January Cover Story: No Diamond in the Rough

Johanna Tzur

“Our most successful campaigns are sequential, starting a conversation with the consumer by presenting a relevant offer to generate the lead, and then following up with relevant messaging and offers based on that customer’s on-site actions,” says Johanna Tzur, chief marketing officer of New York-based R2Net and its subsidiary JamesAllen.com, the world’s fastest growing online diamond and bridal jewelry retailer, which was acquired by Signet Jewelers in September 2017. “We strive to build a relationship with each site visitor vs. treating them like a one-visit sales call.”

Tzur joined the now-11-year old business nearly three years ago to lead the company’s extensive digital, performance-based marketing efforts. And when she spoke at the annual IRCE event in Chicago last June, she didn’t shy away from JamesAllen.com’s biggest challenge: effectively marketing diamonds, rings, and other high-end jewelry without an “in-person” touch. Tzur’s experience across different verticals — from beauty to personal care to banking — has helped her face that challenge.

Then too, the entire JamesAllen.com team has combined powerful performance-based marketing technology, a reliance on cost-per-action key performance indicators (KPIs), the highest-quality diamonds available, and a best-in-breed customer service team not only to meet the challenge, but to thrive in the e-commerce jewelry space.

Relying on the growing power of online video, partnerships with Google, YouTube, Facebook, and others are helping Tzur and JamesAllen.com reach the growing millennial demographic that is right in the wheelhouse of the engagement jewelry marketer. As the company’s marketing mix — and success — have grown, though, new challenges present themselves almost daily — and none would be foreign to any performance-based marketer working in 2018.

Tzur contends, “Our three biggest challenges today are: balancing between our tried-and-true, highest performing media channels and testing new media; attribution — our long purchase cycle challenges us to credit the right points of conversion influence along the cross-couple and cross-device journey; and respecting consumer privacy — especially for this purchase that is often meant to be a surprise, but in a world where remarketing is a key conversion driver.”

Clear Customer Vision

Tzur’s responsibilities are befitting of a CMO that’s had experience and success no matter what kind of product she’s marketing.

“I’m responsible for all aspects of the company’s marketing activities, including content, distribution (media), and performance measurement of all site traffic-driving, conversion, customer acquisition, and repurchase efforts — and overall brand development and delivery,” says Tzur, who joined R2Net and JamesAllen.com in February 2015. 

A veteran of consumer marketing — after earning a master’s degree in international business and an M.B.A. at the University of Pennsylvania — Tzur has worked “on brands across multiple geographies, categories, channels, and budget ranges.”

What has that experience taught her? “I’ve found it all boils down to understanding and empathizing with your target audience in order to build lasting brand awareness, purchase, and repeat — and then measuring performance across clear business-aligned KPIs,” she says.

Tzur gives a particular “shout out” to Procter & Gamble, where, she says, “I learned these fundamentals early in my career and saw they were transferrable across consumer segment, industry, and product lines. Whether marketing Pantene shampoo in India, Cover Girl cosmetics in China, Lancôme (L’Oréal) in the U.S. — or online banking products for HSBC Bank in Korea or, now, selling diamond jewelry online — keeping the consumer at the forefront of everything we do tends to support solid business performance.”

Tzur also mentions another bit of experience that’s come in handy since joining young-but-growing JamesAllen.com. “I also have worked in the venture capital (VC) world, evaluating business pitches for potential investment,” she says. “This side of the business taught me how rare but necessary it is to build a consumer-driven approach from a company’s inception.”

The JamesAllen.com team has had great success using online video ads
to draw consumers to its site, which features more than 150,000 diamonds,
all viewable in full 360° HD video.

The group that founded JamesAllen.com in 2006 — Oded Edelman, James Schultz, Michele Sigler, and Dean Lederman — had one mission when they created the business: to offer consumers the largest selection of the best diamonds at the best possible price.

Edelman brought three generations worth of history in the diamond business to the table — along with a desire to reach consumers online, where so many begin their shopping experiences today. Schultz and Sigler — experts in retail and customer service, both online and off — had recently gotten engaged when Schultz bought the ring from an online auction site. He asked jewelers what the ring was worth, he found that he’d acquired a high-quality diamond for half the price it would have been in a retail store.

Lederman — a 20-year veteran diamantaire, with expertise in the manufacturing and international distribution of polished diamonds — brought operational and financial skills to JamesAllen.com. Together, they’ve built a monster of a business.

According to its website, JamesAllen.com is the only retailer to present each of its ring settings and more than 150,000 conflict-free diamonds — all hand-selected — in highly magnified 360° high-definition video. “In fact, its 360° Diamond Display Technology has caught the attention of diamond manufacturers worldwide, giving JamesAllen.com the first pick of the best gems anywhere,” the site adds.

With a team of 24/7 customer service experts operating out of an office in Frederick, Md., and an appointment-only, red-carpet service showroom in New York, JamesAllen.com’s commitment to the customer experience becomes even more clear. But that customer experience only begins with a consumer-centric, performance-based marketing strategy. 

Performance-Based Bling

“Our marketing plans and underlying spend are built on cost per action KPIs across every channel,” Tzur says. “We strive to optimize every dollar against its business objective. Each lever that we pull — whether ads on Google or Facebook, YouTube videos, social media posts, or behavior-triggered emails — needs to bring in quality traffic to our site within its channel-specific cost target. Even our highest-level branding efforts must prove themselves by driving non-bounce traffic that ultimately converts into a purchase or influences that conversion.”

But with change the rule in today’s omnichannel marketing world, and consumers choosing the timing and location of response more than ever, the     JamesAllen.com team — with its high-end product and specialty service — believes it must always stay a step ahead of the constant evolution.

To that end, Tzur mentions a quartet of factors that have helped JamesAllen.com maintain — and even grow — its success.

“Millennials are looking for value and transparency, and they don’t discriminate by channel, as long as they get what they need when they need it,” she says. “Instead of being sold to, they want to be equipped with all the information and self-serve tools to make their own best-informed decisions.” 

She adds that these things remain true no matter if the members of this generation eventually purchase online or off. “Our site offers filters, tool tips, and other functionality — like 24/7 live chat — to help the consumer stay in control of the process, but with the concierge services needed along the way,” she says.

Second, Tzur says JamesAllen.com is always focused on getting the best feedback from its customers — and putting solutions into action.

“We routinely use listening studies, ongoing targeted online surveys, offline focus groups, and on-site user testing to understand engagement ring shopping behavior and sentiment,” she says. “We leverage these learnings to create a brand experience that ladders back to consumers’ needs and engages them within the natural patterns of their day-to-day behaviors and information consumption.”

This leads into point three — remarketing. “Because the purchase cycle is quite long, our marketing ‘conversation’ is long and involved,” Tzur says. “We rely on a range of remarketing tools to keep the in-market consumer engaged with us — including personalized emails and behavioral-triggered ads.”

Finally, she mentions the 2016 opening of JamesAllen.com’s one brick-and-mortar location. “Our showroom on Fifth Avenue in New York allows people the opportunity to meet with our customer service team in person — for those who prefer that experience,” Tzur says.

Instructional videos — like one helping consumers spot a fake diamond —
lend credence and credibility to JamesAllen.com as an online diamond expert.

Video ‘Projects Authenticity’

So, JamesAllen.com continues to evolve its consumer-centric marketing strategy. How does it look in action when it comes to launching and maintaining specific marketing campaigns?

“We build our campaigns around seasonal consumer interest, and promote them in the places where our target audience spends time and where we think they would be most open to engaging with our content,” Tzur says. “We simply don’t invest — or stop investing — in a campaign that is not performing against target and reinvest that money in channels that are performing. This is a year-round, dynamic, ongoing optimization process.”

Tzur says video is JamesAllen.com’s most powerful marketing component — both as a campaign driver and as an on-site tool when consumers arrive looking for that perfect diamond.

“Today, video is the format that projects greatest authenticity and allows high engagement with our viewers,” she says. “We present all of our products in 360° HD videos on our site, and use videos off-site to explain the benefits of buying a diamond engagement ring from     JamesAllen.com. We also feature video reviews on our site and work with influencers who repackage our messaging into content for their audiences, including sometimes being a part of their own engagement process.”

One 2016 video campaign — in conjunction with BuzzFeed, YouTube, and Facebook — garnered powerful results, first discussed in a story on RetailTouchpoints.com. Directed to millennials, “Couples Take the Engagement Ring Challenge” generated more than 3 million views on YouTube and Facebook within two weeks of its late-August launch.

According to numbers reported in RetailTouchpoints:

  • JamesAllen.com site traffic increased 270 percent, according to SimilarWeb.
  • Consumers spent an average of 10 minutes, two seconds on the site — up by four minutes, 38 seconds compared to the 28-day average visit length.
  • Consumers visited nearly 11 more pages per session than JamesAllen.com’s most recent 28-day average.

At the time, Tzur told RetailTouchpoints, “Although we’re very pleased to get more than 3 million views, what was more interesting was that a very large majority of those viewers then came to our site and performed certain actions that were highly predictive of sales. That for us is key in evaluating metrics and deciding whether we keep supporting the content with paid advertising or marketing. One of the biggest opportunities is to remarket to the people who’ve come to our site who haven’t bought, but that are showing great purchase intent. The second is understanding more about their demographic so that we can use insights about those targets to try to mimic those audiences, and find incremental traffic that looks like that.”

Sounds familiar, right? It should, as Tzur is very consistent when it comes to what she and the JamesAllen.com want to see from their marketing efforts — no matter the outlet. “We see the most success when the content provides value and feels organic and synchronized with our target audience’s behaviors and preoccupations,” she says.

Tzur continues by mentioning one of the company’s online videos, a 45-second piece that shares tips for how to spot a fake diamond. “If someone is wary of being scammed and wants to be sure s/he is purchasing a real diamond, this video does not feel intrusive as an advertisement, but rather gives the viewer valuable tips and also weaves in the JamesAllen.com advantages,” she says.

Tzur and her marketing team’s focus is such that JamesAllen.com generally eschews the typical client-agency-outlet media arrangement. “We typically work directly with the media channels where we buy inventory — instead of agencies — to create and distribute our campaign content,” she says. “Our media partners know their audiences best and create content through the lens of where it will live. This allows us to develop and distribute content — A-to-Z — with one partner.”

All of this is part and parcel of JamesAllen.com’s laser-focus on its prospective customers, no matter the media or the message — a focus that has worked for more than a decade now, and ramped up even more under Tzur’s direction. A marketer is nothing without intrigued consumers who may eventually become customers — and even influencers.

“Continuing to engage them with relevant and useful content where and when they want it increases the chance they’ll want to buy from us — and then recommend us to their friends,” Tzur says.