In partnership with The CMO Club, The CMO of the Week series profiles CMOs who are shaping, changing and challenging the world of modern marketing. For Neisser's complete interview with CMO Award Winner Cottrill, click here.
As a purveyor of not only fashion but also lifestyle, Converse has an opportunity to be a part of their customers' everyday lives. Instead of pushing the sales angle, though, CMO Geoff Cottrill says that they are more interested in turning the reins over to the consumers and enabling them to steer the conversation.
"We are fortunate to have a massive and loyal following who is willing to post content on our behalf," Cottrill says. "To know that we have millions of friends on Facebook and hundreds of thousands of photos tagged #Converse on Instagram is humbling."
The "millions" he's talking about is literal: Converse's Facebook page has over 40 million fans, placing it in the top 10 brand pages. Whatever Converse is doing, it's certainly working; however, according to Cottrill, it's not all about the numbers. "For us, real success is defined by our ability to build meaningful relationships that are true to our core values, spark creativity and inspire advocacy," he says.
Let the customers guide the conversation
Converse's approach to social media is to treat it like more of a cocktail party rather than a soapbox. "It's absolutely a focused part of our overall communication efforts but at the same time we understand that we are not leading that communication, nor do we want to," Cottrill says. "We are a welcomed party guest."
Social media is a natural part of Converse's strategy, especially since they are interested in personal style and expression. However, they don't try to pull anything tricky, instead opting to "take a step back to listen and watch" and shape the brand according to what the fans want and how they want it.
"Social media is a tremendous vehicle to learn about your consumers, what they like (or don't like about you), what they are interested in hearing from us, what they're doing in their lives, and what they are saying to each other," Cottrill says. "This brand belongs to the people who wear it."
On giving back to the community
Even before the digital age, Converse has been part of the public conversation. It's spent time in the spotlight, worn by celebrities and the "common folk" alike. It especially has a rich history with music. "[Converse] has been worn on stage by legendary punk bands in the 1970s and adopted by kings of hip-hop, new wave, rockabilly, grunge and others throughout the decades," says Cottrill. "Musicians and creative people are our core audience, and we need to do everything possible to foster this community."
This was the inspiration for Converse Rubber Tracks, which is a recording studio space in Brooklyn, NY, that welcomes musicians of all stripes, whether amateur or professional. The cost: completely free. Converse sees it as a way to contribute to and be a part of a thriving creative community that comprises a large part of their fan base. "We want to bring cultures together and celebrate music," Cottrill says. "In other words, we want to be in it, without getting in the way."
"We strongly believe in building goodwill in communities and creating long-lasting brand ambassadors for the brand," Cottrill adds. "It's not just about selling sneakers."
On what drives marketing
How does Converse incorporate its consumer-based brand philosophy into its marketing strategy? "It's has always been the brand's intention that our products and consumers drive the marketing, not the marketing driving our product," Cottrill explains. "Our approach to the consumer experience is to invest and grow our connections to consumers."
By being involved with the community, they have a direct line into what is relevant to consumer's lives, needs, and desires. They know, for instance, that a good number of their fans are inspired by streetwear and sports. As a global company in over 160 countries worldwide, Converse doesn't just run on philosophy; it translates this kind of information, gleaned from its fan base and from other sources, into actionable product strategy.
"In the next few seasons, Converse sees a huge potential of opportunities within avenues such as our wholesale accounts and securing key leadership positions with these important retailers through exclusive partnerships and product offerings," Cottrill says, detailing a few of these product initiatives. "Another category with tremendous opportunity is young men and to truly get after the young male consumer from a head-to-toe perspective, encompassing footwear to apparel to accessories."
At the end of the day, Converse returns to its core values and its community, taking its cue from its passionate fans. It's a company that doesn't just want a product, but rather a symbol. "As a brand, Converse is on a mission to own 'sneakers' and this will be communicated across all our messaging," Cottrill says. "We want the word 'sneakers' to become synonymous with unleashing the creative spirit."