it is critical to give someone such a great experience that they want to go out of their way to write amazing things about their experience — and put process in place to prevent things from going wrong. When things do go off the rails, it is important that the company works hard to correct any issues and actively responds to any negative feedback.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
There are so many great examples of companies that have built beloved brands. One that sticks out to me particularly is Peloton, which combines several things that I am personally excited by: cycling, technology and community. I’ve been lucky enough to ride in the live studio with them pretty much since it opened (Peloton was a client of one of my previous companies, Gilt City) so I’ve gotten to see the instructors grow into global mini celebrities. What they’ve done is created inspiration for so many people, and that ability to both drive results through measured/recorded outputs and build relationships with riders (calling people out by name at home for their milestone rides as one example) has created a tremendous stickiness to their business. Of course, getting people to invest a few thousand dollars up front does not hurt either, but the only reason people do so is strictly because they have built such a strong foundation.
Replicating this is not easy, but the key is providing an amazing experience while treating your customers as if they are part of a community rather than a transaction, and that is exactly what we are doing at Worthy.
In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?
Ultimately the metrics for success are the same but measured over different time horizons. It is near impossible to measure direct payback of those efforts but what you should see over time is growing traffic, conversion and revenue. This can be supported by self-select surveys through the funnel that allow customers to tell you a bit more about how they found you, post transaction surveys and more extensive brand awareness studies.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
We use social media to build long term relationships with potential and current clients. Engaging with our community is extremely important to us, and because of that, we make relatable content — we don’t just bombard people with Worthy ads all day. We aim to post content twice a day on all social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. The content ranges from inspirational quotes to divorce humor to informative blog posts. In addition to our Worthy Facebook page, we have a Facebook group called “Worthy Women and Divorce” where women can seek advice, share stories, and connect with each other.
To connect with our community 1 on 1, we keep our DMs open and monitored. If you send us a message, we will promptly respond within 24 hours. We’re dedicated to answering any questions that people may have about Worthy or the process.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Build a great team, make sure they all understand what we are trying to accomplish, and give them the tools and freedom they need to be successful. If you can master that, it allows you to think more strategically while also leaving some of you for your family, friends and the passions outside of work.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It is the strangest of times in our world at this particular moment, with so many core issues flaring up at the same time: public health, social injustice, a hurting planet and deep political/ideological division. It is impossible to have a silver bullet for what can begin the process of healing, but when I think about the interconnectedness of these issues the beginning of the answer almost always comes back to the same notion of individual accountability. Recognizing that across all of these issues that our own thoughts, choices and actions play a small part in a greater good. If I could create a movement it would be to drive people to think independently and recognize that their micro-choices collectively add up to something much larger that will deeply impact future generations.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions.” — Mark Twain
It’s inevitable that every one of us will make mistakes, and when we do, it’s a good thing. That’s how we grow! I’ve gotten a lot of “experience” in my career, and so I’m generally able to make pretty good decisions. I wouldn’t have the judgement I have currently had I not messed up in the past. I just find this quote particularly aligns with not just me, but anyone who is striving to be a better version of themselves.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
So many good choices, but I’ll take Ryan Reynolds (so he can intro me to Hugh Jackman?)!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Pinterest: @worthyluxury // Worthy.com
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.