View from the C-Suite: Caroline Losson laces up her skates

The CMO of CCM is working to bring emotion to the hockey equipment space.

Caroline Losson

This story appeared in Strategy C-Suite, a weekly email briefing on how Canada’s brand leaders are responding to market challenges and acting on new opportunities. Sign-up for the newsletter here to receive the latest stories directly to your inbox every Tuesday.

Caroline Losson’s marketing career has taken a step change  or rather, skate change.

After more than 20 years in the CPG and food business, the industry veteran moved into a new role as chief marketer of Montreal-based hockey equipment company CCM in January.

Having worked at Molson Coors, Coca-Cola, Agropur, and most recently Keurig Canada (where she was VP of marketing until November last year), Losson says moving into the sports arena required lacing up her skates and, quite literally, hitting the ice.

“You need to get a handle on the key players and to understand the dynamic of the category,” she says. “There’s been a significant shift towards performance that I quickly needed to understand.”

So far this year, she has overseen a few campaigns promoting new product launches  with an assist from hockey stars Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby  but the CMO tells strategy the company is gearing up to launch new work aimed at connecting with hockey fans on a more emotional level.

CCM

A lot of categories are dealing with shifts in consumer preferences and shopping behaviours. Has anything changed about the hockey equipment space? 

I was not in the sports world before, so I’m by no stretch of the imagination a hockey expert. But all the people that I’ve talked to, either internal stakeholders, players, influencers, the leagues, [they say] it’s really the requirements of the game that have changed significantly over the past few years. The game is now much faster, more agile. It’s no longer a game of goons. It’s a game of skill, and arguably one of the toughest sports around. You really need to be an astounding athlete to be a great hockey player. And when you talk about performance, that translates into requirement on the gear.

How has that impacted the way you market the brand? 

It has more of an impact on the product than on marketing. The changes impacting our marketing have more to do with the generation that we’re talking to. For example, the way we leverage the pros [and] our dollars in trade and media. We are much more overt in leveraging our pros and communicating to consumers how we are [doing that] to develop our gear. We have a performance lab in our headquarters and we bring in the pros to [capture] their performance data, whether it’s sticks or skates or other pieces of equipment, and [use it] to enhance our innovation pipeline. And we’re documenting that.

Typically, what we have done in the past is leverage the pros to launch new products. This year, we already shot video content with [Sidney] Crosby and [Connor] McDavid in which we show them in our performance lab, behind the scenes, and the technical aspect of that product development and innovation piece. We will continue to do that. That behind the scenes, how we work with the pros, is going to be a key pillar for the brand’s communication moving forward.

There’s a lot of talk in other categories about the importance of placing your brand purpose and values front-and-centre. Do you see that happening in sports equipment? 

One hundred percent. There are a few things that will roll out over the next couple of months. I can’t get into too many details. But as a brand we want to communicate that we live by the same code as the players; that we understand [the training and rigour they are] going through, because that’s what it takes to make it to the highest level of play, and that’s what we go through to make gear that gets the player to the highest level of play. That’s the performance side.

From a social implication, we’re also working on crafting programs around diversity and inclusion, and we’re just getting going on this, so again I can’t say too much. But definitely part of the core values of the brand are basically connecting with the worries of the generation that we’re talking to nowadays. We want to make sure that we grow the game, that we make the game relevant to new Canadians and new Americans, because they’re going to be an ever-growing demographic in North America.

What is the biggest challenge facing your brand today, and how are you addressing it? 

Our biggest challenge is bringing CCM to an emotional level. I’ll be honest – it’s a great brand, 120 years old. But it has challenges when it comes to being different from the competition. We’re primarily a duopoly; the chunk of the market belongs to two brands [CCM and Bauer, though Warrior and True are also important brands, depending on the product category]. Right now, we’re fighting very much on the product attribute level, and my challenge is to make that emotional connection that goes beyond the product and show that, if you’re a CCM hockey player, you clearly stand for something.

[Work] is going to hopefully start to roll out in February, and over 2020 you will see how we evolve our brand proposition and communications. We worked with Lg2 in Montreal and had an agency out of Burlington, Vermont that has a lot of sports credentials to help us think through where we could take CCM and highlight hockey culture and propel it forward and make it player-centric versus product-centric.

This interview is part of a series for Strategy C-Suite, a weekly email briefing on how Canada’s brand leaders are responding to market challenges and acting on new opportunities. Sign-up for the newsletter here to receive the latest stories directly to your inbox every Tuesday.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.