Many brands seek to profit from the glitz and glamour of major sporting events and their stars. They're not sold in the stadium, though, but in retail stores. How can the brand values be communicated there? The example of Nike shows that experiencing a brand and product live and in colour promotes an emotional bond.
Sport and emotion belong together. Whether we watch top athletes, cheer along with our team or do sport ourselves, we're always engaged with the whole of our mind and body. This reservoir of emotional energy is valuable for marketing, which is why many brands and businesses use sport to buff up their own image. The sponsorship of elite sports stars, teams or mega events is as much a part of this repertoire as advertising with sports celebrities or other sporting motifs.
But there's a problem: the glittering brand world associated with elite sport and events such as the Olympics has something otherworldly about it, which makes it difficult to reflect in the normal consumer environment of the retail sector. There is an emotional gap – there the perfect placement of the brand, here the rather mundane shopping experience in an actual store. All brands have to live with this challenge. This is particularly true for explicit sporting brands, though. How can they manage to bring the aura of success and action to life in the physical shop in the pedestrian precinct?
That's why major brands such as Adidas and Nike have opened flagship stores in which the brand is celebrated. Everything is tailored to deliver a consistent brand experience – from the building's façade to the uniform of the sales staff. But such shrines of the brand cult exist in only a few places, usually heavily frequented shopping streets in major cities. Products, though, are mostly sold in normal retail outlets where many brands are competing simultaneously for the favour of fans. That is why experiential marketing is so important for sports brands especially – they are measures that enable the products to be experienced live and thereby engender an emotional commitment on the part of the customer. This is more than just branding in the shop through displays, secondary placements or POS advertising, though. As important as such promotional measures are for sales, essentially they are second-hand brand experiences.
The aim should instead be to ensure a direct, immediate experience of the products and brands. What this might look like can be seen from a study of the Nike brand. One thing should be noted: sports shoes – not to be confused with lifestyle sneakers – are neither pure fashion goods nor low-involvement products. They have complex characteristics, serve different purposes, use the very latest technology and cost a hefty amount of money. They are, therefore, products requiring explanation for which it is not enough just to put pretty pictures on the advertisements. Two factors are important when it comes to buying high-involvement products in retail stores: advice given by specialists, and trying them out for yourself. Successful experiential marketing addresses both.
The modern customer has already done their internet research and knows many product features before ever crossing the threshold of the shop. Nevertheless, in many cases they seek and value advice given by specialists. High street retailers must therefore offer greater expertise than previously in order to beat the internet as a research tool. This means that the quality of advice must be the actual USP of retailers – whether selling complex consumer electronics or sporting goods. That's why the proper training of sales staff is so important for specialist retailers. Not only must the sales staff be familiar with the product names, they must also understand the technology behind them, know something about their strengths and possible uses and, ideally, also have a positive relationship with the brand. Such complex training content cannot be communicated on the fly in a visit from a sales rep.
That's why Nike developed the Nike Performance Roadshow, which featured a modified motorhome in which sales staff could immerse themselves in the brand cosmos on site for 45 minutes. For this short time (albeit perceived as long relative to everyday life in the shop) the sales staff left the comfort of their working environment and embarked on a journey into a world of emotions. Not only was information about the shoe provided here, but there was also an opportunity to inspire the staff for Nike's brand values. Around 3,500 people were trained as part of this campaign. In the ideal scenario they pass this fascination on to their customers – which makes them brand ambassadors.
Another way of making the customer experience more direct and emotional is what are known as try-outs. The customer tries the product for themselves, enabling them to verify whether it is the most suitable given their own particular needs and sporting goals. This does not mean simply trying it on in the shop, which is a long way from their actual sporting experience. That's why sports brands go where the fans are active. Such Points of Interest might include the training grounds of sports clubs, or even informal meeting-points such as urban running routes (parks, riverbanks, etc.). Rather than waiting for the customer to come to the product (i.e. into the shop), the brand proactively seeks out the potential buyer.
In its Bootfinder Tour Nike again used its own vehicles to drive trained staff to the Points of Interest, where it offered a range of products to try out. Around 600 such places have been visited over recent years. Joggers, for instance, were able to try out different shoes precisely where they normally run. Testing in a real-life environment, together with expert advice and the corporate design of the vans, enabled a direct and emotional experience of the product strengths. Addressing the individual needs of the athletes demonstrates the high esteem in which they are held. This encourages not only sales of the shoes, but also long-term emotional customer loyalty.
It is precisely because ecommerce is constantly growing that stationary retail must focus on its strengths. The examples show that there is a wealth of measures and techniques that make it possible to experience brands and their products in real life. Brands must develop their emotional charisma where they are used and purchased.