Ralph Rijks

Global Vice President Marketing
"Marketing is partly trying to influence people to adopt new behaviours."
In this episode of CMOtalk Klaas and Adam talk to Ralph Rijks, Global VP Marketing for online fashion platform Zalando. Before that, he worked for fashion brand Scotch & Soda, and led the successful turnaround of Heineken, which struggled in the US. Ralph will talk about what it takes to keep your marketing head cool when the world is on fire, or freezing, and will share what strategy and tactics you can adopt.
One of the first signs of a recession is when marketers are cutting down on budgets, research and development. Do you see the tide shifting in marketing as well?
'The way I look at it, we have these macro-economic indicators. The one I learned is sort of the starting one - the starting point of anything is the consumer confidence indexes. And for any developing market you have this index. I think that's where it all starts and if you look at those indicators, they've been down for quite some time. So, with all these impulses in the economy - and I think the economy has a lot to chew on at the moment, I don't think we need the list here. But I think all those things are now contributing to like really harsh consumer confidence being down the drain and I think it's our job to sort of see that coming - which you can - because it's been a ski slope for quite some time. And it's our job now to have predicted that and be ready to tackle what's coming.'

But there is a discrepancy, people still spend a lot of money. The restaurants are full, people are shopping, is that not strange?
'There's a lag, there's definitely a lag. I think also because we haven't had inflation for ages. And I think actually people sort of know - inflation? What is that? Because most of us probably weren't around in the seventies. Well maybe not with your pocket money and all that, probably not with a job. So, I think there's a lag and I think the other thing is that it takes time for people to adopt new behaviours. I think marketing is partly trying to influence people to adopt new behaviours. And what you see here is the economy trying to do some marketing and teaching consumers a lesson on: hey, you probably want to decrease your spending, slow down, re-evaluate, etc. So yeah, it's going to take some time but as you said Adam, winter is probably coming.'

Do you think people are going to be less inclined to buy new fashion this winter or fall?
'Well I do think that reading news reports and sort of the economy reports that are coming out now is that consumers are being dealt with a harsher hand. And I think the biggest one probably is the energy crisis at the moment. Where we really see the energy contracts of households really going times two times three. Across the board! And that is quite a massive impulse.'

What do you see in the world around you, talking to other marketers, are they already cutting down budgets?
'It's hard to reveal what everybody's doing, right? But what I would say, there's enough research that you can find and not like very superficial research, but I think academic research that's actually been well sponsored and well done which should actually speak a little to what you should be doing. And I think the way I would describe it, it's a relative game. So, just as an analogy, for non-marketers potentially, if you're a consumer and you're walking through the forest or jungle of brands, each brand is a tree. And if there's lots of trees like on Times Square, you're not going to get a lot of messaging across. But I think recession brews opportunity and that's also externally because now some of the trees are going to go away or they're not going to be watered anymore so they're not going to be as green or attractive or growing as fast. So, it's all about relatively investing in the right places and I think in a recession, the key demonstration you can bring as a marketer is to show what you've done when it was sunny outside. How smart have you become? What have you invested in?'

Is the upcoming recession an opportunity for Zalando?
'Yes. I was always thinking on the way here that some of the younger cohort across the world, it doesn't matter in any industry that you're working, but probably the younger cohort of professionals, be it in banking or shipping or any fashion probably hasn't experienced a crisis. Because probably if you started around 2011 2012 - we've sort of had a good wave and it's been very heavily supported by central banks, etc. Long story. But it's been a good wave and a good run. So, I think also for that cohort of professionals, it's also useful to talk to - I'll call myself old here - the older generation like "what was it like?" What did we do? What worked or didn't work? And I think it's about, hopefully you've repaired the roof while it was sunny outside like I said. And you've got some good things to run on into harder times and you know where to invest. And I think with my team, I always talk about the cake and the icing, and I think you know you have to focus on the cake now.'
About Ralph Rijks
Ralph Rijks is Global Vice President Marketing at Zalando where he leads a team of 200 markerters in 25 markets. Before that he workedfor fasion brand Scotch and Soda and led the successful turnaround of Heineken which struggled in the states.

About Zalando
Zalando is originally a German fashion webshop founded in 2008 in Berlin. In 2010 Zalando became marketleader for online shoes sales and they started expanding todozens of European countries. Its revenue in 2021 was over €10,4 billion. As of 2022, Zalando has more than 17,000 employees.
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