WHAT ITS REALLY LIKE TO WORK AT TOM FORD
1. NOTHING HAPPENS BY ACCIDENT
The number one thing I learned working at Tom Ford is that everything you see is all part of a grand plan. The result of hours, months even years of strategic planning to bring a luxurious vision to life.
That vision belonged to a creative genius, one of the most forward thinking, inspiring designers of our time and to be part of that world was a true privilege. Even though I was surrounded by stunning visuals, extraordinary products and next level packaging (you know how I feel about packaging) every day, I would almost all fall off my chair, sighing with delight every time a new campaign was released from global.
I would start to plan new product launches 18 months out, trying the formulas, selecting the shades for our market and forecasting sales, samples and collateral with utter enchantment. To me, it was magical, a land where everything begins and end with the brand. There were guidelines to mandate that nothing, and I mean nothing, came before the integrity of the brand. No expense would be spared to ensure the brand plan was the number one priority.
And so, nothing happens by accident. It’s all part of a well-oiled machine, that starts with a vision, the objectives, strategy and tactical plan that brings the brand that customers see to life.
The lesson – you have to have a plan. It’s really quite simple. Think about what you want, write it down, work towards it everyday.
2. IT LOOKS GLAMOROUS, BUT ITS HARD WORK
So while it all sounds fun and glamourous and just like ‘Devil Wears Prada’ it is actually really hard work.
I’m not going to lie, there are certainly “perks” as they say but the reality is that the marketing teams behind these big brands work exceptionally long hours. More time is spent looking at spreadsheets than anything else, because, well the numbers don’t lie and a huge portion of the planning is done through forecasting, analysis and, troubleshooting.
Products don’t arrive in time, on counter dates have to be moved, testers get left behind, point-of-sale merchandising arrives with the wrong shade printed on the unit, direct mailers get printed with spelling mistakes (yep, that was me – I spelled “aficionados” incorrectly and had to reprint the entire campaign), advertising deadlines are missed, excess has to be managed and the biggest juggle of all, workload.
It is the perfect definition of the ‘duck’ metaphor, it’s all smooth, serene sailing above the water while the legs are paddling furiously below the surface.
The lesson – everything is not always as it seems. Anything worth doing properly should be difficult and there is definitely no such thing as overnight success. So, just do you, for you.
3. SEX SELLS
This isn’t exactly news to anyone, it’s a basic human truth but one that Tom Ford has leveraged to his full advantage, and become well known for.
Known for doing things differently and always pushing the boundaries – I distinctly remember having a heated debate with David Jones about too much ‘side boob’ and the two-metre-tall lightbox in which said side boob was supposed to be displayed, too risqué apparently. I sent them the alternative image which was basically full-frontal nudity and so we came to a happy compromise on the side boob.
Tom Ford imagery is undoubtedly distinctive, you basically can’t miss it because it is suggestive and provocative but always insanely chic and expensive. It’s designed to induce a reaction, make you feel something, look and then look again.
It also establishes a world which you can’t help but want to be a part of. It’s the Tom Ford niche, uber luxury seduction.
The lesson – establish your point of difference. Don’t be afraid to stand out, be bold and be known for something different.
4. EVERY SINGLE DETAIL MATTERS
When I first started I had a lesson on how every gift bag was to be presented, how the tissue should be folded and the ribbon tied just so. I also remember sending our point-of-sale display plans to our global office in New York where Mr Ford himself would sign off the artwork in the early days.
I suspect he doesn’t do that anymore but it is this kind of fastidious detail that becomes the essence of a brand. It flows through every touch point where your customer might come into contact with your brand, whether it’s a gift bag, lightbox, ad campaign or today, on social media.
It never “doesn’t matter”. Every single detail always matters.
The lesson – be discerning and create a consistent experience of your brand both on and offline.
5. YOUR PRODUCT IS EVERYTHING
If you haven’t experienced a Tom Ford beauty product, I encourage you to go into David Jones and see how it is supposed to be done. Yes, its expensive and yes, it’s quite literally perfect.
The thing that struck me most about the product was the pigments in the eyeshadow palettes. You can swipe your brush through the formula and it transfers onto your eye with the same depth of shade, the same luxe sheen as you see in the pan. Take particular notice of the celestial shades, the glittery ones, they are nothing short of magnificent.
So, its all very well to have imagery that looks amazing but when a customer makes a purchase, the product has to deliver. Basically, it has to do what it says on the bottle because not living up to that promise is one of the most damaging factors to brand reputation.
The experience of using your product should exceed expectations so that customer becomes a loyal one.
The lesson – get you core offering right. Define your key focus and make sure your products do what you say they do.
6. BRAND AWARENESS IS KEY
When I first started working on Tom Ford in 2011, no one in Australia knew anything about it. It was a small, albeit ultra-luxury, international brand.
Consequently, the key focus was building awareness. If people don’t know your brand exists, they can’t buy it. Simple as that. So a lot of the early activity was around getting the right people to know, like and trust the brand. Without the benefit of social media that we have now, much of what I did was around sampling and what was then known as ‘affiliate marketing’, now more commonly referred to as a ‘collaboration’, even though they are slightly different tactics.
I partnered with our key retailer David Jones to design campaigns that would invite “like-minded” customers into store to sample the latest fragrance. It was incredibly effective and complimentary sampling is something I still advocate today. It looks a little bit different but essentially ‘influencer marketing’ is a form of sampling to like-minded customers.
Getting your products in front of the right audience is what marketing is all about and building your brand through awareness provides a context for those products to be experienced.
The lesson – get your product out there. Start small, start smart, sample for free and leverage the attention on social media.