Wellow CEO Discussed How to Meet Customer Needs with Innovation | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

Wellow CEO Discussed How to Meet Customer Needs with Innovation


MichaelAaron Flicker, CEO of Wellow, discussed how the brand's origins began from a place of purpose to meet particular pain points for consumers. Flicker also explored how to leverage insights to create better products and innovate more quickly.

What inspired the creation of Wellow as a brand, and how did you initially position it in the market?

After 25 years of building brands for clients as the founder and president of a marketing services company, I finally decided it was time to reverse roles and become the client.

I got the idea for Wellow while traveling back and forth from New York to San Diego almost every weekend to visit my then-girlfriend and now wife while she was completing a surgical fellowship. I realized we could both benefit from compression socks on the long flights, but the options were limited. They were too tight, too hard to get on, and expensive. To me, there was clearly a need for the category to change; a brand built to bring compression socks to a much wider audience with fun colors, great fit and just the right amount of compression. The idea was born.

We originally positioned Wellow as a brand for travelers, as well as for pregnant women and for those already wearing compression socks. Our target was people between the ages of 35 to 50. What we discovered very quickly was that our audience was skewing older, and our product was even more attractive to consumers 50 and over. This led us to adapt and widen our marketing with this audience in mind.

The case study highlights a customer support revelation as the spark for the wide calf socks initiative. How do you ensure that feedback from customer support is effectively communicated to higher management and decision-makers?

Our leadership takes a very hands-on approach, especially when it comes to customer feedback. We have a weekly report where customer feedback is delivered to senior leaders, and we read – and take to heart – the actual feedback. We consider consumer inputs, their ratings, and their questions. Every customer gets an email after every purchase and customer service ticket. We ask them about their level of satisfaction, what they'd make better and how they feel. Ultimately, we take actions based on that feedback.

Our wide calf socks are a direct result of customers saying that the socks didn't fit – but that they were looking for ones that did. As we dug deeper, we found that there was a large segment of the population that could benefit from compression socks, but because of a lack of a wide calf option, they were not having their needs met.

What were the primary challenges faced during the product innovation and development phase for the wide calf socks?

Our initial challenges in developing wide calf Wellows were understanding what consumers were saying and how we could best respond. Socks, generally speaking, are a complicated thing to size. There are so many different shoe sizes and feet shapes, but socks only come in small through extra-large. What consumers were telling us was that the fit problem wasn't in the foot size, but in their ability to pull the socks over their calves. Our innovation was creating inclusive sized socks that could comfortably fit wider calves. For us that meant growing our brand from four sizes to seven and being very thoughtful about how to offer the best socks to the widest audience

Another challenge for us was in understanding the need for wide calf socks and how much to produce. We initially underestimated the appeal and desire by consumers for Wide Calf Wellow, forcing us to restock multiple times. We shipped by air so we could accelerate our ability to meet the base demand. Our marketing partners, Function Growth, saw Wide Calf as a white space for us – and the entire industry. Their insight was supported by interactions with the brand and consumers on social media.

Can you elaborate on the thought process behind the mixed media shoot and its emphasis on celebrating diversity?

We use behavioral science to inform our strategy. The principle of social proof was really important in this project. It supports the idea that if a consumer sees someone like them, even someone with whom they might have a very weak connection to, using or wearing a product, it gives them confidence that the product would also work for them. This guided our decision to use the social media influencers we did and to feature actual customers as well. We believe in celebrating diversity as a company. It hasn't just been an ideal. It is good business too.

How do you respond to the unexpected challenges, like the product selling out faster than anticipated?

You lead with honesty with your consumers. We did not hide the fact that we were out of stock on items. We ordered as fast as we could. We were in uncharted territory in launching Wide Calf Wellow's and did not initially foresee the demand. Once we were back in stock, we used the opportunity to re-engage with our customers. We let them know that we listened to them. It gave us a chance to build a two-way dialogue that continues to be a benefit to us as we innovate.

The launch resulted in a 50 percent reduction in customer inquiries related to sizing and associated returns. How has this impacted Wellow's customer service operations?

It has allowed us to spend more time solving other more important and complex customer issues. Our customers often have questions that require more thoughtful and fuller responses. By clearing out the more transactional CS tickets, we have more bandwidth to build relationships with consumers. And by doing this, we are building affinity and deeper brand connection. We've also seen our customer satisfaction scores rise considerably.

And the entire Wellow brand is saving costs by not having returns because socks are too small. The data is impressive.

What advice would you give to other DTC brands looking to leverage cross-functional strategies for growth?

The day when anyone with a great idea and product could easily launch a new DTC brand over Facebook or Instagram are over. The algorithms are much more complex and the often talked about arbitrage is gone.

Brands need a team of experts who can take a "whole brand" approach to helping you build and support your products. We'd recommend you look to supplement your core team with partners who can snap in and help you take care of things you may not have expertise in, such as growth marketing. We certainly were able to leverage performance marketing and creative solutions custom designed for us by our marketing partner, Function Growth, in a way that greatly contributed to Wellow's success.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Michael Berberich is a senior director of content and marketing at ANA.