This interview is part of our Spectrum interview series, which seeks to highlight prominent DTC brands' marketing strategies and creative uses of customer data.
Authenticity and customer-centricity are paramount to building a modern brand that truly connects with today's consumers. I had the pleasure of speaking with Hatch Collection's VP Digital, Vadim Grinberg, about how the luxury maternity brand seeks to tell honest stories to reach a variety of customers and promote excellent products.
Can you give us a brief rundown of your position at Hatch?
My official title is VP Digital at Hatch Collection, which means I oversee the entire customer-facing and customer information side of the business, outside of the actual creative that customers end up seeing and interacting with.
Obviously as a luxury brand you have a very specific audience. Are there certain channels you focus on?
We face a challenge not only as a luxury brand, but also as a brand that has a very specific audience on top of that: women who are pregnant, are planning to be pregnant, or just gave birth. So there is another layer of complexity of audience acquisition, as the number of women who are pregnant at any given time in America isn’t that high — it’s a couple lookalike audiences worth of people. So you’re automatically talking to almost everyone in some capacity on some of the bigger platforms.
What that means is that we need to play mostly on those bigger platforms because that’s how we can get scale. Facebook is a great place for us to get in front of new customers, for obvious reasons. Every brand will agree with me saying there is really no better place to get new customers. For a lot of brands like ours, their overall success is heavily reliant on how much they can get in front of people on Facebook and Instagram. Even before everything that’s on the news cycles was happening — at least overtly — it was always tough. I think the hardest thing about Facebook is that you’re wrapped up in advertising on a platform as a brand because you choose to keep advertising on a platform.
One thing we’re most proud of is our new Babe platform, which is a content platform that is trying to tell real, irreverent stories — we have real moms every Sunday that we talk to and publish. We’re trying to tell a more honest story, and what Babe helps us do is talk about maternity and pregnancy very transparently. We actually just launched a whole voting package: how to raise children to be voters; how to make sure to support your local elections; how to make sure you’re prepared — all while still weaving in the right things about motherhood and maternity.
One thing we’ve been speaking to as much as we possibly can is the disparity in black motherhood and maternity mortality rates. I think that that’s what’s really crucial right now, showing up as a brand at that level. I don’t want to create a feeling for people. I want us to send a real message that we actually have some say in. As a brand, we have an opportunity to talk to people in a real way, and if they choose to be our customer, great. That’s where we have to be most honest, and Facebook is unfortunately part of the place where we have to do that. It’s very difficult, but we are not going to shy away from our perspective, which absolutely is that social is a place to be honest with people and be inclusive, and to voice not even our opinion — but our reality.
When you launched Babe, it was Mother’s Day, so automatically you get a purchase spike there, but did you see an influx in general after the launch?
It’s par for the course that time of year. But what Babe specifically has done is usher in new customers to Hatch. We’ve been surprised about how many people have signed up for Babe and then become customers. Obviously there is overlap, but we are seeing that Babe has good content and really good legs. Some of our best articles are the ones that are the most fun, most interesting, most heartfelt. Again, we’re telling real stories. We’re saying the things that no one else seems to be saying. I’m very proud of it.
I would be surprised if building this online community with Babe doesn't contribute a fair amount to conversions, especially with people discovering you through social media — especially on Instagram, where you can see the physical diversity of models in photos, illustrating that this isn’t just a rich white woman’s brand. It’s a fine line, especially when you talk about the types of demographics that make enough money to afford luxury maternity clothing or beauty products.
Like every brand, we’re treading much more conscious water right now. We’re making sure we’re not lying to ourselves or anyone else. But it’s always a part of the conversation. It takes time to expand our product assortment, knowing what the bias should be — it’s a learning process for everybody. But it’s truly, truly something everyone talks about every day internally in some capacity. Our marketing and social team talk about it every time they build out new content, and that’s just the way it should be. We want more people to try our products because they are good, you know?
Are you diversifying away from Facebook and Instagram?
Diversification is key, and at the beginning of this year we started to advertise on Pinterest as well. It’s the same sort of thought process where we can use the imagery and campaign structure and the visual-led language to help convey to people what we do.
The cool thing about Pinterest is that people do respond to different things and it’s also a search engine, basically — it’s intent-based. So you can do a little bit more with it. I still would say that Facebook and Instagram have locked in how to get conversions better than anybody else has, but Pinterest is our primary diversification away from the Facebook and Instagram world.
We also obviously advertise on Google — primarily to capture brand search — but also within the maternity market to make sure that we’re focused on the right non-branded keywords to try to expand our influence and to make sure that we’re showing up with the competitive brands, as there are quite a few.
I like to always talk about how if we can increase conversion, every dollar we spend on paid ads — no matter how much more efficient we can make those paid ads — will go further if our conversion is better, right? It makes perfect sense. But in terms of diversifying to TikTok and Snapchat and things like that, I’m not against thinking about it, but once I start going down the path of “What am I going to take the budget out of to test this?” and “What does success look like on that platform?” I realize there are a lot of other things we need to do.
Direct mail is one of those things — we don't use it super frequently (yet!), but it absolutely does get to that retention that is absolutely necessary, because we have our customers for a limited window. We want to make sure we’re talking to them at the right moment with the right product and are allowing them to look at the breadth of the assortment. It’s a pain point with paid social, but it’s something direct mail can help with.
What were the criteria for building your direct mail audiences?
There are data co-ops you can tap into or if you work with the right partners, they can build you the right audience. Really for us, income is a major acquisition factor because of our price point. But existing customers, too, you want to retain them. If we’re lucky enough to have someone buy something in their first trimester in that stage of excitement, hopefully we can reach them in the second and third as they’re growing. They might say, “Oh man, I really need jeans,” or “It’s summer — I would love to have a dress that actually fits me that I feel comfortable and like myself in.” So those are the moments we are trying to hit.
We launched the fourth trimester collection back in March, and that’s proven to be a fun and emotional collection to talk to our customers about. It really opens up a very real and raw conversation not a lot of women get to have with brands. We’re just trying to be honest about that part of maternity, and that also creates a longer customer lifecycle.
And how are you tracking those lifecycles?
There are plenty of platforms that try to sell things to unlock a certain segmentation or a path to purchase or customer value. And while those things are inherently true, it’s not like we haven’t thought of them before. We just don’t currently have an easy avenue by which to build them, benchmark them, and then iterate on them. And iteration is not just money, it’s also time. So we have to do what works, and deprioritize things that are the nice-to-haves and, over time, build in the must-haves from the nice-to-haves.
When you talk about finding these fundamental tools you can build on, are there any you absolutely can’t live without?
I won’t name names of platforms. But I’ll say it’s crucial for a brand that’s trying to grow and has multiple categories of product to know not just their LTV but their predicted LTV — to know how they’re growing their future base of customers.
We have a pretty finite timeline; you look a year ahead and we’re probably got all our customers. We know how many customers buy by which month, on average, and how much of that LTV — the actual spend — is realized by which month, and then which products help increase the total basket size, and then the total lifetime spend. So being able to track that is crucially important.
What I’m learning from a more practical perspective is that we need a really fast platform for building reports around inventory and sell-through with “customized-to-your-business” classifications. What I mean by that is that everyone defines things differently, and we need to be able to cut and pivot by those at the drop of a hat. I think people used to oversell data and now I think people are underselling it, because Shopify makes it so easy out-of-the-box to sell things, but it doesn’t make it easy to really investigate things. So I think finding a platform for that is crucial.
What do you mean by “investigate”?
We ask a lot of questions, so it’s not just about the purchase journey and the value and which category is valuable to us. It’s also about the iterations of things and where we put focus — is it something related to which first product they bought? Yes. But also, what is their overall journey month to month? As a maternity brand, you really want to be able to cut your audience up by their changes by month. But being able to have that out-of-the-box is really hard because you’re basically asking for customized deep cohort analyses by month. Then, on top of that, we have our different collections, our style buckets, our price points, trimesters — a whole depth of data. It’s not anything other companies don’t ask about, but for us it’s so crucial to understand which direction to turn the wheel. Because we could make more of everything, but then we’re spread thin.
With a finite lifecycle, you know for a fact there will be churn. What are you doing to get the most out of each customer, knowing that they will leave your business at some point?
Probably the most unique thing about Hatch is that it is still a fashion brand, despite being a solution-based brand. One of the things that’s hardest for a lot of brands to do is to build in fashion and seasonality into something that is essentially year-round. I mean, there are spikes in September and Mother’s Day, but that’s really more about people’s expectations about buying new clothes than it is about pregnancy.
Our brand ethos — to allow women to feel like themselves and celebrate this huge moment of change, while being real and honest in the way we speak to them — is a huge part of who we are, but also in driving customer engagement. One of the things I always remind myself of whenever I’m thinking about anything talking to our potential customer base is that these are just people who happen to be pregnant right now. There are definite solutions that are necessary that only a brand that understands pregnancy can build, but at the end of the day the customer just wants to feel normal (and special!) as much as possible.
So seasonality is part of how we solve for a finite lifecycle, but at the same time it’s just as complex as any other brand.
Did you see changes in your customer behavior when Covid hit?
I think none of us expected specific things to happen. There were some strong assumptions that went the right way. But we are also leaning into what makes us grow quickly, and there are styles and products and collections that resonate with more people, and those are being highlighted right now in this environment.
Something we keep hearing internally is that the intention is less about what customers want to wear next month and more about what they want to wear now. So, we’re focused on assets that convey the better version of where you are now — comfortable, feeling like yourself in the moment — as opposed to “I'm going to this wedding and I need to buy an evening dress for it.” The latter mindset was really good for us pre-Covid, but it’s definitely lessened. But that doesn’t mean people don’t still want new clothes and have changing, growing bodies. So we leaned into that.
I want to say I had this epiphany and I told everyone to create assets about being indoors and at home. But what really happened is that we couldn’t do photoshoots, and we had to focus on the new fourth trimester collection we just launched. So, we made sure to use the assets we really liked, and we had some ideas about how to use certain copy, and it just happened to work as things became a little bit cheaper on paid social. We actually had a pretty strong first few months after Covid hit. Obviously we had to make adjustments to our plans and forecasts, but we are definitely lucky to have had it — at least on the e-commerce side of the business — do as well as it has, relative to what it could have been.
On the retail side of the business, how have things changed there since March?
Stores are tough up front, as they are for anybody else. The beauty of being a smaller store focused on a luxury maternity product is that you inherently make close relationships with your customers, so we have a lot of people who come back through phone orders and who just stay in constant communication. The people who work in our stores, they make actual relationships with their customers. So when customers can buy, they do buy, and we do pretty well, even in this environment.
We follow the health-related rules that are given and we prioritize safety over absolutely everything else for our employees. We got creative because of this; we started chat on-site and had some of our employees use chat to talk to our customers.
Will you balance a lack of physical retail with a more aggressive e-commerce strategy in the holiday season?
I mean selfishly, e-commerce is probably the hardest thing. It can do well and pick up some of the slack from store sales that we expected from having those locations closed for most of the year, but at the same time, it means I have to do more with the same budget — if not a smaller budget. So the strategy really is to do more with less, for me. And we have been able to do that, luckily.
We have a really good partnership with our ad agency that helps us stay focused, stay grounded, and stay relatively straightforward. We want to get more interesting with our targeting and acquisition — and we will with the platforms we’re taking on. But at the end of the day, we want to hit as many goals as we can and make sure we’re doing the same business we’ve always been doing.
I’m not trying to uncover some cool new strategy for holiday shopping. Marketing-wise we’re doing it — we’re telling the stories we think we should be telling. And people are still pregnant. But I’m not trying to recreate some sort of offline retail experience online unnecessarily — I don’t want to force a feeling on anybody.
SEM is on a lot of brands’ minds, particularly as offline advertising and retail are not so accessible or pertinent to consumers right now.
SEM and SEO in general are either a pillar when you build a brand because you’re so well versed in it, or it becomes something that you push off and eventually try to make better. We’re definitely in the latter category, but we’ve been taking it more seriously as of late.
For SEM in particular, we don’t even scratch the surface on the potential there — the general market is still massive, even inclusive of any income limitation there may or may not be. It’s just really understanding how people are shopping for specific moments in their pregnancy. We don’t want to lose touch with how people shop, because we’re creating products for a reason. Every product has an intention, and that intention is designed into, and then it is used on our product listing pages to try to sell the product. I'm always asking if we are actually in lock-step with those intentions in our SEM and SEO.
With retail being somewhere you can tap into a little bit better, we are really focusing on how people shop. We finally have reviews on-site, so you can see reviews when you search for us. It’s one of those no-brainers, but we have it — we have amazing reviews — and they help customers overcome the fear of “Wait, who are they? Why is this so expensive? Why should I buy it?” And in our space, there is a tremendous desire for the customer to understand what's worked for other mothers and to soak up as much information as possible during pregnancy. We try to break down some of the barriers other brands don't have. Plus, there's a lot of competition popping up. No one does it how we do it, but it doesn’t mean they’re not spending on paid search.
I’m approaching it from three directions: I have to make sure that we’re still relevant in the paid competitive space; we have to translate it into our shopping and our ads; and we have to stay true to the purpose of our product and convey that properly for SEM.
Nothing crazy growth-hacky is happening here. We’re just doing the right things, playing the right game, and trying to be smart about it.
Do you see your team adopting more data science and third-party data in the future?
Part of why I think I was hired for the role is really getting everything aligned with what we are already using first; I want to look at the big opportunities we have to answer the questions I keep hearing repeatedly: “What is the purchase cycle?” “What is the increase in LTV?” “What is the general behavior that leads them to buy the things we bought into?”
I think, primarily, analytics helps us express how to give the right person the right thing. That’s the ideal scenario. If you imagine that we are asking someone who is planning on being pregnant to buy a bunch of stuff from us, we better have the right answer for her specifically. I’m not talking personalization — more that we are solving for the things we want to solve for. Ultimately it’s understanding not everybody is going to like the same thing.
A lot of brands — and this is maybe me being cynical — have three things they’re doing really well, and they go and make hundreds of thousands of those three things, and that’s how they make their money. And that’s fine, but that's not what Hatch was founded on. I will never speak to what’s going to happen in the future, because I don't know, but Hatch is just as much a brand as it is a product. The brand is what makes it worth opening up the door to talk to consumers because if they can trust the brand and they like the product, then it can become a part of who they are now.
Knowing how we can talk to those people and keep them satisfied is the most important. Like we said earlier, there’s churn. It’s not like we only want our top customers to keep buying — we want to make sure we are consistently answering the questions that pregnant women have and make them feel like our product is worth the price point — worth going across category for. And at the same time, if you only want to buy our belly oil, that's fine. If you only want to buy our leggings, that’s fine. That dress before the one family holiday you get to go on, that’s fine, too. We’re so glad you’re choosing Hatch because you like the styles, you like the brand. But we want to say, “Hey we have all these trimesters sorted, come talk to us.”
It’s easy to say, “High price point, pregnant woman, one type of customer.”
That’s completely false, yes. It’s my job to figure out how to make each of those customer relationships valuable in both ways. If you buy a certain thing, I don’t want to just throw dresses at you so you can increase your LTV. I don’t need you to buy forty dresses to make me happy. The more we understand that segmentation of customers, the better. And that’s where extra data comes in, because we can hypothesize and make assumptions — and we get those right a decent amount of the time — but really we can’t assume anything. It makes my job hard because I don’t have enough budget to A/B test every type of audience. But that’s why my team and I exist in this brand. We happily take on the burden of trying to figure it out and solve it.