If the shoe fits, Web it

Urban, hip, athletic, tech-savvy... just some of the most likely adjectives one would use to describe the core targets of both Skechers Footwear and Athletes World. But until very recently, the two Canadian sportswear marketers have only been able to speculate...

Urban, hip, athletic, tech-savvy… just some of the most likely adjectives one would use to describe the core targets of both Skechers Footwear and Athletes World. But until very recently, the two Canadian sportswear marketers have only been able to speculate on the kinds of customers they have.

Now, however, an online contest has the concrete customer data starting to roll in.

The two companies recently partnered to launch the Graffiti Demon Challenge, a promotion aimed at encouraging young adults to create the best ‘graffiti-inspired’ designs incorporating the Skechers and Athletes World logos. The grand prize winner will get to showcase his or her spray paint design on a wall in a high-traffic part of downtown Toronto, as well as in the Graff Art Calendar for 2001/2002.

And while wild postings, colourful print ads in local weeklies including Vancouver’s Georgia Strait and Toronto’s Eye Weekly, rave cards and point-of-purchase media, created by The Brainstorm Group, will support the contest, the ‘heart’ of the promotion is online, says Lisa Huie, marketing communications manager at Markham, Ont.-based Norimco, the Canadian distributor of the trendy U.S. sneaker brand, Skechers.

Not only is that where customers will find sample creative, rules, regulations and submission forms, she says, it’s also where Skechers and Athletes World hope to glean valuable customer data – things like shoe size, favorite musicians or bands, favourite clothing store, favorite footwear brand and favorite Web site, as well as name, address and e-mail.

‘This contest was an opportunity to create something that was interactive, edgy – very street – and unique, with one of our key retail partners,’ says Huie, adding that it is the first major co-branded promotion for Skechers in Canada. ‘But this is also really the beginning of our database strategy. By collecting information now, [the contest] allows us to launch into something a bit more direct when we get our online ducks in a row.’

Skechers – which, in addition to preparing to launch its first Canadian retail store this spring, is in the midst of establishing a Canadian online presence – is currently leveraging Athletes World’s Web site www.athletesworld.ca.

The site, which launched last summer, has opened up a whole new communication channel for the sportswear retailer, says Evelyn Fenech, marketing manager for Athletes World’s parent company, Toronto-based Bata Retail Canada.

‘As a retailer, it is difficult to get to know customers on a personal, one-to-one level – unless your point-of-sale system takes down information or e-mail addresses. Right now ours does not so we have no way of really diving into our customer. The Internet has opened up a whole new area for us,’ she says.

The www.athletesworld.ca site currently averages 400,000 hits each month and over 10,000 unique visitors per month, she adds. And the average user session is more than six minutes in length.

Although Athletes World does a lot of cross-promotion activity – mainly out-of-home – with its vendors, including Nike, Reebok and Adidas, few initiatives have attempted to leverage the power of the Internet to establish a direct relationship with customers, Fenech says.

So last fall – not long after the site’s launch – the company rolled out its own online contest, called ‘Mix A Groove, Make Your Move,’ whereby customers were encouraged to download software from the site to mix their own music tracks, and

e-mail them in for a chance to win a set of turntables.

The contest spawned over 2,000 valid entries – the majority of entrants were male, says Fenech, and 90% fell within the retailer’s targeted customer age group (16 to 20). In addition, she adds, Athletes World was able to determine purchase influences and brand and musical preferences – for example that the core target’s favourite musical artist (for both males and females), was controversial rapper Eminem.

‘As of June last year, we had no hard data on who our customers were. That contest was encouraging to know that at least we were on the right track…in terms of their interests and tastes,’ says Fenech.

‘These contests are starting to solidify [our thinking and are] serving as tools to build our database and give us a strong handle on our core customers.’

Building on its strategy to support underground culture while asserting the brand as cool, Skechers, in cooperation with Athletes World, set out to attract the same 16-to-20 target with the Graffiti contest. (The actual consumer might be anywhere from 10 to 70 years of age, contends Skechers’ Huie, but the core customer – for both Skechers and Athletes World – remains the sought-after 16-to-20 demographic.)

It’s a group whose main interests include hip hop/urban music, sports – particularly basketball – and of course, ‘being different,’ she says.

While the companies will not reveal the number of submissions to the contest – which launched mid-February and wraps March 31st – Fenech says response has been strong, and that the graffiti theme seems to appeal to the target.

Both Skechers and Athletes World will share the data generated by the contest, she says, putting it to good use in future targeted marketing activities – like direct mail or e-mail campaigns. Future campaigns could include email offers or promotions surrounding key selling periods, like back to school.

‘If we wanted to announce a footwear sale, instead of putting out a newspaper ad, it would probably be more cost-effective and focused to send out an e-mail to people we already know are our customers,’ says Fenech. ‘This is basically the launching ground for future interactive communications with the people who have responded in one way or another. It’s definitely a stepping stone to where we want to go.’