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A seat at the table: furniture company Feather’s brand boss on how she made it in marketing

With nominations for this year's Future 50 currently open, we profile last year's inductees. Leveraging every aspect of the marketing mix, Erin Abernathy has been convincing consumers to rethink furniture ownership, adding yet another feather to her cap along the way.

Test driving a Maserati isn’t a bad way to start your professional life. But for Erin Abernathy, this wasn’t just an early, memorable career experience, it’s also a fitting metaphor. Throughout her journey she has moved fast, testing and learning along the way.

Feather is a DTC furniture rental company. Core to its original business plan is servicing upwardly mobile professionals living in crowded city spaces. Enter the pandemic. Now what?

For most young marketing professionals, pivoting an entire brand would seem daunting. Not for Abernathy. You see, Feather’s brand marketing lead has been testing, learning, pivoting and growing her entire career. She even left a successful, ahead-of-its-time influencer marketing company that she founded herself – but more on that later. First, let’s go back to the beginning.

Nominations for this year’s Future 50 are currently open. If you’d like to nominate yourself, or a colleague, for our list of the best rising stars and emerging marketers in the world, follow this link.

Unlike lots of college students, Abernathy always knew she wanted to be in marketing. She also knew she wanted to live in New York City. Still, “marketing is vague”. And it’s really hard to decide which aspect you want to pursue “when you really haven’t had any life experience”.

So she went out and got the experience. Lots of it. While at the University of Georgia, she secured a summer marketing internship at with Macy’s merchandising group in New York. Then, back in Atlanta where she’s originally from, she interned at Coca-Cola in the global brand PR department. There she got a front row view of PR activations for the Sochi Winter Olympics and the World Cup in Rio.

Upon graduating with honors and a degree in public relations and journalism, she moved to the Big Apple. Which brings us back to the Maserati. She landed her first job at the PR firm Rogers & Cowan and then M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment. Along the way, she worked on Rebook, Bertolli and with some of the biggest fashion designers in the world, as well with Maserati. She went to its headquarters in New Jersey and was handed the keys. “I hadn’t driven in about a year-and-a-half since I moved to New York and I’m driving a Maserati!”

Way back in 2014, Abernathy and her roommate started a blog called My Life OOO where they ran around the city covering high-profile events. Celebrity influencers were just starting to come to power. (Remember Paris Hilton?!) However, she realized that there was no community for micro-influencers “which was a little bit crazy since we were in New York City”.

So she left her PR gig to become co-founder of Out Of Office Media, a micro-influencer media company aimed at helping brands reach the female millennial consumer. “The network quickly grew from 50 girls to about 5,000 across the US.” And within a year, she counted Dunkin’, Kendra Scott, Bumble and others among her blue chip clients.

Still, after four years, she wasn’t happy with the way the influencer space was headed. “I was constantly selling in why influencers matter, but they don’t really work for every brand. Things started to get a little tricky when all of these platforms popped up claiming they could drive revenue directly from influencers. There were also influencers buying traffic and followers… I was ready to focus on something else that was more of a mix in terms of marketing.”

In a moment of serendipity, one of Abernathy’s influencers mentioned Feather. She was intrigued by the brand, its proposition and the chance to enter a company that was pre-series A. In her role as brand marketing lead, she brings together all of her skillsets overseeing brand, communications and partnerships.

She joined in March 2019 and was immediately able to help launch the brand in Orange County, California, delivering to more than 300 new zip codes. There was so much else to be excited about for the furniture rental company that embraced the fact city dwellers don’t want to buy expensive furniture only to have to get rid of it when they move two or three years later. It also recognized that younger consumers were concerned about how much discarded furniture ended up in landfills.

Once Covid-19 hit, Feather wasted little time rebranding, adding new products and launching its own furniture line. It had already been mapping out these changes, but, like many businesses, plans were accelerated. “We crafted a new narrative about how we fit into people’s lives,” she says. “We redefined the rental and showcased more of the human elements of what people are doing at home.”

Moments like finding a husband and wife team to photograph 200 new SKUs of furniture “shows how resourceful we can be when we have constraints”, she says. The new line has been a success thanks in part to the office furniture it added. Search traffic for those items is currently up 400%.

She has been leveraging influencers, social, PR, partnerships, OOH and other aspects of the marketing mix like she had always dreamed. And she’s doing it to help people dream-up and achieve new looks for their homes and their apartments, where they are spending more time that anyone could have ever predicted.

One thing that anyone who has worked with Abernathy could have easily predicted is that she would be a successful marketeer with a bright future ahead. And who knows, maybe someday she’ll have her own Maserati. But for now, it’s all about jogs in Central Park in her beloved NYC where (go figure) she just moved into a new apartment decorated with Feather’s finest furniture.

Nominations for this year’s Future 50 are currently open. If you’d like to nominate yourself, or a colleague, for our list of the best rising stars and emerging marketers in the world, follow this link.