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Role Call | Craig Elbert, Vice President of Marketing

Craig Elbert, vice president of marketing at Bonobos, says embrace serendipity because the best opportunities aren’t always the ones you’d expect.
Craig Elbert | Source: Courtesy
By
  • Kati Chitrakorn

There are few sectors of the economy that offer as wide and interesting a range of career opportunities as fashion. Role Call highlights some of the industry’s most interesting jobs and the talented people who do them. For more information about fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers.

NEW YORK, United States — Craig Elbert is the vice president of marketing at Bonobos, a menswear brand based in New York City, recognised for its exceptional fit and great customer service. Elbert graduated from Dartmouth College with a major in English literature in 2003. He then spent two years as an investment banker at Lehman Brothers and two years in corporate finance at Warner Music Group, before returning to school to obtain his MBA from The Wharton School in 2009. In the six years since, he has worked at Bonobos, first, as head of finance and then, since 2012, as head of marketing.

BoF: Please describe your current role.

I am the vice president of marketing at Bonobos, a menswear brand founded in 2007 and based in New York. In my role, I oversee customer acquisition, retention, public relations and brand marketing. My consistent goal is to bring out the diverse strengths of our marketing team members. This allows Bonobos to strike a healthy balance between the data-driven approach of a high-growth online retailer and the confident intuition of a lifestyle brand. I am also in charge of Friday afternoon beer runs for the team.

BoF: What attracted you to the role?

I was attracted to Bonobos due to the calibre of the team, the challenge of building a new brand and a personal enthusiasm for the clothing. I was attracted to marketing by the confluence of creativity and analytics.

Before Bonobos, I worked in investment banking and finance, and I initially joined Bonobos in a finance and analytics capacity. In these positions, I built an appreciation for the power of data in building influence and making decisions. Numbers are concrete and, at least on some level, objective. They can win arguments. They are also necessary to understand if you want to build something profitable and scalable. But the literature major part of me who worked at a record store through high school felt unfulfilled at times. I have a bit of a creative spirit in me which made marketing attractive. It helped that Bonobos' growth, team, and, in particular, our founder Andy Dunn made that a possible career route.

Marketing requires empathy, along with an understanding of human motivations and nuances that are not immediately apparent in spreadsheets. There is both a need to understand what will drive a customer to take action and then to interpret the data to understand what is effective. That combination is what gets me excited. And, also, there's the clothes. Our design team is amazing.

BoF: What is the most exciting project or initiative you have worked on?

In the past couple of years, we have grown our physical catalogue distribution from a small test to our largest customer acquisition channel. This is rewarding because of the impact it’s had in helping us rapidly grow the business, but also because it provides a venue to let the clothing and brand story shine in a way we had not previously achieved. There is something about a consumer’s attention and mindset when engaging with the physical catalogue that allows for rich story-telling.

Marketing requires empathy, along with an understanding of human motivations and nuances that are not immediately apparent in spreadsheets.

BoF: How is your role changing? What are the forces driving this change?

Early in a brand’s creation and when the team is small, intuitions can be trusted to keep things “on brand.” When I started at Bonobos, we had just over 10 people; today we’re over 250 employees. As the team grows and processes become more important to scale, intuitions can multiply, diverge and create chaos. In scaling the brand, a lot more of my responsibilities lie in giving the team the tools and codified guidelines to execute consistently themselves versus directly executing myself.

In addition, a lot of early marketing investments tend to be lower in the funnel to grow the customer base. We invested early in Facebook ads because they drove direct response and it fuelled quantifiable growth. At a more mature stage, we also have to be more comfortable investing higher in the marketing funnel — which isn’t always the easiest investment to quantify. But some of the “softer” awareness investments are required to get to the next level. Something like a print ad may not show an immediate return, but, done with strong imagery and in the right publication, it can build longer-term credibility.

BoF: Tell us about a time you failed and how you learned from it.

When I was initially managing finance for Bonobos, I tried to take on a large amount of the work between myself and a single direct report. Because of our size, I told myself we were being scrappy, but realistically, I was being stupid. Our accounting was getting backed up and had errors. I learned a few lessons. Be realistic about resources required to do a job right, which doesn’t mean spend a lot, but manage your own and others’ expectations appropriately. Also, a well-managed team is powerful. I saw that when our next finance lead built out a team that got our accounting back on track. As someone who likes to execute and be close to the work, it was a valuable lesson in team management, delegation and expectation management.

BoF: What advice do you have for people who are interested in doing what you do?

Read Avinash Kaushik’s blog, David Ogilvy’s books and Jonah Berger’s Contagious. All different but powerful in their own way. Care about what you’re doing. Care a lot. And if you don’t care, ask yourself why you don’t. Embrace serendipity; the best opportunities aren’t always the ones you’d expect. And if you are specifically interested in what I’m doing, be sure to check out Bonobos and let us know what you think. Oh, and listen to the music of Lee Moses — I can’t stop doing that today. Addictive.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

For more information about fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers.

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