Sunday, May 8, 2011

How Converse is succeeding in Social Media by being relevant, useful and making a human connection


It’s Prom season. The stretch limos were out last night. One stopped outside our restaurant and unloaded maybe ten young women, slightly tottering on unfamiliar heels, expectant fresh faces adorned with brightly coloured eyes and lips. Following closely behind were teenage boys decked in tuxes. I noticed that one lad in particular had matched his tux with a pair of Converse sneakers. Very fun – made me think of John Lennon and the other music icons that embraced this brand helping give it its cult status. The humble canvas sneaker that says you’re a touch subversive, a little bit hip and a tad different from everyone else in a non-elitist way.

Converse continues to nurture its connection with the indie/alternative music scene with their very talented and innovative CMO Geoff Cottrill at the helm. (I worked with Geoff when he led the Starbucks Entertainment group – he ran around in, guess what, a pair of Converse). The brand was bought by Nike in 2003 for $350 million, a time when the brand had lost its way in the 80’s and 90’s and held less than 3% of the market. Today its sales are well over $2 billion and the brand has over 16 million Facebook fans. (In comparison, Nike has 7 million fans and Pepsi less than 4 million). All this on a pretty slim marketing budget, according to Geoff.

Geoff attributes the more recent success of the brand to staying authentic to its roots and by leveraging social media to cultivate the passion of its fan base – tapping into the imagination of the brand’s core customer base, turning them into brand evangelists. He does this by enabling the brand to be relevant and generous, a zeitgeist if you will, “a curator of sorts for new music, art and fun”. They've become a real distribution platform to help indie musicians get their music out, through ongoing initiatives including “Converse Rubber Tracks” - a new state-of-the-art recording studio launching this summer in Brooklyn where artists can record at no cost. These types of gems make new music a real discovery for the Converse customer and build huge brand affinity in the Indie/Alt music world.

So getting back to the Prom. One of the fun things that Converse does is trend topics on the internet and build conversations around them. A timely theme they picked up on was “How to ask for a date to the Prom”. They created a video/promo around this question “The Ask-Er-Out-Er” and asked folks in their Facebook community to list three things that they liked or had in common with their dream date. They picked a couple posts and created personalized videos meant to help that person ask the guy or girl for a date to the prom. You can check it out here.

A great example of why the Converse brand is so successful in nurturing its following. While you can buy Ready to Wear or create your own Converse Prom sneakers, the “Ask-Er-Outer-Er” was more about building an emotional connection with teens rather than selling stuff. I love this quote from Geoff from an interview on Mashable about the opportunity for brands to act more like human beings in order to make a real connection.

Social media itself is a lot of hype, except for the potential for companies to act more like human beings and be forced into thinking about marketing and message control in a different (or now obsolete) way. But social media has the potential to mature into a powerful hybrid of traditional marketing techniques and community engagement, especially if that community becomes your brand advocates. Which is why we focus on a couple of core marketing truths via social –- be relevant, make a connection, be useful, etc.

So what stories can you tell about you and your pair of sneakers?

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