J.Crew is leaning into being J.Crew.
That’s thanks to Derek Yarbrough, CMO of J.Crew and Madewell. As J.Crew celebrates 40 years in business, Yarbrough is leading his team to refocus on the brand’s popular strengths — namely, creativity, design and storytelling.
But taking a modern, relevant approach is key, he said. That means increasingly prioritizing inclusivity and sustainability, establishing a presence on more platforms “where the customer is spending their time,” and, in short, “thinking bigger.”
“When there’s any kind of business pressure, people tend to get scared [and play it safe],” said Yarbrough. “But ultimately, success will come from creativity. That’s what inspires the customer to shop and spend money.”
After going bankrupt in 2020, J.Crew has experienced a comeback. The company’s revenue in 2022 was 30% higher than pre-pandemic. Reflecting Yarbrough’s marketing direction, designers Olympia Gayot and Brendon Babenzien have been putting a modern spin on the brand’s signature “elevated everyday clothing” since joining the company within the last few years.
“We’re not going to chase what everyone else is doing,” Yarbrough said. “Instead, we’re going to do the most audacious thing, which is be ourselves.”
In March, J.Crew kicked off a year of 40th-anniversary celebrations spotlighting its “still cool” legacy. That included hosting an all-store “birthday party” event resulting in “a bonanza day” of sales across the fleet, Yarbrough said.
The next month, the company kept to the theme with the “Style for Decades” campaign. The included imagery made waves across the media thanks to its all-star model cast that included Diane Keaton, Michelle Yeoh, Quinta Brunson and Aubrey Plaza.
“We wanted to tell a story about timelessness, style and substance, and show that the clothing works on everyone, regardless of age,” Yarbrough said.
J.Crew’s former print catalog, dubbed the Style Guide, gained a fan following in the ’90s. But J.Crew has always taken a diversified approach to marketing, said Yarbrough, who’s been with J.Crew Group for 11 years. Along with showing up on Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok, it’s recently run ads on YouTube and ESPN. The marketing team is currently trialing Lemon8 and Reddit, and Yarbrough said he sees big potential in audio, nonlinear storytelling and 3D worlds.
Marketing has become “very sophisticated and complex,” in that “you’re balancing this emotional side of the role with this incredibly rich, data-driven side of the role,” he said.
But in many aspects, it’s also remained unchanged.
“The marketer will always be the chief storyteller and customer champion — you’re serving as the voice of the customer internally and externally,” he said. “It’s only by staying nimble and adapting to where the customer is that evolution really comes into play.”
Click here for the full list of top marketers.