After spending almost 20 years in the beauty industry, Carole Diarra joined UGG US chief marketing officer in September 2021.
While she loved the innovation and dynamic fast-paced environment of beauty, she wanted to challenge herself by taking the expertise she cultivated in beauty and apply it to another category.
“During the pandemic having some time to reflect, I thought, ‘How can I continue to be a part of an industry that’s really innovative and at the same time more immersed in culture?,” says Diarra. “Brands that are a part of culture can have a strong voice in advocating for the communities that they’re a part of and have a strong purpose. When I got the call about UGG,I was really excited. I thought, ‘Wow, what a great brand.’”
Diarra was attracted to UGG’s strong 40+ year legacy and at the same time the fact that the brand was constantly reinventing itself to be relevant to new generations of consumers. “I really loved the trajectory that it’s been on for the past four to five years, where it’s really taken a more active voice in social issues,” explains Diarra.
With Diarra at the helm of marketing UGG conducted a major brand audit and learned that people see the brand as comfortable inside and out and are using this insight in its brand positioning. “It’s not only giving you that physical sensation of comfort, but that emotional sense of elation, relief, power,” explains Diarra. “The consumers talked about the memories that they have from when they got their first pair. That was a brand truth that we felt was very strong, this connection that people are feeling good inside and out.”
UGG season, the time of year that consumers organically talk about putting on their UGGs on social media, began in late September. This year the brand is getting in on the conversation strategically. “We have all these people talking about UGG season and we wanted to own it and guide it and help nurture that community of people that already love our products, and give them a place to put all of their content that they were already doing,” says Diarra. “That’s something I learned in beauty, which is to seize the moment when something is trending and your communities are already talking about something. Go in there and help develop it and make it even bigger.”
Prior to working for UGG, Diarra was CMO of Arbonne International. She also spent 15 years in senior marketing roles at L’Oreal. We caught up with Diarra from her home office in Paris to discuss culture, innovation and UGG season. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What role does culture play in for brands and how is UGG showing up in culture?
It’s so important to be a part of the cultural zeitgeist. The first way that we embed culture is to the consumer. We call those consumers our primary target – the cultural creators and the cultural change makers. Those are the people that are creating the trends, setting the looks that are really comfortable and breaking through in ways that we can impact on society. It starts with those people who are immersed in culture. They care about the arts. They care about fashion. They care about music. They care about making a difference in the world. It’s very important to understand those people to bring them along on our journey.
We have our global influencer program called Feel You. It’s all about helping people that are a part of the culture to express who they are in the most authentic way. Feel You is about feeling yourself. It’s about feeling like you can express yourself in either a bold way or in a subdued way. It’s really about you expressing your own emotions and you feeling good however you decide to express how you feel.
What did you learn in the beauty industry that you are applying to your current role at UGG?
The beauty industry is all about innovation, understanding your consumer and being very focused on building community. All of those things have been important to me as I’ve come to UGG. We did a global audit of the brand to assess the key strengths and attributes in eight different markets. We spoke to over 12,000 consumers to understand what UGG means in each of those global markets. Then we defined our consumer segmentation based on key attributes associated with the brand that were unique and then key targets that were attractive. That’s really a rigor of insight and brand development that I took from the beauty industry. It’s about being really clear about your brand positioning, your brand attributes and your target segments.
The second thing is around creating strong communities. Beauty brands are able to tap into these niche communities and celebrate them in such a powerful way. I’ve brought that approach to UGG, tapping into and nurturing those micro communities has been really important. Beauty was one of the strongest industries to build that social muscle and understand how to work with creators and build up influencers on social media. That’s been a key part of our activation.
The third thing that I got from beauty is that it’s not just about the product, it’s also about the experience. It’s about architecting an experience that is meaningful to your communities. The idea is to go beyond the product and orchestrate an end-to-end experience. It might start on social, go to digital and then also show up in our retail environments.
What is the strategy behind the new Feels Like UGG campaign?
Many of our consumers feel incredible when they put on a product and it shows on the outside because they’re able to express themselves. They’re able to feel like they can be their most authentic selves wherever that emotion takes them. That’s what we want to celebrate. We pulled together this campaign of incredible artists, changemakers and cultural leaders. We made our story come to life by showcasing them and telling their story, but really bringing it back to how all of those wonderful emotions are associated with UGG. It feels like optimism. It feels like purpose. It feels like a community. All of those things are what make up the brand.
Can you talk about working with influencers and how this is strategic for your brand?
Working with influencers is important for many reasons. It is an avenue for self-expression. Tapping into the community of influencers and creators who can help share their own ways in which they express themselves with the brand is really important. The second thing is really about style inspiration. A lot of people are not always sure how to wear their boot slippers outside of obvious occasions. So when they want to style something for those high stakes occasions – going out with friends, going to a movie, going to a concert – they’re often not sure how to style their UGG boots or products.
Working with influencers really allows us to tap into that creativity and originality of styling products. A lot of our influencers are sharing their stories about how they styled the products. People use that as inspiration for the many ways in which they can wear their UGG boots or shoes. We are tapping into that cultural zeitgeist of the communities of the influencers and really being a part of the conversation that they are starting in their own communities.
Can you talk more about your target audience, the culture creators and culture changemakers and what channels are you playing in to get their attention?
We call them the culture creators and the culture changemakers. Culture creators are the people really dialed into pop culture. They’re constantly imagining new ways to stand out, they really invest in unique pieces, set the trends and inspire others to follow them. We see these people as the tip of the iceberg for the brand. The second group of people are very similar to the first, however, they’re a bit more idealistic and passionate about nature, sustainability, and connecting with other like minded people. They like to stand out, but they’re more passionate about change in the world and society. They’re a little bit more experimental in their fashion choices and they typically really appreciate comfort and style together. That’s really important for us as a brand because not only are we looking to be more in fashion but we still have to always deliver on a comfort element.
We find a lot of these groups of people on TikTok. YouTube is another channel we find to be a good voice for style, inspiration and creativity and tips on how to dress. Then Instagram is always a choice of inspiration for creating these really powerful looks.
What are you most excited about for the rest of 2022?
We recently kicked off UGG Season with an incredible activation with one of our key ambassadors and I’m really excited about this. This is the first time that we’ve actually launched a campaign for UGG season, it usually happens spontaneously. Everyone else was talking about it, but not us as a brand. So now we’re owning that conversation along with our community.
Second, we’re launching a bigger version of our Feel House, a physical celebration of our community of creators and changemakers. We’ll have an event space in Williamsburg and we’re going to have so many exciting activations that are not only PR moments for our ambassadors, but also exciting moments to welcome our consumers and people that love to buy the brand.