It is a common story for many entrepreneurs featured in SWAAY: she has a full-time job (often in finance), she has an idea, she pulls double duty working her day job and her evening side hustle, until one day something pushes her out of the nest to turn that once-sidelined passion into a full-fledged business. Such is the background of Sarah Caplan. After launching her shoe brand Footzyfolds, Caplan became the captain of the e-commerce division of the parent company of KidsShoes.com, which specializes in manufacturing high-end kids’ shoes for retail stores, and has pivoted to expand into the online shopping market.
E-commerce is the new norm, and it has been a rough year for retail. 2017 will likely see an unprecedented amount of store closings, including Macy’s, JCPenney, and Bebe, which expects to close all stores by the end of May this year. Retail has the stubborn problem of high start up and fixed costs. Rent and inventory make it nearly impossible to compete with the convenience of online shopping. Amazon is a testament to the now-ubiquitous process of exclusively shopping online. With over 100,000 unique visitors per month and plans to scale up internationally, KidsShoes.com is riding the rising tide of the online retail monolith.
Sarah Caplan Courtesy of Sarah Caplan
Although Caplan’s background in entrepreneurship is impressive, her ingenuity is best illustrated by the development of her app KidsSizing, which she created for KidsShoes. Seeking a strategy to differentiate KidsShoes.com from the competition (think Zappos) proved to be a challenge.
Without the possibility to undercut the sales prices of similar e-commerce shoe companies, KidsShoes.com had to create a market opportunity from elsewhere. Like many light-bulb ideas, Sarah’s inspiration came from a personal frustration: kids shoe sizes were different for every brand. She saw an opportunity in this common predicament and capitalized on it.
“In order to be able to be different from the retails that we were selling our brands to, I had to come up with a concept of what is going to separate us and how can we be different if we are selling the same shoes to Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s and all the places that get the brands that we have on our website.”
Her experience with her then one-year-old was exhausting: trying on countless pairs of shoes, buying several, then returning most of them, coupled with the ever-changing size of her child’s shoes. And proper-fitting shoes for children is an important and finer detail that is often overlooked. Short and long term damage to the feet can result from ill-fitting shoes, and children usually can’t tell if their shoes bother them.
“I came home and ordered him three more pairs of shoes because I got his size, and they came in the mail but none of them fit.”
After they went back to return the shoes, the store said that the sizes change and vary between brands. It’s a common problem for clothing in general; at one store you are a medium, while at another you’re a small. It exemplifies a challenge for online shopping: you never know precisely what you are going to get. In the world of kid’s shoes, Caplan says that “getting your kid’s foot measured means absolutely nothing. It’s all about how the shoe is made.”
“How are parents ever shopping online for their kids if all the shoes are made differently?” poses Caplan.
This problem needed to be mitigated, and a solution for KidsShoes would put them ahead of their competitors in terms of customer convenience. With her background in project management and ability to communicate in the tech world, Caplan collaborated with developers to develop the app KidSizing. Simply place your child’s foot on your iPad or iPhone, and it’ll generate a correct size for every brand that KidsShoes.com carries, ensuring you get the correct fit each time. The project proved to be the right move, and Sarah is adamant that her skills in project management and implementation are integral for the success of the app, and recommends it as a skill for every other facet of people’s lives.
Picture Courtesy of KidsShoes
Though there already were similar sizing apps, what separates KidSizing from those apps is that the app is linked directly to the manufacturer – KidsShoes.com itself.
“Everybody can have an idea,” Caplan explains. “It’s how you get it off the ground, and it’s how you implement it and bring it to market.”
In addition to KidSizing, Sarah also identified another market gap in children’s shoes – fast fashion. KidsShoes launched their own kids’ shoes brand, Sydney Jordyn, in order to keep up with the latest fashions in kids wear and “come up with the latest items in fashion for kids, very quickly.” Sydney Jordyn is well on its way to becoming the first stop on the web for the freshest styles for children’s footwear.
The combination of being the manufacturer of an exclusive app and of a kids’ shoe brand has been fruitful for the nine-month-old company. In an age of rapidly changing markets and evolving customer taste, companies have to adapt quickly, and with purpose. KidsShoes.com wedged themselves in a crowded e-commerce market, but carved a niche within it by rolling out a smart marketing campaign and solid implementation.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.