Exposed – thirty seconds with a marketing maven – Mike Arseneault

Talk about convergence. Boasting about the smart new cross trainers on his feet, Mike Arseneault, recently appointed brand marketing manager at Toronto-based Nike Canada, sips a coffee at Second Cup, where he was formerly director of marketing.

Talk about convergence. Boasting about the smart new cross trainers on his feet, Mike Arseneault, recently appointed brand marketing manager at Toronto-based Nike Canada, sips a coffee at Second Cup, where he was formerly director of marketing.

Looking at home as he recommends the vanilla bean latte, this marketing guy by day, actor/playwright by night, seems full of the vigour for life that’s depicted in many of the Nike ads. ‘I love both brands,’ he says. He is now in charge of Nike’s basketball and active life categories.

Prior to Second Cup and Nike, he worked at highly youth-focused HMV and Levi-Strauss, and it was under his watch at Mississauga, Ont.-based Second Cup that the company was the recipient of the Best Retail Marketing award by the Retail Council of Canada in 2002.

Savouring his coffee from the Second Cup outlet in downtown Toronto, Arseneault filled Strategy in on the everyman athlete, the importance of field work and how to market an overexposed brand.

What attracted you to Nike?

It’s one of the few brands that really understands its customer. For [founder and coach] Bill Bowerman it was really about the relationship Bill had with the athletes and how to make them go faster. The customer who loves you has a very deep relationship with your product and your brand. That’s something you need to value and protect. As a brand, that’s what I’ve always been interested in.

Was moving from a smaller marketer like Second Cup to a global conglomerate like Nike a difficult transition?

The only transition is just learning their business. Working for a global brand, there’s so much information available. What I try to do is distil down what we need to know, and the thing that interests me most is the work that’s been done on understanding our customer.

Who is your customer?

Athletes. If you have a body, you’re an athlete, so that means everyone. We have the Michael Jordans but we also want to push the local hero. We understand them by talking with them. We talk to the kids in high school about what helps them perform better. That’s also how we innovate. We bring new technology into performance. We talk to them one-on-one in stores and we arrange group discussions. We try to speak to them in a way that’s relevant and meaningful. With youth, we try to find ways to better fit into their lifestyle. We understand that they have needs that go beyond performance.

What strategies have you been able to transfer to the new position?

I observe. You find more about what’s happening by going out, seeing what’s happening in some of the stores. It helps you dimensionalize. You can see things on paper but I think it’s more about observing it as it really is.

You’re only four weeks into the position, but can you foresee what your biggest challenge might be at Nike?

Understanding how the niche customer wants to be reached. That is, those who don’t want to be marketed to, such as those who are sports-inspired with a cross of ‘indie,’ those who wear things to reflect who they are. They are tough to reach through the media so they’d have to be reached through retail by putting the right stuff in the stores for them.

How do you market an over-saturated brand when there’s a larger trend towards customization and individuality?

We do look for guerrilla tactics. By that I mean non-traditional marketing that makes sure the product is being seen not just in the gym, but also on the runways. In a gym we might put a product on the trainers. We get people involved, as we did on our Run T.O. event.

How do you deal with consumer backlash for being so heavily marketed?

It’s the same for any company that’s highly visible. Nike’s been able to move beyond that because we’re good at building a deep relationship with our customers. There will always be criticism if you’re a market leader. Starbucks goes through the same thing. The philosophy is to build. I don’t think it’s ever been said, ‘Let’s backtrack.’ There is no finish line.

Do you like your running shoes clean and white or dirty?

Dirty.

Is it possible we’ll see a combination running shoe/coffee cup in the near future?

No, you’ll never see that combination, but you will see something steaming hot!