Converse is the creative world’s favorite party guest, which may be why it has so many friends—over 37 million on Facebook, to be exact. Just how did the sneaker brand get so popular? Not by being the life of the party, but by practicing good people skills and good social etiquette, says CMO Geoff Cottrill. Rather than stepping on toes and dominating the social conversation, Converse lets its audience guide the dialog, knowing that the brand belongs to those who wear it. Geoff shared these insights and more with me during this year’s CMO Club Awards, where he won honors for innovation in marketing—and after you read our conversation, you’ll understand why.
Drew: Have you been able to link your innovative marketing activities to the kinds of business metrics favored by CEOs?
We are fortunate to have a massive and loyal following who is willing to post content on our behalf. To know that we have millions of friends on Facebook and hundreds of thousands of photos tagged #Converse on Instagram is humbling. But 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.
Drew: The Converse page currently has more than 37 million likes – one of the top 10 most popular pages on Facebook. How did you build such an active following on social media?
As a global brand that speaks to personal style and expression, social media presents itself as a natural forum for us to communicate with our consumers. 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. We are a welcomed party guest. We keep it simple. Be interesting, think creatively, think globally, believe in what we are saying, and take a step back to listen and watch.
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. This brand belongs to the people who wear it.
Drew: We love your campaign to support up and coming musicians by giving them free recording time and promoting them via social media. How did you decide to get involved in the music industry?
One of our goals as a brand is to give back and help inspire a new generation of musicians. We talked to a lot of musicians and it became apparent that studio time was costly and unaffordable for many emerging artists who had turned to home studios and their bedrooms to record. By opening Converse Rubber Tracks, it’s a way for us to say thank you to musicians all over who have helped us become the brand we are and to provide a place for new artists to have access to resources they may not be able to afford. It is Converse’s way to invest in the future of music.
Drew: Marketing seems to be getting increasingly complex in terms of ways to spend and ways to monitor. Has it gotten more complex for you and if so, how are you dealing with that complexity?
We don’t see it as being complex because our philosophy hasn’t changed. We strongly believe in building goodwill in communities and creating long-lasting brand ambassadors for the brand. It’s not just about selling sneakers.
Drew: A CMO has a lot of choices in terms of where they invest their time. What have been your top priorities in the last 12 months?
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. 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. The plan to reach them will be through the re-launch of the CONS segment, targeted specifically to their street culture, sport-inspired lifestyle.
Drew: Have there been any big surprises in terms of what’s worked really well and what hasn’t?
Our consumers are always surprising us! But we see these surprises in a truly positive way because we can always do better and are constantly seeking improvements.
Drew: What’s your perspective on content marketing?
Our philosophy on content marketing is built on driving meaningful relationships that are true to our core values, spark creativity and inspire advocacy. Whether it’s about showcasing a musician that has just recorded at Converse Rubber Tracks in Brooklyn, a showcase we put on at SXSW, a street art exhibit in Beijing or a Three Artists One Song collaboration – we focus on developing stories that are compelling for our consumers.
Drew: Converse has been in business since 1908. How do you balance respecting the tradition of the Converse brand with innovative marketing?
Converse has a long history in music. It 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. Musicians and creative people are our core audience, and we need to do everything possible to foster this community. We want to be useful to the community and never take advantage of it or overstep our place. We want to bring cultures together and celebrate music. In other words, we want to be in it, without getting in the way.
Drew: How do you evaluate/measure the success of your marketing?
We believe that success is not measured in the traditional sense (i.e. ROI). The number of deep relationships we can foster with the creative community—not media impressions, and content views, measures success for the brand.
Drew: Do you agree with that notion that marketing is everything and everything is marketing? How do you as a marketer impact the entire customer experience?
Marketing is not everything and everything [is not marketing] to Converse. It’s has always been the brand’s intention that our products and consumers drive the marketing, not the marketing driving our product. Our approach to the consumer experience is to invest and grow our connections to consumers. As a brand, Converse is on a mission to own “sneakers” and this will be communicated across all our messaging. We want the word “sneakers” to become synonymous with unleashing the creative spirit.