CXO

Rachel Tipograph: Former Gap director of digital. Burgeoning entrepreneur. Ex comedy agent.

Rachel Tipograph was Gap's youngest executive. Now she's bringing her digital and social insights to a brand new venture of her own.

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Image: Rashid Zakat

It was Rachel Tipograph's second day at NYU. The former global director of digital and social media at Gap was walking down 2nd avenue, when she physically collided with a guy on the sidewalk. That guy was comedian Judah Friedlander, perhaps best known as Frank on 30 Rock.

They started talking, and given that it was 2005, when she told him about Facebook groups and how to use social to galvanize his fans, he was hearing it for the first time.

A sushi meeting later, Friedlander made Tipograph his "web master." — though not in the traditional sense.

"I was probably one of the first people to ever be a community manager," she said. She helped Judah out on social media, including helping create content. "That started to put me on a path of this idea of technology entertainment media," she said.

It's hard to say that's where it all started — Tipograph was an eBay power user at 13 who later developed aspirations to be a Hollywood agent, so it was probably a matter of time before she found the intersection.

She started her own comedy booking agency, and quickly learned that building up the social media profiles of her clients helped secure gigs.

After college, she worked for design, strategy, and consulting firm Undercurrent. In the process of trying to put a name on what she liked to do — combining marketing and technology — she Googled "digital strategy," found Undercurrent, and got in touch with the owners.

She worked on accounts for PepsiCo, HBO, Levi's, and more, but really made a name for herself writing the digital strategy for Pepsi's Refresh campaign. Instead of spending $25 million on a Super Bowl ad that year, the company gave it away online to non-profits.

In 2011, the recommendation of a friend helped get her a job with Gap as global director of digital and social media. At 24, she was the company's youngest executive.

Gap saw a brand turnaround during that time. One campaign Tipograph talked about was the Back to Blue campaign. It was the first time in years that Gap had TV commercials, but television had changed dramatically from when it left.

"What TV was in the 1990s, even in the early 2000s, was this moment of pop culture where you could get millions of people to focus on a single period of time because TiVo didn't exist," she said. Everyone watching was focused on a single period of time and and it made for a strong opportunity to have a 15 or 30 second story reach millions of people.

The internet changed that.

"Time and space no longer matter and you don't really have the ability to create these singular moments," she said.

That said, as part of the campaign, Gap purchased all the mobile ads on Tumblr in a 24 hour period, and partnered with content creators on Tumblr, asking them for content on what "blue" means to them.

Tipograph said not only did they reach millions of young people, but ended up with coverage from major news outlets.

"You paid attention to Gap the same way you paid attention to them in the 90s and they went on TV," she said.

When strategizing, Tipograph starts out with a basic concept of marketing — marketing is about changing a behavior or perception. The approach she takes for doing that has everything to do with environment.

She uses the example of sinking a lot of money into building a patio, then realizing you don't use it.

"Take the table from the kitchen, move it outside, and I can guarantee you that you'll be spending every single day outside because you've changed the environment of your everyday life," she said. "The idea is to not think that you can create a revolution by changing every aspect of an entire industry or every aspect of a person's life."

One way she put this into practice was through the Styld.by campaign for Gap. Looking to attract a younger audience, Gap partnered with influencers who had credibility with the audience they were after — people involved with fashion, lifestyle, music, social responsibility, etc., and gave each Gap's strategic product of the season with the instructions to style it however they wanted.

The only requirement was to add a piece of javascript code to their websites that would essentially serve to distribute something like a magazine with all the content from those influencers.

"You could be on page two, and there's an editorial where someone's wearing Gap-colored denim, and they paired it with an Alexander Wang T shirt. It looks like a rocking outfit and you could shop the content right there," she said. The campaign helped solve the problem of bringing in potential consumers into an environment that they had an outdated perception of.

Styld.by still exists online and has been brought into the retail stores, she said, which speaks to her view on how to work within a pre-existing ecosytem.

Still, though, there comes a point where working within the system has its limits. Gap, or any large company, has an operational model in use day after day, and there's logic behind having one.

"You have to be selective with the idea that you put forth in an organization because there's just so many nuances," she said. Tipograph said that she came up with an idea that merited existence outside Gap.

It's called MikMak, and as it's set to launch in January, she won't say too much yet, except that it's an "entirely new unit of content, it's a new advertising unit, it's a new consumer platform," based around mobile commerce.

So, she left Gap in April 2014 to pursue her MikMak idea.

But before diving into her new company, she took a 100-day trip around the world.

"I needed this re-boost of energy before creating this company and I decided to do something that scares me the most, which was to travel the world alone," she said. Tipograph did little planning, but sought introductions from her network to folks all over the world, and spent 100 days in Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa.

She spent two weeks in Kenya and learned about their mobile banking system, M-Pesa, and took it as affirmation that mobile commerce is the way to go.

"It gave me the confidence to know that the potential of what I'm building is so big and so global because of those consumer behaviors," she said.

In her own words...

How do you unplug?

"I have a great group of friends in New York and we are all about activities. So this Saturday night, in an apartment in Brooklyn, I participated in this immersive theater experience called 8 Players where I played a punk rock teenager named Lolita and for three hours you just completely forget where you are and you are so far out of your comfort zone, especially if you're not a trained actor, to participate in this bizarre evening of theatrical experiences."

If you could try another career, what would it be?

"Drummer. I love being a rebel but I have no musical talent and I feel like every rebel's spirit animal is being a drummer. I lack all skills in that department, but if I could become the world's greatest rock drummer for one day, I'd be very, very happy."

What's your favorite social media account?

"The obvious one, on Instagram, is Humans of New York. I think the surprise of just having those beautiful stories appear in my Instagram feed is just this really light, optimistic moment that happens in my day."

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About Erin Carson

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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