The recent global exhibitions like ISPO and Outdoor Retailer are model villages, microcosms of the brand landscape we live in. What can be learned about the health of the citizens and culture when we take a look inside?
If I had to sum it up in a couple of sentences? It’s a bright and busy place but the neighbours are jealous of one another and play a world-class game of keeping up with the Jones’. While the town is twinned with other cities, the locals seldom leave town to broaden their horizons.
I’ll put my brand hat on and explain
We are an industry built to empower active people. We make adventurous dreams possible. There is energy in our shared passions and its reflected in the people who work here. These shows bring together the beating heart of the industry.
Hang on though it’s not all group paddleboard yoga before breakfast.
We spend a huge amount of time peering at what went before and what the brand next door is doing. We claim to innovate but the truth is we iterate – leading us to essentially build the same products as one another and sell them the same way. This very narrow worldview leaves us with a number of problems:
Just finding a name to encompass our world is a huge question! Our niche is made up of hundreds of sub-niches. Ski, ski tour, snowboard, adventure travel, climbing, walking, running, mountain fitness, bike, fat bike, fixie bike… the list goes on and yet I’d lay bets that our customers don’t live in any one of those boxes in isolation. They wrap us up in leisure and possibly health. Sitting alongside work, family and other BIG things in their lives all demanding their attention. Who are we kidding? For now, I’m going to call us the sports industry and await the haters.
Our customers don’t live solely in our world. They live in a landscape of brands that have nothing to do with sports. We are one part of their lives yet they mean everything to us. It’s my belief that to a great extent we either don’t get that or worse, we know but choose to ignore the implications it has on our existence.
The dynamic, healthy and adventurous message of sports is very appealing. Many brands, think cars, phones, airlines and fashion brands do a damn good job of selling themselves using our credentials. These marketing magpies love our shininess but generally see little value in collaborating with our brands. Why don’t these greedy birds work with us? One reason I offer is that many brands in our space simply don’t offer enough influence on customers to make a partnership appealing or worthwhile. What does that tell us about our brand power?
We are creating a problem for our customers. Today, spotting the difference between two brands in a sports category is frankly an exercise in splitting hairs. If every brand represents the same fundamental qualities and values through indistinguishable design and presentation, then the customer has to base buying choices on something else- and we better know what that something is or we are out of control.
spot the difference?
So why are brands eating each other’s lunch and missing the buffet?
For the longest time, line assortment has been the poor victim of the spreadsheet. A sales performance sheet can only tell us what sold, not why. Without extra layers of deep sales understanding, you end up with a room full of black or navy products that in the end fail to sell. I’ve seen it happen time and time again, even leading to the eventual closure of a strong department in a world famous retailer as a direct result of this strategy.
We don’t know enough about our customer to make creative decisions on marketing and products. What if your brand is loved by passionate nature artists? Would you know? Could you appeal to even more of them? Or do these artists get painted into the same group portrait as everyone walking The Alps in summer? That very same picture all your competitors hang on their wall with poor Doris the watercolourist lost in the corner somewhere.
I bet KTM didn’t know this was a market for their hardcore brand
The top of the mountain, deep in the jungle or lost in the pain of the gym. These are the only places to be if you believe the messages we send. It would be pretty crowded if this were even half true, yet brands persist in thinking that this is the way to be the best in category.
Sports brands share technology, materials and production, it’s an unavoidable economic reality, I get that. There are some things that we just can’t change, but I think it’s still a factor in where we find ourselves.
If a career in the sports industry has taught me anything it’s that we love a good feature. But so do all the competitors who are solving the same problem in basically the same way (notwithstanding a few mavericks). All the while customers, and in front of them, crucial sales associates are craving information about benefits and experiences.
not THAT kind of feature
If you want to make a change, how about this?
- Invest in understanding your customer and their relationship with your brand. Find out who’s really buying your stuff and what are they using it for? I bet you’ll be shocked to find out that your customer isn’t you.
- Benchex.de have an amazing tool box of services that can help you do just that, but my advice would be to really talk to sales associates in retail. They speak to hundreds of people you want to sell to every day whilst navigating the landscape your brand inhabits.
- Build a story that amplifies the motivations of the people using your products. When you’ve written your love song to these people, make sure you sing it with conviction, but more importantly make sure it’s sung the same way every time. Every channel needs to know the words and meanings. That means advertisers, your own channels, your customers’ social channels, sales associates, athletes, the list is long.
What I’m saying here is make sure you own your message and that everytime someone hears it they take the same things from it. You have to manage your brand experience end to end. Examine every touch point, and don’t forget the sales associates. You need to make sure they understand you as well as you understand yourself.
By connecting up the knowledge supply chain, Myagi ensures the individual links of product knowledge, sales and service skills, and brand message are as well found as the anchor on a superyacht- Connecting your vision securely with your customer.
There are fringe benefits
Taking inspiration from your competitor (I’m being kind) whilst looking at sales history leads you to one conclusion- you end up with a unified generic product, not a lot of use in a multi-brand universe! By learning more about your brand in a wider context, you suddenly have a lot of ways to inform your branding, marketing and product decisions. More input means more options means more diversity and healthy brand differentiation.
I mentioned the economic and physical realities of shared technology and sourcing. The ingredient brands do an amazing job of developing and selling their solutions. But is this YOUR brand? By diving deep into the benefits and experiences your customers enjoy with your brand, all of a sudden the features of components become lost in the passion you’ve stirred up in Doris the artist (pheweee!). All of course expertly woven into a story told by recent graduate (ahem!) Ben, the sales associate.
Ben the sales associate- earlier
Is the price really too high to find out who your customers are and what you mean to them?
It’s my view that you can no longer get by without a much deeper understanding of buyer motivations. Taking that understanding and amplifying it through truthful brand experiences at every touch point is the route to a successful future.
The writing is on the wall, brand marketing has changed forever. A unique, compelling and consistent brand identity will define you as a leader. Without this, your destiny is me too or worse oblivion. Can you really stand up and say to ‘Doris, I love you?’