Reebok harnesses the power of influencers to fuel a marketing campaign

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Reebok wants to get back into the running game and is betting its ascendancy on the whims of experts rather than flashy media buys. For the market introduction of its new “Floatride Run” running shoe, the Canton, Mass.-based company relied on a campaign spearheaded by running aficionados to get the word out using emerging digital-age buzz — influencer marketing.

It has been more than a decade since Reebok and the running shoe category went hand-in-hand, as rivals, notably top brand Nike, grabbed hold of the market. Running is a viable segment: Researcher NPD Group noted in a January report that the overall U.S. athletic footwear industry grows by about 4 percent each year, buoyed by Americans’ increasing participation in fitness activities, generating $17.5 billion in 2016 sales.

Serious runners are always evaluating shoes and making their opinions known in print, online or via word-of-mouth about the merits of one shoe or another. So at the start of the shoe development and campaign, Reebok engaged with Experticity, a company whose platform connects category experts with brands.

Experticity says its stable of experts numbers more than 1 million and includes industry professionals, category leaders, online influencers and retail sales associates who opine on matters ranging from running, cooking and fashion to biking, skiing and makeup.

Convinced Floatride Run could be a winner, Reebok turned to an experts-based marketing campaign for the shoe after not having much success in launching a running shoe through traditional media advertising in previous years.

Tapping into authenticity

In the run-up to the shoe’s release, Reebok connected with running professionals and enthusiasts for input on what they would want in a great running shoe.

James Woolard, Reebok brand director, says the venerable brand needed a way to stampede back into the running-shoe market in a way that would make it a serious player again: Reebok needed more than a claim that its research was paramount in creating a good shoe.

Bypassing traditional advertising to get the shoe before consumers was somewhat of unusual step in ramping up a new product, but one whose time had arrived.

“We knew that in order to be successful, we needed to rely on the authentic, trusted voice of real runners to compel the market to buy back into Reebok as a credible running brand,” Woolard says.

“It’s a really interesting strategy to change the game instead of just playing the big ad-buy game,” says Experticity Chief Marketing Officer Kevin Knight.

The Floatride Run campaign was launched in various stages this year and has been an attention-grabber. Runner’s World, a publication for serious runners, announced in May that it had named the Floatride Run its “best debut” shoe in its 2017 Summer Shoe Guide.

In a write-up that accompanied the selection, Runner’s World touted the shoe’s proprietary “Float Foam” material that “translates into a well-cushioned, responsive ride that makes you want to run fast.”

Probably the best endorsement for Reebok was the publication’s conclusion that Reebok “continues its strong return to performance running,” noting that another Reebok shoe, the Harmony Road, won best debut in spring 2017.

“We knew that in order to be successful, we needed to rely on the authentic, trusted voice of real runners to compel the market to buy back into Reebok as a credible running brand.”
— James Woolard, Reebok

Providing context

The first step for the Floatride Run campaign was to get historical video and interactive content about Reebok and its legacy as a running brand onto the Experticity social networking apparatus.
The content, highlighting Reebok’s heritage in running which dates to the early 1900s, was reviewed by some 7,500 Experticity running experts, Knight says; they were asked if they wanted more involvement for a possible role in evaluating a new Reebok running shoe.

Those expressing interest, including hardcore, casual and amateur runners along with athletes, were invited to apply for a program devised for the campaign called Reebok Elite, and had to complete a 30-question survey to ensure they were qualified. From there, 1,200 participants from 3,500 applications were selected to the Reebok Elite panel of experts for the second phase of the campaign.

For the Reebok Elite, “it was very much an inside perspective, a sneak peak,” of the Floatride Run, which included interviews with Reebok product designers and shoes to sample, Knight says. Reebok Elite evaluators were given what Knight says was a series of missions, “to put the shoes through the test, to run stairs, take pictures and describe how they perform.”

“The one thing we heard from everybody is that they wanted a shoe that felt like they were floating,” he says.
The campaign’s third phase came at Floatride Run’s market launch in April with testimonials and user reviews from those experts, which were blanketed on social media.

Woolard says through the partnership with Experticity and the voices of trusted running experts through Experticity, “we were able to show the running community that Reebok is here with the Floatride to enhance their everyday run.”

‘A natural fit’

The Reebok Elite group contributed more than 500 product reviews and 1,700 social mentions during a roughly two-week period, an invaluable opportunity for Reebok to get a good read on how “influencers” felt about the shoe.

Reebok gave significant attention to synthesizing and combing through the data “to find recurring themes, questions, complaints and praises,” Woolard says, and can use that information to drive marketing content and make future decisions.

“The running experts Experticity provided access to are everyday runners — people who go on a run every morning before they head off to work, run marathons on the weekends and work in shoe stores or as personal trainers. They’re the real people who would be using these shoes and making recommendations to others about which brand of shoe to buy, so it seemed like a natural fit to use this network of influencers to help promote our innovative new running design,” he says.

“The running experts Experticity provided access to are everyday runners. It seemed like a natural fit to use this network of influencers to help promote our innovative new running design.”
— James Woolard, Reebok

Knight, who previously worked in marketing at Pinterest and Facebook, says influencer marketing is successful when credibility and trust are at its core. He notes that the concept started with so-called “mom bloggers” who gained loyal followings for writing about subjects like parenting, fashion, interior design and cooking, and caught the eye of brands seeking to reach more consumers.

“There is a spectrum of influence that, on one hand, is driven by someone’s expertise and therefore credibility, and, on the other hand, is driven by somebody’s status and thus their ability to influence people,” Knight says.
Woolard says Reebok was surprised with how engaged the Reebok Elite influencers were; this approach proved to be more effective than relying on rudimentary online reviews.

“Influencer marketing is a space that’s continuing to evolve,” he says. “In the future, I see us using similar tactics that vary based on available technologies and reach into individuals lives. The bottom line is that people prefer to talk to people.”

M.V. Greene is an independent writer and editor based in Owings Mills, Md., who covers business, technology and retail.

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