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ENVISION 2022: Ingrid Milman-Cordy, Nuun Hydration

Bigeye recently released ENVISION 2022, an on-demand video exploring key findings from our report, Retail Disrupted. This week’s podcast is an extended interview with ENVISION guest Ingrid Milman-Cordy, who leads digital marketing and e-commerce for Seattle-based Nuun Hydration. During our interview, Ingrid shared surprising insights about channel strategy, Nuun’s e-commerce tech stack, and why she believes the metaverse and Web3 offer brand marketers exciting opportunities.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: I think being channel agnostic and just making sure that you are meeting your consumer where they are is important. And I think one of the things that has unlocked a lot of growth for Nuun is to not think about our channels as competitives to each other but thinking about them as complimentary.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by BIGEYE: A strategy- led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us today. Last October, Bigeye published a market research report, entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. We recently released a video, ENVISION 2022, in which four experts discuss key findings from our study, and explore some of the potential implications for retailers and brand marketers. Our podcast today is an extended interview with one of our guests for ENVISION 2022, who discussed how a direct-to-consumer brand originally developed for endurance athletes successfully adopted an omnichannel approach, entered mass retailers, and expanded its line to attract a broader range of consumers. Our guest is the e-commerce expert, Ingrid Millman-Cordy, who’s held leadership roles in and built digital platforms for companies including Estee Lauder, Ann Taylor LOFT, and e.l.f. Cosmetics. Ingrid also spent some time agency-side, as the senior producer of digital marketing at Barbarian, working with brands like Clinique, Sam Edelman, and John Barbados. Ingrid is currently the head of digital and e-commerce for Nuun Hydration and produces and hosts the Future Commerce podcast, Infinite Shelf. For this conversation, Ingrid joined us from her home in Seattle, Washington.

[MUSIC]

Adrian Tennant: Ingrid, thank you for joining us for ENVISION.

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Hello. I’m so happy to be here.

Adrian Tennant: So Ingrid, what drew you to a career in digital marketing and e-commerce?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Oh, well, it definitely was not a straight line mostly because when I was in college, that wasn’t a thing. It didn’t exist. So actually, I have an economics degree and my first job out of school was at Goldman Sachs because that’s what I thought, you know, people with economics degrees do. But I didn’t work in banking or anything like that, I worked in technology because that’s always been something that I’ve been really, really interested in doing. And then I realized that, while I was at Goldman, we had built one of the first, like, consumer-focused web experiences. So for the clients at Goldman Sachs, they were able to finally not get everything mailed to them in paper, they could interact on the internet with their brokers and that was revolutionary at the time, not to date myself, but it was. And, what I realized was I really loved creating web experiences for people, but I didn’t really love banking so much. And so I went ahead and actually took a role at the Estee Lauder Companies and I was there for about six years. And that’s really where I quote-unquote “grew up” in e-commerce and then digital and I had a few different roles there while I was growing up and understanding the world. And I started sort of on the platform side, cause that’s where my skill set was like in technology and building features. And then I moved on to helping brands specifically. So I did all four of the MAC and Rihanna partnerships, and that was where I got bitten by the brand and the marketing bug. And so when you combine the technology experience and the love for brands and brand experiences and marketing, that sort of where you get into digital marketing and that’s where I am.

Adrian Tennant: Well today, you’re the head of digital and e-commerce for Nuun Hydration. Could you tell us a bit about the company and the scope of your responsibilities there?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Sure. So, Nuun hydration was started about 15 years ago and it was a very niche, at that time, product for triathletes, marathon runners, people who were identified, not just as a hobby, but just as their entire identity as endurance athletes. And at the time, there was a lot of need for being able to separate your hydration needs from sugars and carbohydrates, because the biggest, sort of most well-known, and most used hydration product – that was, aside from water – was Gatorade. And Gatorade is great, except they hadn’t figured out how to separate the sugars and the carbohydrates from the electrolytes, which you need. And so the innovation was born from there and that actually endurance athletes need. And I would say for the first like 10 years of Nuun, you could only really get it at sports specialty stores, maybe even like an REI and then eventually Whole Foods. And now, we realized that the need for hydration is so much greater. And so it’s now becoming available for regular consumption: people just putting it into their waters and we’ve expanded our product portfolio into products that have immunity components for electrolyte replenishment and vitamins and things like that. We’re still very much supporting of, and in the industry of endurance athletes, but we’ve expanded our product portfolio to hydration needs as a whole. So that’s what Nuun does. And we were bought by Nestle Health Science in 2021, which I think is going to continue to unlock a lot of access to the general public, and really our mission hasn’t changed from enabling movement. We’re just enabling movement for all types of people, not just endurance athletes. So that’s Nuun. My part of that puzzle is I own the digital and e-commerce experience of connecting with our brand and transacting with our brand online in the most fundamental sense. So NuunLife.com is within my world as well as any kind of e-commerce. So whether it’s on Amazon.com or ThriveMarket, which are both pure-play ecommerce, for the most part. And then also retailer.com, so walmart.com, target.com. All of those. So anytime you transact online for e-commerce that falls within my jurisdiction at Nuun.

Adrian Tennant: Got it. Ingrid, what does your tech stack at Nuun Hydration look like?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: We mostly rely on Google Analytics and we actually now with, the Nestle Health Science connection, we have GA 360 for the first time and DV 360 and DM 360 and all of that, which is great. We’re starting to use Segment as a CDP and we use a bunch of other things to help, connect, creating quizzes, and things like that. We have little plugins from Shopify that you can use. But yeah, the big pillar ones that we interact with every day are just like the Shopify Plus platform and then Klaviyo, Yappo, Attentive, that kind of thing. 

Adrian Tennant: What are some of your favorite e-commerce tools or plugins that your team probably couldn’t live without?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Oh, man. Frankly, all three of those that I just named my team could not live without. The entire loyalty program is on Yappo and that’s a really big one for us. We love it. Klayvio is just incredibly easy to use and to look at your data and understand your customer segments and things like that. I think both of those, and then frankly, so we just launched Attentive about a year ago for SMS and my initial concern was, oh, it’s just going to cannibalize your email revenue streams. And in fact, it’s been pretty incremental. So Attentive SMS has been a pretty big win for us and they’re really easy to use. And I think our team really enjoys working with their team. It’s been really good. Oh, the other one that’s important to talk about, I think is Recharge. So we use Recharge for our subscriptions.

Adrian Tennant: Well, as you mentioned, Nuun Hydration did start life as a direct-to-consumer brand focused primarily on endurance athletes. It’s since broadened its product range and now has national distribution in mass retailers, including Target. So from your standpoint, what advice do you have for other brands that want to grow their customer base through physical retail distribution? 

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Yeah, there’s probably a good couple of hours that we can spend on this particular topic. I think broad strokes, one thing that I think has kept Nuun true to its brand and true to its audience as it can be is that we have not compromised on our values. And our values are clean planet. So we are never going to ship you know, ready-to-drink water because that’s just really impactful on the environment. It’s also using single use plastic, which we’re also not fans of. We sell plastic tubes but there are 10 uses in here and it’s fully recyclable except for the top. So you just pull off the top and we’re even, we’re working on that. So that’s another big thing that we have the opportunity to do, with a bigger company backing us. So again, these are principles that you have to know what makes your brand and what brought those really loyal consumers who self-identify as Nuunies and being part of the Nuun-iverse is actually a thing. Like I was at the DMV the other day, and I was wearing my mask that had a little Nuun logo on it. And the guy who was helping me at the DMV was like, “Oh, you’re part of the Nuuniverse! Cool.” And it was just like the coolest, funniest little interaction. And so you have to figure out what draws that emotion out of your consumers and just never take your eyes off of that, regardless of whether you’re continuing to be direct to consumer or when you eventually hopefully, you know, expand out into broader distribution nationwide.

Adrian Tennant: Well, one of the things we often hear from direct-to-consumer clients is the desire to build brands for the long-term while also driving short-term sales. So Ingrid, how do you think about the sales funnel?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Yeah. So the sales funnel is very much for us right now about education. So there is a portion of society that doesn’t really understand the benefits to water additives. So there’s a part of understanding how, if you put something, you know, that is aiding hydration into your water, you get more out of it. The easiest way to describe that, I have found, is it makes your water more sticky. Aand so that actually helps you with your actual hydration and it also makes drinking water a little bit more fun. And so there’s elements to introducing your brand into people who didn’t even know that they need additives in their water to make it work harder for you. And then the other component is just understanding, like meeting people where they’re at. So some people only drink liquids, don’t drink water at all, because water is boring. It’s not tasty. It’s not interesting. And so people would rather drink, you know, either soda or some kind of sugared water to make it a little bit more interesting. And so our goal for those people is to introduce a component to your water, that it can make it work harder for you, but it’s also a little bit more fun and interesting, and doesn’t have a whole lot of sugar and also is, cleaner ingredients. So non-GMO certified, vegan, cruelty-free, like all of the things that you want to feel good about putting into your body, there’s an education component to that. And then the rest of the sales funnel is frankly, this might be a little bit controversial, but we don’t actually care where you buy Nuun. And yes, I do own the P&L for NuunLife.com. I would love for you to buy our products on NuunLife.com. But frankly, if it’s easier for you to pick it up on the shelf at Target or Walmart. Great. If you’re at REI and you are prepping for your camping trip and you want to make sure you’re hydrated after a long hike. Great. If you’re on Amazon and you’re buying a bunch of stuff for the home and you want to buy some Nuun on there, that’s also great. And so I think being channel agnostic and just making sure that you are meeting your consumer, where they are is important. And I think one of the things that has unlocked a lot of growth for Nuun is to not think about our channels as competitives to each other but as thinking about them as complimentary.

Adrian Tennant: So just to dig a little deeper into that, whether it’s those top of the funnel, I guess in traditional times or mid to lower funnel, would you say that all your paid media pretty much has some kind of call-to-action?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Certainly, yeah, I would definitely say that. So we don’t do out of home because we’re not quite big enough yet, but if there were to be like an out of home, I would call that as top of the funnel as you get. there would still be a call to action where you can show where you can pick up the products, so there’d probably be a logo for a Target or a Walmart or an Amazon, and then NuunLife.com of course. Yeah, every single piece of content that we put out has some form of a call to action. Sometimes it’s not a “shop now” call to action, right? That’ll be like on your lower-funnel tactics. Sometimes it’s just a “learn more” so you’re educating them on a blog. One of our most successful blog posts is, “Five reasons why you’re dehydrated,” and people just really want to know. They feel it and they know the difference between when they’re hydrated and when they’re not. And so we do feel like our role is to educate people on hydration and we also connect feeling great and feeling hydrated with the ability to move and enabling movement. And so there you are, and that’s a full circle back to making sure that we are really true to our principles.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing and consumer research. Our featured book for May is Influencing Shopper Decisions: Unleash the Power of Your Brand to Win Customers by Rebecca Brooks and Devora Rogers. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Influencing Shopper Decisions, go to KoganPage.com – that’s K O G A N P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Last October, Bigeye published a market research report, entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. We surveyed consumers across America to find out how their shopping behaviors had changed as a result of the pandemic. In a special Bigeye video event, we’re joined by four experts who reflect on the study’s findings and explore the implications for retailers and brand marketers in 2022.

Doug Stephens: It’s logical to assume that as we see this metaverse construct, as we as individuals spend more and more time in these virtual worlds, that the adoption of things like virtual apparel might start to make more and more sense.

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: I think being channel agnostic and just making sure that you are you know meeting your consumer, where they are is important. to not think about channels as competitive to each other, thinking about them as complementary.

Andy Sheldon: When you’re watching something as a live stream, that’s linear, there’s no choice, but to watch what’s going on at that moment on the shopping teller.

Syama Meagher: I see NFTs as an invitation for consumers to join brands on a digital journey and for brands to invite consumers to spend their cryptocurrencies and their time into building a relationship with the brand. 

Adrian Tennant: For a lively discussion about the future of retail and marketing watch Bigeye’s Envision 2022. For details, go to bigeyeagency.com/insights.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. You’re listening to a conversation with Ingrid Millman-Cordy, the head of digital and e-commerce for Nuun Hydration and the host of Future Commerce’s Infinite Shelf podcast. Ingrid was a guest on Bigeye’s recent ENVISION 2022 video event.

[MUSIC]

Adrian Tennant: Ingrid, you produce and host a weekly podcast now in its second season called Infinite Shelf, which you describe as a human-centric retail podcast. So what prompted you to create the podcast and why that tagline?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Sure, it’s produced by the guys over at Future Commerce. You know, I started as just someone who got interviewed and then Uh, friendship and a rapport and I just ended up being a guest host every so often for the past couple of years. So that’s where the podcast bug hit me. I’m also a podcast listening junkie. Like there’s a rare moment where I’m walking or doing something around the house or doing anything and not listening to a podcast. So as a listener, I realized that there was this gap and opportunity to create content for people like me. So people who are e-commerce operators and digital minded and are interested in brands, not just for, you know, how we’re going to grow our brands and how we’re going to grow the bottom line. But those things are quite important and not trying to minimize them, but there was content that was around those topics. And when I was trying to create a place where we can have conversations with brands, with service providers, and software that talked about why they exist to serve people and the people that are inside of the brand, serving the people that are on the other side, consuming their brands. And the conversation of that felt very, very, commercialized, but at the end of the day has a big human component to it. I felt like there was a lot of talk around commercialization and optimization, but I really wanted to not ignore that, but sort of understand the one layer or two layers deeper than just the commercialization. So that’s where Infinite Shelf came through.

Adrian Tennant: In an episode from season one of Infinite Shelf, you discussed non-fungible tokens, blockchain, and cryptocurrencies. I actually really enjoyed the way that you broke each technology down for listeners. Since you published that episode, of course, we’ve seen coverage of the metaverse everywhere. What are the technologies or aspects of web three that you think could have the greatest impact on retailers in the near future?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Oh, that’s such a great question. And since that episode and a few other books and podcasts and articles that I’ve been reading, I’ve definitely gotten bit by the web three, cryptocurrency bug. Mostly because I’m fascinated by economics and just creating a new currency and all of the things that is behind creating a new system and a new way of making decisions and centralized versus decentralized and that kind of stuff. It just is philosophically fascinating to me. But going back to your question about what brands can do, really, I think of the best opportunity that brands can have now is knowing and acknowledging the fact that we spend at least a third, some people, two-thirds of their time in what we call the metaverse. I think the biggest distinction is when you hear the word, the metaverse, it feels so futuristic and it feels like it’s so far away. But in reality, when we think about how much time we spend on our iPhones and in front of our computers and everything, like, we already exist in the metaverse. So having that fundamental acknowledgment is important and then how to be relevant within that world is critical. And so I look at it right now for brands, depending on what you do, as an opportunity to speak to a consumer or remind a consumer that you are there. So remember to imagine the metaverse is this mall that people are spending hours and hours and hours of their time browsing and being within. And you have this opportunity right now to experiment with showing them a product that is from your brand that might be relevant to their life or what they’re doing in the metaverse. And so it’s just an opportunity for you to sort of get people to be aware of your brand, especially physical products, it’s hard to sell that in the metaverse, but I think again, thinking about how fashion and Nike and all of these brands are doing it is interesting. I think it’s hard to talk about it in an absolute, so if there’s like a specific example, but I hope that answers your question in terms of understanding that people are already existing in the metaverse and then it’s only going to get bigger and consume more and more of our time. Um, whether that’s a good thing or not is a whole other topic, but yeah, I think there are huge opportunities for doing it. I just think that the same way that I would give the advice for when you expand into retail to stay true to your brand and to figure out what your principles are and what your values are and stay within that realm when you’re expanding into physical retail. I think the same thing for the metaverse. So don’t become a different brand or put on some other face of your brand just because they’re now operating in the metaverse. I think it’s yet another test of being true to who you are.

Adrian Tennant: In what kinds of ways are you thinking about these emerging technologies in relation to Nuun Hydration’s business, specifically?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Yeah, so obviously if you’re sitting in front of your computer, or you’re in the metaverse, or you’re doing something online, you may forget to drink and you may forget to move your body around. And so if we can connect the opportunity to make sure that you’re hydrated and also then make your body, your physical body, feel good to take a break. You can probably have your Nuun and then remember to use that as a trigger to go for a walk, go walk your dog, go walk around the block, and get some fresh air. And then come back and do whatever you are doing, whether it’s work or whether it’s fun. So in terms of use case, I think that’s where I would A: connect it to our values and why we exist; and then B: getting people to it. So we’re looking at streaming platforms like Twitch. For example, I think Twitch is an incredible opportunity for getting into worlds that are very saturated and people have a lot of loyalty and excitement around. And so I think Twitch is a really cool way to attract people within the metaverse. Um, and then the same thing with like other streaming platforms everyone’s dipping their toe, but again, so figuring out the application for it. I think of an application for it that someone may think of is creating an NFT of a Nuun tube or something like that. So that your avatar in the Nuuniverse or in the metaverse is, not the Nuuniverse, is using it or showing that they use it. And for me, I would probably be apprehensive about creating something like that because it doesn’t feel connected to our brand in the physical space. And so again, it’s like staying within the rules and the value proposition that we’ve created in the real world.

Adrian Tennant: Which brands or e-commerce companies do you think are doing the most interesting work in this emerging Web3 space right now?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Nike and Adidas are doing really incredible things and they are not only doing it for their brand, but they seem to also be exploring other brands and other creators and investing in them. So it’s not just like thinking about how Nike or Adidas is going to exist within the metaverse, but being part of the infrastructure of building the metaverse, which I think is very cool. and also is buying them a lot of street cred within the people who are creating the metaverse right now, because they’re not just in there and trying to commercialize it, they’re in there and like building and that’s what is interesting in that world right now.

Adrian Tennant: What is the one aspect of retailing that you think is most likely to be disrupted or look completely different by 2030?.

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: I do think that the line between sort of the physical world and the digital world will continue to be completely blurred. And, I think that the same way that in the past five or 10 years, retail brands have struggled to understand omnichannel and understand, “oh, there’s this like weird digital space and e-commerce, and like, that’s not really where our brand is going to be,” but then like everyone sort of went there. Um, whether it’s through social media and magazines going away and just the power shifting. I think that the sooner companies and brands start realizing that the actual delineations between the physical and the digital worlds are going to get more blurry and create their teams in that way, create their budgets in that way, I think the more well-suited they will be for being relevant in that

Adrian Tennant: As I mentioned in the intro, you spent some time on the agency side, leading digital projects with Barbarian. So Ingrid, I’m curious, did that experience influence how you interacted with agencies once you were back on the client-side?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Oh, definitely. Yeah, so this kind of goes to something I say all the time, which is that I won’t hire someone typically unless they have had experience working in retail or waiting tables. And that’s because you learn this skill of serving the general public and you learn these ways of serving people. And I think to the next level of that, the agency experience gives people that additional context. And frankly, I think the biggest lesson I learned, that I hope to carry with me, is that when I hire an agency, I don’t consider them to be a different company. Like I hire them and I make them part of our company. and I don’t want them to be full-time because I actually really value the perspective and the fact that they’re not in our echo chamber and four walls. And so there are reasons to hire an agency and keep them as an agency. However, when you actually are in the trenches together and you’re working and you’re in meetings, there is no separation. Like I treat them the way that I would treat any other new employee and I expect them to behave that way and hold our values true and speak our language and really embody our culture and the same way as I give them, you know, respect and autonomy and the ability to do what they do. So I would say it’s boiled down to mutual respect, but also just really deep incorporation into our brand and our brand values.

Adrian Tennant: Ingrid, if people would like to learn more about you, your work at Nuun Hydration, or your podcast, Infinite Shelf, where can they find you?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: So you can find us @_InfiniteShelf on all of the socials. And, you can also catch me on my LinkedIn and it’s just Ingrid Millman-Cordy on LinkedIn.

Adrian Tennant: Ingrid, Thank you very much for sharing your insights with us today for ENVISION.

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Of course happy to be here. Thank you.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to our guests this week. Ingrid Milman-Cordy, the head of digital and e-commerce for Nuun Hydration, and the host of Future Commerce’s Infinite Shelf podcast. As always, you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on theIN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com, where you’ll also find more details about Bigeye’s ENVISION 2022 on-demand video. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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