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EPISODE 2

Selling Through Senses: How Sonos is Using the Digital Experience to Connect With and Sell to Customers

With Dmitri Siegel, VP of Global Brand at Sonos

In the world of eCommerce, one of the biggest challenges the pros come across is selling something to a customer who physically cannot experience the product at the time of purchase. For Dmitri Siegel, that was one of the hurdles he has had to overcome as the Vice President of Global Brand at Sonos.

Dmitri cut his teeth in the world of eCommerce at Urban Outfitters and then moved on to work for Patagonia. And while the number of products he was selling was reduced with each move, the challenge of building a platform that could connect with target buyers remained.

In this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Dmitri explains all of the lessons he’s learned in facing those challenges, including the importance of culture, what a successful brand and website redesign looks like, and what some of the most important metrics are when you’re judging the success of your eCommerce platforms.

Key Takeaways:

  • On any project, culture and collaboration is important — you have to be able to personalize and succinctly summarize your goal on paper so everyone knows what they are working toward
  • Optimizing for margins per session can guide you on what to focus on when adding to your site
  • In times of crisis, brands are given a clean slate to reinvent themselves, accelerate projects, and scrap things that haven’t been working

Key Quotes:

“Having a learner’s mentality is important at any stage in your career. There’s so much that I don’t understand, there’s so much to learn, and often from the people who report to you or who are in your own organization. I think being promoted young into that role, I had to very quickly get comfortable with the fact that people who worked in my team knew more than I did and just being humble about that and learning from them.”

“The core benefit of Sonos – sound – is invisible. And if you’re listening on a laptop or on a phone, you’re not going to experience the quality of sound that we create. I think every product has that challenge [and that] you always have to be really, really rigorous and relentless about what the value is for the customer, and then illustrate that in words and pictures in a very slavish way.” 

“You have to externalize the goal. It can’t be personal, and it has to actually be written down and be agreed to. It’s not about me and it’s not about you. It’s about what’s on this piece of paper. And I think that was helpful with this redesign. We had a really shared sense of purpose that wasn’t the brand team’s agenda or the product marketing team’s agenda. It was an external third thing that everybody was working toward.”

“One of the places that I think the brand design and digital design kind of get crisscrossed is brand design is generally this print-driven medium where you can be pixel perfect on every single bit of typography. Digital, it’s just much more dynamic and you have less control over every application.”

“Years ago, [picking an eCommerce platform] was really a life or death decision. You’re going to be stuck with this. It’s going to take millions of dollars and years to implement, so a lot of your success or failure was based on decisions about technology. [But] the tech has gotten a lot better. It’s gotten a lot more accessible from a price point perspective. Implementation has gotten easier. It’s still painful to switch, so switching costs are real. But you’re so much better off starting today than even two years ago.”

“The more that you focus on consistency of your message and your customer journey, you can allow the different technologies to do what they do best and be less obsessive about connecting every single point of customer data.”

“People have been shopping since the Roman forum, right? It’s a very human experience to wander around and find the thing that reflects your sense of self and choose it over the other thing and buy the middle price point because it’s not too expensive. All that stuff is super innate to people. And so I think when you have a big assortment, you have a lot of products to play those games with, like this is something new, so you should look over here because it’s new, or this is going fast, so you should look over here. With Sonos, it’s very much about getting people to understand the experience.”

“For us, and for a lot of DTC businesses that have these narrow assortments, it’s much more about communicating the gestalt and the value of the product.”

“In my role, one of the things that’s important is [having] a very high-level business understanding [that] margins are basically what you can charge for the product. It’s based on people’s perceptions and perceptions of your brand, and you have to dedicate a certain amount of time to just faith in that.”

Bio:

Dmitri Siegel is a Creative Executive with more than ten years of experience leading and modernizing brands, driving growth, building teams, and making change. Throughout his career, he has been a brand strategist, marketing executive, creative director, design leader, P&L owner, and more. Currently, he is the Vice President of Global Brand at Sonos. Previously, he served as Vice President Global E-commerce, Executive Creative Director at Patagonia and as the Executive Director of Marketing, GM Direct to Consumer at Urban Outfitters. Dmitri received his B.A. from Wesleyan University and an MFA from Yale University.

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Dmitri, how’s it going?

Dmitri:

It’s going as well as it can. I’m enduring. How about yourself?

Stephanie:

It’s going well. It’s bright and sunny, and even though we can’t go anywhere, at least we get to hang out here, right?

Dmitri:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

So I’d love to hear a little bit, Dmitri, about your role at Sonos. What is your title, and if you can give me a little bit of background on what you do at Sonos.

Dmitri:

Sure. I’m the vice president of global brand for Sonos. It means I oversee all of our brand creative and marketing, product marketing. I oversee all of our digital experience and physical retail experience, so our web site and our physical store displays as well, and marketing operations. So kind of all the touch points that you have with our brand except for the product itself.

Stephanie:

Got it. And how did you get into that role, because it seems very wide ranging whereas a lot of people are like, I only control the web site or I just have this one vertical. It seems like you have a lot under your purview. How did you move into that role?

Dmitri:

I had kind of a crazy pivot in my career early on. I was at Urban Outfitters and I was the digital creative director, and this was about 15 years ago. It was very early days for e-commerce. And my boss left, and we were interviewing people to run DTC, and there just was nobody really that had much more experience than I did. And so I kind of made the dumb youthful move of being like, hey, I think I could do this job. And my boss at the time, Ted Marlow, was like, all right, well, we’ll give it a shot. And so I went from really running creative and the web site product to running the whole business, and they were so good at operations and merchandising and finance and all these things that they felt like they could teach that to me. And so I just had this opportunity to run a P&L and run operations, and that gave me the sort of balanced background between those two things.

Dmitri:

And everywhere I’ve been, I’ve sort of since then, I’ve just sort of had that balance of the e-commerce business and creative side, and it just came out of basically someone taking a risk on me early on in my career. So yeah, it’s been an interesting, interesting journey.

Stephanie:

That’s awesome, really fun to hear about someone betting big on you like that. Was there anything where when you jumped into that role, you’re like, I actually don’t know anything about this-

Dmitri:

Oh yeah, so much.

Stephanie:

And what did you do in those moments if so?

Dmitri:

So much.

Stephanie:

And what are some examples of that?

Dmitri:

I mean, at that time, merchandising, I looked at everything as what would be beautiful, and so understanding this one might be beautiful, but it’s low margin and nobody’s buying it. That was an important thing to learn. And I also, I remember really early on in sight merchandising saying, oh look, we should put this in the upper left hand corner because it will sell more, or I think we should put this in the upper left hand corner, it’s my favorite product or whatever. And I remember the merchandiser at the time going, you know what? I could sell a lot of old flip flops if we put them in the upper left hand corner too. You’re not some merchandising genius. So understanding that, just learning the way that shopping actually happens in that medium and the mechanics of it, very humbling from that point of view.

Dmitri:

But I think having a learner’s mentality is important at any stage in your career, I still have that feeling. There’s so much that I don’t understand, there’s so much to learn, and most often honestly from the people who report to you or who are in your own organization. I think being promoted young into that role, I had to very quickly get comfortable with the fact that people who worked in my team knew more than I did and just being humble about that and learning from them, so that’s part of what makes it fun to go to work, so.

Stephanie:

That’s great. Have you seen your role at Sonos change since when you started because of the environment or consumer buying behaviors to where it is now? And if so, what are the biggest changes that you’ve seen?

Dmitri:

I think that I came in early on to really get the digital side of the business going faster, and we did a lot of the sort of fundamental blocking and tackling of re-platforming, redesigning the web site, but I think quickly realized that this is really a holistic business and a multi-channel business, and what’s happening in the product marketing, for example, has just a huge impact on all the channels, including e-commerce. And I think some of the stuff in this field is very optimization oriented, and it’s actually not as impactful sometimes as what your naming a product or defining the core benefits of that product that would actually help it in every channel. So my role has definitely gravitated more to the general brand and product messaging overall, and how that comes to life in e-comm is the harshest test of it, the best place to test that. But it’s not the sole focus any more.

Stephanie:

Got it. Yeah, how do you think about bringing a product that’s … You really need experience. Nice speakers or great food or something like that, how do you bring that experience to life on a web site?

Dmitri:

It is challenging. I mean, the core benefit of Sonos, sound, is invisible, so you can’t see it. And if you’re listening on a laptop or on a phone, you’re not going to experience the quality of sound that we go for and that we create. But really, I think every product has that challenge. I mean, I like to think that Sonos is more complicated and more difficult, but I think you always have to just be really, really rigorous and relentless about what the value is for the customer and then illustrate that in words and pictures in a very slavish way. And I think it has to be like a pop song. There’s no guitar solo, there’s no 15 part middle part. It’s got to be really to the point and verse chorus, verse chorus. And I think that rigor is really, it’s true for us probably more so because it is an invisible, ethereal, emotional kind of thing. But I think it applies to just about any product.

Stephanie:

Yep. Yeah, I agree. One thing I saw on your web site that, I don’t know if it just hit home with me, but I thought it really made me think about the experience was when I was scrolling, I saw the speaker on the page and it had little sound bars bounce off the speaker, and it made me be like, oh, cool. And it gets you kind of in that music mode and just thinking about, I wonder how that sounds now. I’m assuming that was intentional, and if so, was that your project?

Dmitri:

Yeah, so we actually have an entire style guide of how to show sound and how to talk about sound. What are the words that you use? What are the circles that emanate from the speaker, and is this stereo sound or are we showing the tuning of the speaker? And our brand design team, I think in some of the ways that … Oh, God, this is a random story, but I remember going to a creative summit for McDonald’s, and they had an entire session on the Coke and how to make the Coke look delicious and thirst-quenching. And then there was the burger session, and that sound is that for us. We have to be really consistent and relentless again about how do you make this thing look like it sounds great?

Dmitri:

And there’s actually different ways we do that. So in above the line media, for example, we use this very bold waves of sound coming out of the speaker that really grab your attention. When we’re doing an education piece like what you saw on the web site, we want to me more articulated about what the sound’s actually doing in that moment, so … And then we have to package that up as a tool kit so that marketers all over the world and partners can show it in the same consistent way. And it’s true that repetition and that consistency that I think you actually build a sound brand.

Stephanie:

Yeah, very cool. And how did you come up with that style guide? Was it a huge project that took a lot of buy-in and everyone had a different idea, and then did you have to train your retail partners or other people of how to interpret it?

Dmitri:

I think everything always starts with listening and listening to your partners and understanding what they’re actually going to use basically and what they really need. And so the style guide was sort of a culmination of a lot of projects where we would have conversations about, God, I can’t see the speaker in this shot. I wish there was some way to call attention to it, or the sound of the speaker is so … You have five speakers in the sound bar, but I can’t really tell that from what you’re showing me. So hearing a lot of that, and then trying different things and saying, well, this really worked, or this didn’t work, and then compiling it ultimately into a style guide. But we didn’t set out with a white sheet of paper. It’s more listening to the needs and solving the problems of the marketing organization and the go to market organization overall.

Stephanie:

Got it. Very cool. And I think I saw y’all just did a whole brand redesign with the colors and all that. Do you want to talk a little bit about that, because I don’t see many brands doing that. It’s usually like, I pick my corporate palette, and it’s blue, and it has to be blue for the next 100 years. How did you think about changing that?

Dmitri:

Yeah, this redesign, it was the coolest one I’ve ever been a part of because we were able to do the site and the brand redesign at the same time. So often those are two separate projects and maybe even two separate teams where you have the brand design team that goes and comes up with this really cool, hip, exciting brand identity, and then you have this web design team that’s like, I can’t use any of that. I don’t know how I’m supposed to get that to work on the web site. Because we’re all one team, we were able to really work on it simultaneously. So we would do some brand exploration, and then we’d be like, okay, maybe the product detail page with that, okay, settle on some core messaging, does that work on the home page, and go back and forth between web design and brand design simultaneously.

Dmitri:

And we just have a really good team that is really collaborative, and we all had that mission in the end, we want you to see an advertisement, go to the web site, and have it be totally consistent. We don’t want these disconnects where the ad sells you something and then you get to the web site and you’re like, what kind of … I thought this was that kind of company, but it’s this kind of company. And so that process was really digitally driven. But a lot of times, if you just approach a … Like we just redesigned the web site, you don’t get that sort of high-level brand thinking and strategy to it and communication hierarchy and stuff. And also, you just don’t get the sizzle of brand to it. You sort of can get a very functional thing, and we’re a premium brand and we command a premium price point.

Dmitri:

And I think if people show up at your site and it looks like an out of the box thing, then they’re like, I don’t know if they’re really going to deliver on the experience side, so … It was really cool to balance all of those. And then as far as the question related to color and our brand identity, our product is really black and white. That’s the design philosophy of the product itself is that it’s really bold, high contrast black and white. And our brand identity was the same way. It was very bold black and white. And what ended up happening with that is you couldn’t really see the product because everything was black and white.

Dmitri:

And then also our category, all of a sudden everybody was just really severe black and white. And so we just, we didn’t have a great context to show the product. We weren’t standing out in the market. And so our brand is more about the lifestyle of the experience of your home, having high-quality experiences with music and content. And so once we started bring the color in, it just, the product could really pop out, and also just our brand looked really different in the category, so … We didn’t choose a brand color. These colors will keep changing over time, and they’re more in a digital, kind of almost a seasonal fashion kind of usage. But this definitely feels right for our company and our product.

Stephanie:

Yeah, no, that’s a great way of thinking. Are there any best practices you learned when trying to work with multiple teams to update the brand and update the web site? Any dos and do nots or places where you’re like, oh, this went wrong, but this went really well, and … Yeah, any guidance for other companies who are listening right now, like maybe that’s a good idea to do both?

Dmitri:

I mean, you really have to build trust in your team, and it’s about culture I think first. We couldn’t have done that kind of project four years ago. I think our culture is at a place where we trust each other, we’re collaborative, we have a shared goal in mind. We’re willing to be honest with each other about what’s working and what’s not working. So I think you have to have the right culture to do that. I think also, when I very first got out of college, I taught school, public school. I was-

Stephanie:

How cool.

Dmitri:

An art teacher for a couple of years, and-

Stephanie:

What grade?

Dmitri:

It was junior high and high school, so-

Stephanie:

Okay, that’s kind of a hard age to teach.

Dmitri:

It’s very-

Stephanie:

They can little meanies. I was, anyways. I was a meanie.

Dmitri:

I mean, when you have 30 kids in a New York City public school, and you have no carrots and no sticks, I think what I learned from that experience is just like, you have to externalize the goal. It can’t be personal, and it has to actually be written down and be agreed to as, this is what we’re going to do, what’s on this piece of paper. It’s not about me and it’s not about you. It’s about what’s on this piece of paper. And I think that was helpful with this redesign. We just had a really shared sense of purpose that wasn’t the brand team’s agenda or the product marketing team’s agenda. It was like an external third thing that everybody was working towards-

Stephanie:

I like that.

Dmitri:

And I think that’s really important.

Stephanie:

Yeah, no, that’s great, because then if not, you’ve definitely got teams kind of battling it out and competing and trying to push agendas, and it’s nice to … It’s kind of like putting it on a higher authority of, well, this is what we all agreed to, and this is where we’re headed, not towards either one way. That’s great.

Dmitri:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

Were there any tools or technologies that you utilized or implemented that really helped with updating the web site and updating the brand?

Dmitri:

I don’t think that technology played a huge role in it. I mean, Google Slides. We use Google Slides a lot.

Stephanie:

Tried and true, yep.

Dmitri:

But I think that the tools of the trade are pretty consistent. I think that the … I mean, when you ask it that way broadly speaking, Zoom, Google Slides, and Slack have really enabled us to collaborate with different agencies and with different teams, often in different locations. And because we were already working that way, this current disruption is pretty seamless for us in terms of how we work. It definitely posed a challenge in terms of our typography. That’s a huge thing obviously that drives design and it drives my point of view on design, and when you’re working in a digital medium, it’s just, it’s really different. That’s actually one of the places that I think brand design and digital design kind of get crisscrossed is brand design is generally this print-driven medium where you can be pixel perfect on every single bit of typography, and digital is just, it’s just much more dynamic and you have less control over every application. So I think that’s one where we had to carve out enough time for the digital team to solve those problems.

Dmitri:

Often you throw over this PDF and you’re like, this is how I want it to look. I want it to look exactly like this. And they’re like, well, that’s going to take some custom work, because type doesn’t really set up like that in a browser. So we were I think good about leaving enough time to actually do that work.

Stephanie:

Very cool. Yeah, that’s great, and how did you think about measuring success of the redesign, or what’s the impact been since you launched it?

Dmitri:

Our business is doing great. I think in my experience with redesigns or re-platforms, there’s usually a dip when you first launch, and then it normalizes. I actually see that a lot in product reviews and app updates, and it’s something I wish someone had told me when I was younger, because I used to freak out in the first couple weeks when you launch something new. But what we’ve seen is a lot of people understand the product better. That was our big goal is, people still were saying they didn’t understand how the system worked or how the products worked. And so the customer understanding was a big goal of ours. And there were things where design choices really helped that, and then there were things where design choices didn’t help that. So for example, one of the ways we did image galleries when we first launched didn’t make it really super-duper clear how to click to the next image. And so we found that … We did user testing all through before launch and after launch, and that single change, for example, had a huge impact on customers’ understanding-

Dmitri:

The product, clicking through the whole gallery of images or finding the support link on the site for example. We kind of buried that in the original design and then found, no, that’s really important, because if someone needs support, they really want to find it and they don’t want to have a hard time finding it. It’s been a while obviously since we launched it, but all the product launches have gone really well. The cognition and understanding of how the products work together is way up, so it’s going well.

Stephanie:

That’s cool. How do you find out what the customers are struggling with? When you’re saying the support link was too low, how did you know that was a problem?

Dmitri:

I mean, it’s a mix of quantitative and qualitative. So you’re looking at behaviors, and wow, people are stuck on this page or they’re clicking on this part of the page more. And then qualitative of just asking them what their experience is as they go through. So saying all right, we want you to go to the site and buy Sonos One, and then kind of narrate your experience as you’re going through it. And that’s where you kind of get some of the specific things that you wouldn’t see in behavioral, which is why someone is doing what they’re doing. It’s just as important as what’s happening.

Stephanie:

Got it. Very cool. And have you updated the technology behind your web site in the past couple years, or have you stuck with one thing? If someone was coming in and building a big e-commerce store now, is there anything you would recommend to keep up with customer demand and inventory and, yeah, everything that it takes to run an e-commerce store?

Dmitri:

I mean, I think that is one of the things that’s changed so much in my time in e-commerce. I think 15 years ago, 12 years ago, it was really a life or death decision about what’s your e-comm platform? You’re going to be stuck with this. It’s going to take millions of dollars and years to implement, so a lot of your success or failure was based on decisions about technology. I think that the tech has gotten a lot better. It’s gotten a lot more accessible from a price point perspective. Implementation’s gone a ton easier. It’s still painful to switch, so switching costs are real.

Dmitri:

But I would say you’re so much better off starting today than even two years ago. The platforms are super accessible, and in a way, I mean, I think a lot of the skillset has actually become automated and commoditized too. Search optimization or even a lot of the sort of marketing tactics that drive e-commerce, that used to be a real differentiator. If you were an analytically driven marketer, you could get an edge. But a lot of times now, you’re better off just going with the platform automation on these things. So I think my advice would be, the thing that always you forget is the content management piece. You can launch with a great web site, but every day, you’re going to want to update it and launch new products and launch new features, so really understanding how you’re going to make new templates and how you’re going to add new content is the thing that generally people overlook.

Stephanie:

Got it. Yeah, how do you think about that intersection of your content management system, your CRM, your underlying commerce platform? How do you think about those three together? Do they work together in sync, or are they kind of separate entities?

Dmitri:

I’m going to be very unpopular probably for this opinion, but I mean-

Stephanie:

Good.

Dmitri:

I think you can spend so much time and money trying to create this temple to technology, everything seamlessly integrated on the platform side. But what I’ve learned is that, or I feel like this has changed since I got into this business, but is that if your message is consistent, then you can actually let the tools do what they do, and your customer journey will be consistent. And the more that you focus on consistency of your message and your customer journey basically, your customer communications, you can allow the different technologies to do what they do best and be less obsessive about connecting every single point of customer data. Now I mean, that’s also relevant to our business. We have 10 products. If you’re Amazon or Wayfair and you have just infinite complexity in your assortment … That was more the Urban Outfitters experience. We had 20,000 styles and we launched 7,000 styles a week, and so there was this huge how do I connect the right product to the right person challenge.

Dmitri:

But for a lot of businesses, you’re dealing with a finite product set, and as long as you’re consistent in how you’re showing those products and what you’re saying about them, you can let your re-targeting vendor go crazy. You can let your CRM program go crazy, because it’s all going to add up to the same story in the end. So I think that I often feel like people spend more money trying to back of house stuff than they do on the customer, and I always try to look at that split of, are we spending money on the things that the customer can see, or are we spending money on ourselves to make ourselves feel cool about the systems that we have, and just balancing those things.

Stephanie:

Got it. Is it very different with a platform that has, like you said, a huge catalog versus only 10 products, and is there a different way you would handle an Urban Outfitters model when you were there versus at Sonos?

Dmitri:

Yeah, I mean, it is really different. The three big brands I worked with are Urban Outfitters, Patagonia, and Sonos, and each time I’ve gone to a smaller and smaller assortment because it’s such a pain in the ass to have a big assortment that I was like, I just want to get to a smaller assortment. But-

Stephanie:

You’re going to be down to just one product soon, just that’s all Dmitri sells-

Dmitri:

That’s my dream.

Stephanie:

Just one thing.

Dmitri:

Live the dream. No, it’s really different because all the tricks of merchandising … I think of like, people have been shopping since the Roman forum, right? It’s a very human experience to wander around and find the thing that reflects your sense of self and choose it over the other thing and buy the middle price point because it’s not too expensive. All that stuff is super innate to people. And so I think when you have a big assortment, you have a lot of products to play those games with, like this is something new, so you should look over here because it’s new, or this is going fast, so you should look over here. With Sonos, it’s very much about getting people to understand the experience, and get it that it’s like, you can mix and match all these speakers. You can buy one or you can buy three, and you can move them around the house. And they need to understand that gestalt much more than … That’s more important than them picking one speaker and having a box shipped to their house. Do you know what I mean?

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Dmitri:

They might get that idea, and they might buy something at Amazon or at Best Buy, but if they get that concept, they’re a super high-value customer, for us that’s more margin to better business for us to be in. So a lot of what high product count sites are about getting you to a decision and to put something in your basket and check out, and for us I think, and for a lot of businesses and a lot of DTC businesses that have these narrow assortments, it’s much more about communicating the gestalt and the value of the product.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, because I’m sure once someone buys one, two, three, then it’s like you’ve got … That lifetime value of that customer is bigger because they’re going to come back. And now I’m looking right now, we have our Sonos speaker, hey, right next-

Dmitri:

All right.

Stephanie:

To me, but I don’t know … I mean, we have a couple in our house and all around the studio, but I don’t know if I’m getting the full value of it because the only songs that seem to play on our speaker are Old MacDonald and Happy and You Know It, for my two-year-old, all day long. So I think there’s a bug. I need to send it back and get that updated hopefully soon. I’m sure you have the same problem.

Dmitri:

It is fun, though, singing to your kids though isn’t it?

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Dmitri:

I love that aspect of it, just sharing music with them and dance parties and … We’re so often with our headphones on in our little phone world, but having it be something that you can share with the kids is really fun.

Stephanie:

Yeah, but I also enjoy that you can … I’ll turn off the kitchen, just leave the living room running and be like, you go have your dance party out there. I can’t listen to that song another time.

Dmitri:

Totally.

Stephanie:

So if you’re thinking about defining success for an e-commerce platform, what do you consider successful? What metrics do you look at? Yeah, how do you think about that?

Dmitri:

Well, if I have to pick one-

Stephanie:

Yep, only one. Or you can pick two, but stack rank them.

Dmitri:

Oh man. I mean, the ultimate one to me is margin per session.

Stephanie:

Okay.

Dmitri:

It’s not the easiest one to get at, but I think traffic is really a tough one because it’s driven often by an e-mail or it can be driven by bad things or you can have a bunch of crappy traffic that’s unqualified. So like, great, you’ve done this marketing campaign that’s not converting. I think conversion, you can have people again, like you could be converting on a sale product that doesn’t generate a lot of revenue profit for the company. And so I like per session because it just, it corrects for traffic basically. And then I like margin because it’s like, it motivates you to sell the high margin stuff and sell the high-quality stuff, and those are generally your best products and the things that bring people back and make them more high-value customers, so that one’s really, when you’re really in the weeds of it, that’s something that I look at.

Dmitri:

And then usually, you’re designing a specific part of the site and so step conversion is really helpful to look at, did I get them to go from here to here? Because if I didn’t, then I know they’re not going to get to the final steps of the process, but … I think that, in my role, one of the things that’s important is just a very high-level business understanding of margins are basically what you can charge for the product. It’s based on people’s perceptions and perceptions of your brand, and you have to dedicate a certain amount of time to just faith in that. And that’s a pretty high-level thing. I don’t expect someone at a junior level or somebody who’s responsible for the day-to-day revenue of a particular category to get, but if you don’t invest some of your development time and reinforcing premium, then you just, you’re not going to be able to charge the margins. And so that’s one that’s a little more high level, but … I think of the brand comes through in the margin.

Stephanie:

Got it. I think I just heard that Amazon’s switching their algorithm to showcase higher-margin items, where before it was always based off of what they thought the customer would want to see first. How do you strike that balance between maybe showcasing higher-margin products higher up … I mean, I know there’s not many, but how do you think about that versus making sure the customer experience is what they want?

Dmitri:

Yeah, so it is less of a challenge with Sonos because our product philosophy is to make the fewest number of products possible for the most number of applications. So we only have a couple home theater products. We only have a couple of music products. And it’s really about the size of the room, but I think it’s like, that’s all merchandising stuff. We sell 80% black, but you always show the color because it’s going to excite someone and make them feel like the experience of wearing a great new jacket. And I think with sound, it’s the same thing. I kind of want to get people emotionally invested in the experience of music, which is awesome, and just remind them, listening to music is great.

Dmitri:

And so that’s kind of the first thing that we try to lead with is just what a great experience this is and reminding people that they have ears and it’s one of the only five senses they have and it can be really transporting. And so that generally is going to be more of our premium products that do that, but then they’re going to … Most people will buy the middle price point. That’s just the rules.

Stephanie:

Yeah, got it. Very cool. So to shift a little bit to the present day, the current environment, everything with COVID-19. Do you guys see a lot of changes in your business right now with what’s happening?

Dmitri:

Our business obviously is … We do a lot of business in physical retail, and physical retail is closed. And so that has really been disruptive to a lot of our partners and the people that we work with. And so on a personal level, it’s just, it’s hugely impactful. And obviously, we are really invested in our partners and the people that we work with. And so we’re doing everything we can to work with them. A lot of that volume has shifted to online channels, so most of our partners have a web site and they’re seeing that too, so their business is shifting online. Our direct to consumer business is way up.

Dmitri:

And so I mean, I think that is a circumstantial behavior. People can’t go to the stores. Stores are closed. That’s a behavior, and I think what people expect … I feel like everybody is re-evaluating everything 100%, and you have a complete clean slate as a brand, which kind of sucks if you have a great brand like ours. You’re like, wait, remember yesterday you thought we were awesome. I think every brand has to kind of start over, and every action you take as a brand is going to be evaluated in this new reality, like do I need Sonos now? Do I need to travel now? What do I actually care about now? And I think that’s an incredible, almost once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Dmitri:

And anybody who’s, especially young marketers and brand people going through this right now, this is going to be the proving ground for the future. The greatest brands of the last century were defined in the world wars, and the brands that figured out how to endure the Great Depression and those disruptions, and they didn’t do it by disappearing. They weren’t created by going off radar. They figured out how to stay in the public consciousness and to be relevant, even when people felt so horrible. So that’s what I’m thinking about a lot right now and observing in the marketplace.

Stephanie:

Yeah, no, I agree, definitely the clean slate idea of everything can change from this point forward is, yeah, good to remember. Is there anything that you’re, like any big strategic projects or things that you’re shifting either off your plate or a new thing that you’re starting to work towards based off of consumer buying behavior over the past couple months?

Dmitri:

Yeah, we really had to take a look at how our brand shows up, as all companies and brands do. And we really, we tend to be a very aspirational brand, and I think in this moment, it’s really important to be personal and to be helpful and to just kind of tone it down a little bit and be real with people. And that’s a big effort when you have a global marketing offense that spans channels and geographies, and the team just did an incredible job of realizing, accepting, and taking action and is continuing to learn and adjust as we go through it. But I think we couldn’t just show up the way we did two months ago. Everything you do has to in some way be relevant to what’s happening right now. And so it’s touching everything.

Dmitri:

We’re fortunate in that our product roadmap hasn’t changed. We haven’t had to take major programs off the board in terms of not being able to fund them or whatever. And we’re at an incredible busy time right now. We have these two major launches coming up. So we were in the final mile of that work, and so we’ve just been proceeding, but then also, yeah, got to look at it through the lens of what’s happening today. Is this going to seem off, or is this going to seem weird to be doing this right now? And you have to pull the plug on it if it’s going to not look good for the brand.

Stephanie:

Yep, yeah, completely agree. It seems like it’s also a good forcing function to make larger brands be more agile and make decisions quicker and be able to adjust to the market, whereas before this, I don’t think there was that forcing function.

Dmitri:

It’s true, and I think it accelerates changes that were already happening. So I think that’s a situation like this, anything you were thinking of doing, you’re going to probably, you’re going to have the opportunity to do. It’s also just a giant dumpster fire that you can throw almost anything on. If you want to get rid of something, some old behavior or if you wanted to … I mean, I see brands that were really struggling with their perceptions, again, they have this fresh moment. They can throw their old identity on the fire and re-introduce themselves, and it’s almost like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do that. So definitely looking to take advantage of that as well, like what do we want to shed? What do we want to get rid of? Because that’s also part of the opportunity right now.

Stephanie:

Yep, yeah, I think the brands that’ll experiment a bit with that as well and try something new like you said are going to be the ones that come out on top, because I’ve seen quite a few come through my inbox that just have the same messaging. And I’m like, did you all just hire the same PR company to just be like, title, addressing COVID-19 challenges. It’s like, here’s what we’re doing, and it’s so cookie-cutter. I’m like, I don’t connect with that. But the brands who send unique messaging and you can tell they care, like you’re talking about Sonos really showing that you want to be there for them and the retail partners and the customers, that’s very different. And yeah, you can start from scratch and have a whole different journey from here on out depending on how you choose to handle it right now.

Dmitri:

Yeah, and I mean, some of that is luck of the draw. When we went into that process of self-examination, we’re like, okay, our mission is to give people a really deep, immersive experience of music and content in their home. It’s like, that’s still pretty relevant. Our goal is to connect people to music and as a way of making their lives richer and escape. That’s still pretty relevant. I mean, it’s not luck, but we’re very lucky that that’s what our product and what we stand for as a brand is still really relevant, and then it’s more about like, okay, how do we talk about this in a way that’s relevant? But I mean, look at Zoom, look at Portal, products that you were sort of vaguely maybe aware of all of a sudden are completely relevant and useful in your day-to-day life. So you’ve got to kind of be grateful if you happen to fall into one of those categories.

Stephanie:

Yeah, and the fact that there’s so many new customers who are sitting on the sideline that are now coming on board. I mean, I’m thinking about for Zoom, it’s my grandmother sent a link and was like, family Zoom call? I’m like, Grandma, how did you know about Zoom? And then my mom’s like, oh yeah, I’ve been using that for teaching. I’m like, you guys … I mean, we just got on Zoom not too long ago. But it seems like a very good time to be able to bring people into your product that you never had access to before and you might never have had access to them, unless something like this happened maybe.

Dmitri:

I know, and I do think this is one of the things that you won’t go back from. I think it’ll go back to some extent, like you won’t have every school in the world doing school through Zoom, but it works really well, and you can be more remote. I think about the follow-up doctor’s appointment. You go to a doctor and then you’re supposed to come back a month later for a check-up, and you drive an hour and you sit in the waiting room, and then you go in for five minutes for them to be like, yeah, you’re fine. It’s like, you’re not going to do that any more. You’re just going to get on Zoom and be like, I’m fine, and they’ll be like, cool, you’re fine. Everybody’s going to save a couple hours. And so I think there will be lasting effects on our behaviors and we’re not going to want to go back in every way to the way things were.

Stephanie:

Yeah, no, that’s actually a good point about doctor’s office visits. I have two twins, they’re seven weeks old now. And we went to their doctor’s appointment, and one of them had a little baby acne or something. And they’re like, well, don’t come back for a follow-up. Just snap a picture of it and upload it into a Google Doc, because we can’t access pictures but we can upload Google Docs and just do that. And I’m like, oh, from now on, then I’d rather just always do that. I don’t want to come in here and expose my kids to maybe get sick from coming here. I’ll just send you pictures and let me know.

Dmitri:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

So, yeah.

Dmitri:

But I mean, we’re in the orbit of Los Angeles, and we have our own traffic situations, and there’s so many trips that are just a total waste.

Stephanie:

Yep.

Dmitri:

My wife’s a therapist, and you couldn’t really do psychotherapy or therapy via Zoom. It’s not secure, but there’s so much innovation happening in that space right now with HIPAA compliance. And so yeah, I think less time in transit isn’t a bad thing. More time at home listening to Sonos. Sounds good.

Stephanie:

I know. Hey, I’m all about that. I’m definitely all about that. So when it comes to leadership, whether it’s in times of change or just in general e-commerce leaders, who do you brands do you look for, what brands do you look to or people in the field that you kind of keep tabs on what they’re doing?

Dmitri:

In terms of leadership, I mean, I think we have an amazing CEO. My boss is amazing, so I feel really fortunate that I don’t have to look too far for leadership inspiration.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s good.

Dmitri:

That would suck if you were like, I don’t know, I can’t find it in my company so I have to go read a book-

Stephanie:

No one here. Yep.

Dmitri:

But man, leadership is one of those topics that the longer I work, the less I really feel like I understand it, or … It’s such a human one-to-one thing, and I think that what I like about our company and our CEO’s approach is that you really focus on the culture overall and not this meeting practice or this latest book or whatever. It’s just this consistency of how we treat each other is really the focus. And every time you go back to that, it actually helps you through a management challenge. And I think right now, the thing is just to be really, really patient with people and really understand how hard it is to do this. You’ve got kids crying in the next room, you’ve got elderly parents that you can’t go be with. It’s emotionally really stressful and really hard, and the best thing you can do as a co-worker, forget being a leader but just as a co-worker and a human, is to just be patient with people and to understand that it’s going to … Their first reaction, they might be coming in hot to a meeting because of something else entirely. So I think that’s really important, and then … Yeah, I think as far as brands and companies that I look to, there isn’t a single company. It’s interesting, we have these sort of index fund companies, like Apple, Amazon, Google. They do everything. They do every single kind of marketing, they do every single kind of branding.

Dmitri:

So you can always find an example there of, well, if you had unlimited money, this is what you would do. So I feel like that’s kind of an interesting resource that you can always … Or if you have contacts there or whatever, asking them questions, and we do a lot of partnerships with them. So that’s always a good test I think of whatever you’re thinking about. I do tend to look at smaller brands as far as just what’s happening and how you want to look as a brand. It’s been really interesting, again, to see how fast everybody’s adapted from a branding perspective. Every single ad right now is people on Zoom or healthcare workers. I think a month ago, I was like, I don’t think people are going to be able to advertise. What will be in the ad? And then it’s just so fast. Everything’s moving so fast. You just have to-

Stephanie:

Oh yeah. Every ad’s that’s catered to me right now is sweatpants and work from home outfits, which are basically sweatpants that look like jeans. And I’m like, man, I mean, that’s what I want to buy right now. This is great.

Dmitri:

This is one of the challenges I think for consumers and for brands is that because everything is so automated, algorithm-driven, you kind of get into these wormholes, and you get into this, I call it a coffin of your own preferences. You can’t see a way out of sweatpants, like, how am I going to get these sweatpants off my Instagram feed? And brands, that’s a challenge for us too, like how do we break through that just self-reinforcing? Yeah, you probably are interested in sweatpants right now, but getting you to see something else is challenging I think, so-

Stephanie:

Yeah, I agree.

Dmitri:

Have you pulled the trigger on sweatpants at all?

Stephanie:

Well, before … I mean, I own many sweatpants. Thankfully, our company is work from here a lot, so I don’t have to always wear nice jeans. But I did pull the trigger on one pair of jegging pants-

Dmitri:

Nice.

Stephanie:

That look like jeans, so at least when I go on a walk, people think I’m fancy. So, I did.

Dmitri:

I am in the sweatshirt business right now. I get in these shopping sort of really focused trapping things, but it’s almost more as a way to work through some of what’s happening in the market? What’s the customer’s mindset? But I do it through my own experimenting on myself kind of thing. Yeah, and it’s pretty extreme what’s happening, whole businesses that are 70% off. And at the same time, the options are totally unlimited and it’s a really, it’s a time when I think you have to stay incredibly alert in the moment, because it is moving so fast. You can’t sort of … People want there to be a new normal, like, oh, we did it, the new normal of marketing and e-commerce is this. But I don’t think we’re going to get there for a while.

Dmitri:

I think people, we’re going to have to be on our toes adapting for months. And that’s going to be a challenge for the teams, because the teams are like, we just did all this work and now we have to change it, or what do you mean we don’t want to show Zoom in any of our coms any more or something. But I think the fall into the Great Depression took four years. This took like four weeks. This is just a hyper-accelerated world we’re living in, and you’ve got to stay alert.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, completely agree. So if we zoom out a little bit and have a conversation on higher level e-commerce trends, are there any e-commerce trends coming that you’re most excited about or that you’re looking forward to?

Dmitri:

I think the trends that I’ve noticed recently is really the commodification of digital marketing and that, again, there used to be able to be a differentiator. You could pretty much get a business going by raising some money and then using these platforms to grow, and the platforms were willing to kind of subsidize your growth because it was their own growth of market share. And then about a year or so ago, that really flipped, and the platforms are like, no, we’re going to take the profits now. We’re going to be profitable. And so you saw these DTC brands I think really struggling that their customer acquisition engine wasn’t as profitable as it used to be. So I think what I’m really excited about is I do think that there’s a rejuvenation of the social channels. I think the sort of toxicness of them, at least my experience over the last month, is that they’ve gotten way less toxic. Even Walt Mossberg is back on Facebook.

Stephanie:

All right.

Dmitri:

That’s a big deal.

Stephanie:

Yep, that’s a good sign.

Dmitri:

So I think that the potential of those channels never got fully realized of as far as really being able to connect with people and brands in an authentic way and have that follow through to your business, and I kind of feel like that might be what we’re going to actually experience now, where the targeting is so good, the relevancy is so high, and the community aspect is getting less toxic because of just, people are not wanting to be assholes right now I think-

Stephanie:

Yeah, which is a plus-

Dmitri:

As much, yeah, as much, and I think the platforms, I hope they’ll take a little more responsibility too in this moment and go, okay, this isn’t just about an election. This is life or death now. We can’t allow such misinformation and just toxic behavior, because it’s costing lives. So anyway, I see this sort of perfect storm there of social actually becoming the commercial channel that it never really realized in the past. And so that’s one that I’m pretty excited about. It’s obviously the only way we can reach people right now. And the ability to pull it through to your actual business is getting really, really good. So that’s probably one that I’m excited about.

Dmitri:

And then I think also for us, the integration with our app and just that part of the digital experience and connecting the online to the in-app. I just had a great experience buying a printer and using the app to set the printer up and having-

Stephanie:

Really? Which printer?

Dmitri:

Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to shill for another company, but I bought an HP printer, and they forced me to set it up with the app, which I was super annoyed by at first. But then I was like, wait, this is actually really cool. It’s just going to measure the ink and send me the new ink when I want it? Yes, please do that. I hate-

Stephanie:

Oh, that’s great.

Dmitri:

Finding out that I need to order ink. So I think this integration of IOT devices and the app component with the commerce component, I’m super excited about that for us. I think we’ve taken a lot of steps in that direction, but I think people are going to get more and more comfortable with it because it’s actually going to be a good experience. So those are two that I see.

Stephanie:

Completely agree. Yeah, and especially the first one. I’ve seen a slow shift to brands kind of turning into media companies and not relying as heavily on certain platforms, because yeah, I know a lot of brands that had been relying on Amazon so heavily. Well, now that Amazon’s shifting to, okay, well, here’s what we view as essential and here’s what’s going to get shipped out, and I think a lot of brands are going to rethink relying on those platforms and instead maybe think about how they can rely on themselves more and promote their content on their own a little bit more. So yeah, two really good points. All right, so let’s … I think we only have a couple minutes, so I don’t want to ask you too many things. Let’s see. And actually, maybe we should just shift right over to the lightning round, just to respect your time. So the lightning round is when I ask quick questions, and you have to just say whatever’s top of mind, and you only get one minute or less to answer the question.

Dmitri:

Oh my God, I was not aware of the lightning round. Okay.

Stephanie:

Dun dun dun.

Dmitri:

I want to do a couple push ups. All right, I’m ready.

Stephanie:

Yeah, do some push ups, do some deep breaths, just shake it out a bit. It’s just for fun. But yeah, whatever just first comes top of mind.

Dmitri:

Okay.

Stephanie:

So we’ll do some easy ones first, and then we’ll do a hard one last. All right, so, what’s up next on your reading list?

Dmitri:

The Last Kid Left by Rosecrans Baldwin.

Stephanie:

Okay. What’s up next on your podcast or Audible queue?

Dmitri:

Stay Free: The Story of the Clash and Music Exists. That’s a podcast I’m listening to that’s really, it’s just … It’s Chuck Klosterman and one of the guys from The Ringer, and they don’t talk about specific music. It’s like music concepts in general. I like it.

Stephanie:

Oh, cool. And you have a art background, so does that … Do you think everyone would like that podcast, or is that more Dmitri specific?

Dmitri:

If you like music, I think you’ll like it, yeah. I mean, they talk about like why do bands change? Why do bands change their style?

Stephanie:

Got it.

Dmitri:

That will be a topic they’ll talk about, and they’ll be like, okay, ACDC never changes, but this band did … So it’s that kind of thing. It’s just like hanging out with your friends talking about music, but your friends are really smart.

Stephanie:

That sounds cool. I like that. All right, what’s up next on your Netflix or Hulu queue?

Dmitri:

Oh man. I started watching Black AF, which is the new show from the guy who created Black-ish, and it is-

Stephanie:

Me too, yeah.

Dmitri:

It is so funny, oh my God.

Stephanie:

Yep.

Dmitri:

I basically can’t wait-

Stephanie:

I just saw it last night.

Dmitri:

To … Yeah, I can’t wait to just go binge that thing. Insecure just started again, which I love that show, and My Brilliant Friend, which is on HBO, which is the Elena Ferrante books. I just, every episode I’m dying when that comes out. So those are my picks.

Stephanie:

Cool, I’ll have to check out that last one. I haven’t heard of it. What’s up next on your travel destinations after we’re allowed to go out into the world again?

Dmitri:

I want to see my parents. That’s definitely-

Stephanie:

Where are they?

Dmitri:

They’re in D.C.

Stephanie:

Okay.

Dmitri:

That’s mostly my friends. It’s like it’s less destinational for me, but … I lived in New York for a long time. I want to go back to New York. I love that city, I love so many people there. It’s been through such a hard time. I want to go there. We had dreamed of going to Japan before this, so that’s definitely going to happen at some point. I love going there.

Stephanie:

Awesome.

Dmitri:

My kids have never been there, so those are a couple spots.

Stephanie:

Yeah, Japan’s great. That’s definitely one of my favorite places I’ve been. It’s so fun. The people are so nice there. Yeah, just a good, very different environment. Did you do the hot spring baths? What are they called again?

Dmitri:

Onsen?

Stephanie:

Yeah-

Dmitri:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

Did you do those?

Dmitri:

Yeah, I would go. When I worked at Patagonia, I would go a bunch, and it was a cool way to go there because we actually didn’t spend any time in Tokyo. We would go up to Hokkaido and go skiing and go down [inaudible] and go surfing. And so yeah, it was … The culture, even outside of Tokyo, is just so cool. Just everything is so considered, and every experience is thought through, and yeah.

Stephanie:

And everything’s so clean, and it just feels so safe. We were in I think Hakone area, and there’s a bus system that goes around, and there was kids, and I swear they were only like five or four, getting on the bus by themselves, going to school. And I’m like, oh my gosh, in America, no parent would ever let you just walk all the way down the street, get on the bus by yourself. I mean, these kids are small. But then, there, it actually did feel right for some reason.

Dmitri:

Yeah. So I hope you get back there.

Stephanie:

Yeah, very cool. All right, the last one. So it’s your job to stay ahead of expectations, your competition, all that. In your opinion, what’s up next for e-commerce pros?

Dmitri:

I think that you can’t just be shipping boxes to people. I think that your site experience and your commercial experience, you’ve got to break the mold of, pick a box on our web site and this box will show up at your doorstep. I just think that’s not a competitive advantage, and it’s just not a customer advantage. And you’ve got to figure out some other way of engaging your customers that isn’t about shipping and getting a box delivered to their doorstep. So it’ll be different for every business, but I mean, I think obviously subscriptions are interesting, but also just the way that you decide what you want, it’s not navigating a bunch of little squares on a page, but really learning about me and understanding and what I need and offering me a solution versus a box that’s going to get shipped to my house.

Dmitri:

So I think the site experience and how that connects to either if you have an app or your CRM programs, all that stuff, it’s … The paradigm is just dead right now, and I think if you’re not disrupting that, then you’re going to just be perceived as, why am I bothered? Why would I bother shopping here? I can get a box shipped to my house by a lot of other companies.

Stephanie:

Yeah, completely agree. Wow, you were very good at the lightning round. You really had answers right away, so yeah, nice job there. But yeah, it’s been a blast, Dmitri. Thanks so much for coming on the show. I know after this, I’m going to go and play all my Sonos speakers and put on a little surround sound techno music going on to pump me up a bit for the rest of the day. So yeah, thanks for-

Dmitri:

Oh, that sounds good.

Stephanie:

Hopping on. Yeah, it’ll be a good rest of the day. So thanks so much.

Dmitri:

All right, bye bye.

 

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