Lessons from abroad: The agile storyteller

What Golf Town's Frederick Lecoq learned about speed, adaptability and products working in Asia.
Lecoq Frederick 1

This article appears in the June 2017 issue of strategy.

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

Who wants to go to market with only a page worth of insights? Knowing your home market is critical but sometimes the best growth can come when you look outside the border. From finding commonalities in universal brand experiences to taking cues from fast-paced, product-oriented markets, strategy presents a five-week series on worldly marketers who prove that there are gains to be made from importing – and even exporting – ideas.

Read and react. It’s a philosophy Frederick Lecoq has retained as a marketer as he’s taken on roles across continents, drawing on inspiration from fast-paced and highly product-driven markets.

“What I learned in Korea is the early stage of what I call agile marketing, where you can’t just stick to your plan,” says Lecoq – now VP marketing and ecommerce at Golf Town – about his time working for LG Electronics in Seoul. “They’re really in reaction mode so it means that your marketing plan is never frozen.”

His position as the company’s VP marketing for global digital and brand strategy in 2009 and 2010 helped inform Lecoq’s tactics in the Canadian market, which he entered in 2012 with Canadian Tire subsidiary FGL Sports. He eventually moved up to SVP of marketing and ecommerce, leading marketing for Sport Chek, Sports Experts and Mark’s.

Taking lessons from his Korea stint, Lecoq’s gambit is to now design his teams with what he calls “RFP”: Really Fast People. After building digital expertise in Sport Chek’s marketing department, he brought his approach to Golf Town, which he joined last November after the embattled retailer’s U.S. parent company filed for bankruptcy and its Canadian operation was purchased by Fairfax Financial and CI Investments.

Golf Town’s marketing team had been based in Austin, Texas and had only one person in its department in Canada. Under Lecoq’s leadership, that has now grown to 11 people across digital, web design, web integration, social media and search.

Having a team that can execute with agility is central to Lecoq’s overall brand-building philosophy. At Sport Chek, that meant evolving its print flyer into a more digital plan with display ads, dynamic emails and Facebook posts that could be updated on the fly.

Or take the retailer’s efforts during the 2016 Rio Olympics, when it put real-time marketing to the test. Its internal team and agency partners set up a “war room” at CBC’s headquarters in Toronto, pulling footage from the Olympic broadcaster and adjusting its manifesto video spots to reflect what was happening. Nearly 80% of its Olympic budget was dedicated to digital, with 60% to mobile specifically.

Aside from the need for speed as a result of working in the highly competitive electronics market, Lecoq has also drawn on another lesson from Korea: building a brand through product excellence. “Product was the hero and you were trying to build a story around the product,” he says. “You need to make your brand tangible.”

Retail, of course, doesn’t always lend itself to the same sexy selling features as a new device, but attaching a retail brand to best-in-class products is a strategy Lecoq has employed, positioning Sport Chek, and now Golf Town, as prime destinations by approaching vendors with partnership opportunities.

At Sport Chek, that meant partnering with brands to co-develop products and establish the retailer as the exclusive destination for those wares (such as an apparel partnership with Adidas and the Canadian Olympic Team for the 2014 Games in Sochi).

At Golf Town, Lecoq has led co-branded advertising and digital initiatives with Callaway and Taylormade. A partnership with Taylormade, for example, includes a microsite for the brand hosted within Golf Town’s website, promoting combinations of golf clubs used by pros and encouraging shoppers to find their own mix of products. That’s been supplemented with online video and social content, a new approach for Golf Town.

Eight months into his task of revamping the retailer, Lecoq is taking a nimble approach to capitalize on digital and social.

“Most of the time, when you build a marketing plan, you always start with looking at what you’ve been doing the previous year instead of really reading what’s happening in the market,” he says. “I think I’ve learned that agile,nimble way of doing marketing, where it’s more about reading the moment and reacting to it.”
-with files from Josh Kolm