News: CMO of the Week: Ring Concierge's Neda Whitney – Brand Innovators

When agency veteran Neda Whitney joined Ring Concierge last month as the luxury ecommerce brand’s first-ever chief marketing officer, the newly created position was calling her name. Not only was it her first chance to serve as CMO, the company was also the perfect fit.

Whitney had just done an IRG Leadership Program for career development as part of her head of marketing role at Christie's auction house. During the program, she was encouraged to identify her ikigai – the thing that you're really good at, that you love doing and that you can make money doing. 

“If you can find the intersectional sweet spot between all three of those things, that is your ikigai and that is your personal brand purpose,” says Whitney. “In doing that exercise in the program, it was viscerally clear to me from day one that I am a fashion andluxury girl. That is exactly who I am. I embody that person every single day.”
While Whitney feels confident in her marketing skills to sell almost every product, she says not all marketing is created equal. “My spark is not in every single category,” she says. “I love the fashion and luxury space. I very quickly realized I need to focus my energies on my purpose because that is where I'm just going to be the happiest and most activated. I can really market anything under the sun, most marketers can. But isn't it so much fun when you can do that for a category that you're extra passionate about?” 
Whitney is passionate about Ring Concierge, which sells luxury jewelry at affordable prices. “We offer affordable luxury items,” says Whitney.

Prior to Christie’s, Whitney spent 20 years working at the top agencies including R/GA working on clients including: Tiffany & Co, L’Oreal, Unilever, Verizon, Uber, Amazon and ESPN. Brand Innovators caught up with Whitney to talk about the brand’s first-ever CMO role, luxury marketing and how decades in the agency world prepared her for the new job. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How are you thinking about telling Ring Concierge’s story?
We're a 10 year-old brand. We're not a brand that telegraphically every woman and man is going to know about. We're not Tiffany’s. We're not Cartier. We're not a heritage brand. We're not a legacy brand. We're a DTC brand. That means we have a lot of opportunities to be innovative. So to find the client where she or he is and to speak with them in a number of different communication formats, whether that be event activations or on TikTok or an SMS. 
It’s really about once they know about us, once they have brand awareness, telling them about our story, which is, we offer affordable luxury items. Every product that we create from the inception of the development of the product is thought about as, how can this be the best product for your lifestyle? It's going to be timeless. It's going to be classic. It's going to be chic, but it's also going to kind of optimize your spend. 
We have a cupcake diamond tennis necklace setting, which optimizes sparkle versus your traditional classic tennis setting. We have both, but the cupcake really makes the diamond sparkle because it cuts out the shape of the diamond in the circle. We have a mini diamond tennis bracelet, which starts under $900, which is crazy pricing for a diamond tennis bracelet. We have illusion diamond studs and bring that together with five diamonds pieced together in a really clever way where they look like one large carat diamond so your dollar goes further. We're always thinking about what our client wants, what is in style and making it something that is accessible to her.
What do you think about innovation?
People are thirsting for disruption in every category, whether it was mattress companies to Casper or pharmacies to Capsule. Luxury is no different. Yes, there's a lot of heritage players. There's a lot of legacy players, but you see those heritage and legacy players like Tiffany’s reinventing and investing in their flagships and in really relevant influencer models, which they wouldn't have done five years ago because they felt like they needed to. They're starting to realize that culturally, the times have moved beyond just a name brand. You have to stay relevant in your lifestyle and they're playing a little bit of a catch up game. We've always had to meet our client where they are. It's more about how we can keep making sure that we stay relevant, versus a little bit of resting on our laurels.
Can you talk about how you think about the customer experience?
The customer experience is very much about making sure that at every touchpoint. We're recognizing and acknowledging that even if this is an accessible or more affordable purchase, it still feels like a luxury purchase. That's everything from our packaging to our customer service to our product development. We are a brand that grew really really fast. That's because it's an awesome story and awesome products and also the price point.
 A lot of the work that gets dug into is how do we continue to optimize our growth marketing strategies? How do we continue to optimize all of those different ways that we are going to become more omnipresent for her and that when she comes to us that we're going to be giving them the most seamless experience that they have ever had and that they deserve at this price point.
You are the first CMO of the company and this is your first CMO role. Can you just talk about how you're creating the role and diving in?
I could not be more excited. I found a diamond in the rough pun intended. It's a hard moment in the economy right now so this wasn't a decision I took lightly. This wasn't a decision that this team took lightly. They know that they have had amazing growth every single year and that in order to continue that growth and take it to the next level, they really need to invest in marketing at a brand marketing level. They really need to invest in making sure that all of their marketing is optimized. That's why they knew that it wasn't just bringing on more senior marketers, it was bringing on the most senior marketer at the right level. 
Once I centered around my ikigai, I needed to find a place where I had a true seat at the table and that I could actually make a real impact. This is a brand where I will get to get my hands dirty every single day on all types of different decisions. I love being in the weeds. I love getting involved in everything from top to tail. I love the fact that in five years, if we reach our ambition of being a globally recognized brand name in the jewelry space, I will have been a huge part of that success story. That is the kind of work that gets me excited and gets me out of bed every day.
Can you talk about how your background and agency in the world and at Christie's and so on helped prepare you for this role?
I'm an agency gal. I have 20 years of agency experience and two and a half years of brand experience so there is no denying where I over rotate. Being at some of the top global agencies has prepared me really well for being a CMO. It has also prepared me really well to do the work. When you are at an agency, oftentimes you have the absolute privilege edge of some of the top brands in Fortune 500 companies coming to you with their most difficult problems that they either can't solve. That is a gift because it requires you to consistently stay razor sharp on what is happening in the industry and what is happening in terms of the trends and what clients and consumers want. That has really prepared me to always be thinking and consistently curious. 
The Christie's piece was also absolutely essential to the seat I'm sitting in today. It is different from agency side to brand side. It was an amazing experience, I got to do so many fun things. Christie's was not a place that had had a lot of external marketers, I was the first one that they had ever hired. Being able to go in there and really craft a vision of my own and having a ton of autonomy in the role prepared me to know what it was to build a team craft division work within the internal stakeholders to sell through that vision and change what a legacy brand looked like. I'm really building the first CMO vision here, which felt pretty similar to a lot of the work that I did at Christie's.
How are you thinking about the ecommerce space going into the second half of 2023?
Everyone is thinking of the second half of 2023 with a little bit of trepidation. The word recession has been a word that has been bandied about since Q4 last year. We've seen some indicators of it in layoffs in other industries. Luckily this is a really healthy business right now. We're looking at what those strategies look like in the second half of this year. I don't think anyone could ignore those realities and consider themselves a savvy business person. 
From an ecomm perspective, constantly thinking of any brand that started in a DTC, high growth startup a decade later is looking at all their systems and thinking around how do we make sure that we are positioned for a growth inflection point. What worked for us when we were at tens of millions is not going to work for us when we are at hundreds of millions. Things grow in terms of potential AI automation, as there's new AR capabilities. We're looking at some retail shifts for our brands, how does that all come together in a thoughtful way that still feels like we're speaking to our client and the same voice that we have for the last 10 years.


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