The importance of the marketing function has risen dramatically inside leading organizations in our experience economy. As the push for emotional engagement rises, brands are pushing themselves to find new and exciting ways of generating meaningful experiences. As a result, storytelling continues to move from the end of the supply chain to the beginning of the invention process, and the idea of “storydoing” vs. “storytelling” has emerged in the foreground. This notion seems to fuse the increasing need for brands to have a grander sense of purpose beyond the bottom-line with the growing appetite from consumers to be emotionally engaged through authentic stories and experiences that matter.
For my latest Ask the CMO column, a series dedicated to analyzing the latest trends and disruptions in the marketing landscape, I had the pleasure of chatting with Adam Petrick, Global Director of Brand + Marketing for Puma. His repositioning of a retro sneaker brand into one of the hottest fashion footwear companies in the world is a terrific example of marketing’s new ability to drive both brand as well as performance through winning experiences that are purposeful and tied to doing interesting things in the world. Following is a recap of our conversation:
Billee: I’ve been talking to leaders about how this period of flux we’re in right now in the marketing space is impacting business. So, can we start with your thoughts on the current landscape?
As brands, we have to push ourselves to be interesting . That’s a very different proposition than just a few years ago. I think that’s an exciting shift, and one that might even be better for the brand landscape overall.
Billee: I agree. Almost all of the folks whom I’ve spoken to for this column agree that it is an exciting time because there is a bigger opportunity for marketing to make a difference. So, we are in an experience economy and I think that gets to your point of the need to focus less on the WHAT, if you will, and more on the WHO and the WHY behind it to create emotional experiences that are purposeful. How do you feel about that?
Adam: I thought you were going to say HOW because I think that the how is also very, very important. To me, the how is critical and central to everything that we’re trying to do right now with our brand. We’re trying to do less “storytelling” and more “storydoing.” We are trying to DO more period. To broadcast less, and take more action. For example, it’s really interesting when we partner with a star like Rihanna and ask her to develop a collection with us that connects to her Foundation’s cause. Not interesting to us would have been writing a giant check to Rihanna and asking her to be the face of an ad campaign. By being interesting and doing interesting things, we get to take interesting actions that impact our consumers, our culture and also of course our business.
Billee: So, I like the idea of the “storydoing” as opposed to just storytelling. To me it sounds like it connects to a grander purpose that goes beyond just the bottom line. Do you have thoughts on that?
Adam: At the end of the day we are selling goods, but we also have to do it in a way that feels like a service.When I say that, purpose for us is about trying to give us as a brand a reason to exist in the world and to help give people a reason to have us exist in their world. The way we do this is by continuing to create stuff that is cool and fun. We like to take the role of a “co-conspirator” to our audience, our partners and the culture overall. I think that the idea of being a co-conspirator is what gives us meaning. To do this effectively and authentically, we have to listen more, and we have to pay close attention to what’s going on in the culture to deliver products that connect, resonate and matter.
Billee: That makes a lot of sense. I think that all of what you’re talking ties to this pivot we are seeing from rational engagement to more emotional engagement and connecting through the lens of feeling as opposed to just things. Do you agree?
Adam: I do agree. I think that rational engagement could be about selling people a product based on a technology or a specific benefit that makes sense from a price standpoint. But I think that emotional connection is now very, very important because when you choose to wear a brand, especially in our business, where the differentiation between the brands is sometimes hard to see, that choice is driven by an emotional connection. You’re either familiar with the brand and you understand what it stands for, or you don’t. And if you aren’t connecting with a brand, then you’re not going to choose that brand. So, it’s extremely important to have emotional depth or meaning in order to be in the top consideration set of your target consumers.
Billee: That’s a lot of great information, so how do we tie it to the fact that your brand has gone through a significant revitalization in recent years. I believe that I’m correct in saying that you have been at Puma for quite a while, so I guess I’d ask what kind of pivot did you execute to go from where you were when you started at Puma, to where you are now, which I would say is quite an admirable leap?
Adam: I think that we struggled for a long time to figure out what it was that we wanted to represent and what it was that we wanted to mean in the world. I think that there was a lot of discussion to get alignment around what we wanted to be. Were we a sports brand? A fashion brand? Or a lifestyle brand? I think what happened was three or four years ago we said we have to make some changes and focus, otherwise we are going to disappear. So, we said let’s get back to basics. Let’s get back to sports. Let’s reground ourselves in our history and our authentic connection to sport and view everything we do through the lens of sports.
I think what was critical to this pivot was the realization that sports aren’t just about performance. “Sports” is also about the culture of all the things that are around sports. If you’re only focused on a category within sports, such as performance, that can be quite limiting. But when you start to think about sports as culture or sports as a lifestyle, then things get interesting.
Billee: What you just said leads me to the idea that many brands I speak with when pivoting are looking first at optimizing the experience internally in their own cultures. Was that part of your transformation process?
Adam: Yes, yes, I couldn’t agree more that the transformation of the internal culture was a very important part of the brand’s transformation. Thank you for pointing that out because you’re absolutely right. That is where it began. For us it began with grounding ourselves in the history of the brand and our legacy as a performance driven brand. We also said that we had to behave in a different way as a culture. We started with a brand mantra – Forever Faster. You know it was something that sounded great and aligned with us as a sports brand, but it also really drove a behavioral shift internally. This happened when we said being Forever Faster is not just about speed necessarily, it also was about always striving to be better. To be better in staying ahead of trends, always striving to make connections faster and always striving to solve problems faster. Forever Faster took on a lot of meaning internally and a rallying cry that marked a significant moment in our brand’s transformation.
Billee: That’s awesome to hear because it sounds like a great example of why brands need to look internally before having positive impact externally. A lot of what people used to think of internal culture as being handled by H.R. people and saw it as a very utilitarian function as opposed to a strategic one. The shift in leadership that I’m noticing is that senior marketers, like yourself, are stepping up to impact the employee experience?
Adam: I would say definitely. You are asking very good questions (laughs). Yes, I think that in order to have a company perform at a high level, your brand values and the things that your brand stand for in your consumer’s eyes have to align with internal behavior and your brand values. You then have to walk the walk internally and externally. It’s one thing for a marketer, or a brand person, or even an H.R. person, to put a poster on the wall, and entirely another to do the things that we say we stand for. Because of this, senior leadership must be closely involved in internal culture initiatives, and marketing must be among the top leaders driving that train.
Billee: That sounds like an extremely authentic approach to culture building. Tying back to partnerships that you mentioned earlier, it sounds like you’re very deliberate and discerning in selecting the type of partnerships that you do based off what we just discussed, being true to your brand values. Do you want to tell me a little bit about the most recent Rihanna CLF Creeper partnership and how and why it reflects your values?
Adam: Yes absolutely. Let’s start with Rihanna. I think Rihanna as an individual, or a creative brain or personality is very brave and her choices are determined and always true and authentic to her creative spirit. She was a little bit edgy, and we loved her synergy with our brand values.
Rihanna’s foundation is obviously very important to her and therefore because we are her partner, it’s very important to us. She has an iconic sneaker called the Creeper. It is something that we’ve had in our offering with her for a couple of years now. They are always very highly sought after, always very popular. So, this year we said, hey let’s make another Creeper, but let’s do it in a way that also can benefit her Clara Lionel Foundation. So, we worked together to generate a unique design that would be unique to the foundation’s activities this Fall. The proceeds from the sale of that product are benefiting the cause. And the product is connecting super well in culture. So, a true win-win that is not only reflective of her but of the Puma brand and values as well.
Billee: Is there anything that you want to leave us with to recap the past year or more importantly, to address what we might see in 2018
Adam: I think that more and more we are focused on trying to do interesting things with people who have their finger on the pulse of our audience and our customers. We want to create unique partnerships. We want to create new products. We want to generate stuff that’s going to be interesting rather than us looking inward as a brand.We want to be listening to our customers, listening to what’s going on out there in culture and responding to that by behaving in interesting ways. You’re going to see a lot more of that from us and likely other brands in 2018 and 2019 and beyond.
Note: This article was first published on Billee’s Forbes blog.