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Reviving an International Sportswear Company's App Conversion Rates with Brand Storytelling

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This case study will be of interest to large B2C companies who want to create strategies that will lead to a cohesive, compelling, and thoughtful experience for the consumer.
In this case study, you’ll learn how my communications hierarchy resolved my client's many competing consumer messages into a harmonious, personalized journey where the in-store space and other platforms work together to keep the consumer in the brand environment.
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Storytelling strategy adopted at scale
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Significant improvements to App membership & retention rate
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Company approach to marketing became forward-thinking & holistic
Background

Sportswear Company Looks to Adapt its Brand Storytelling to a Post-Covid Retail Landscape

As Director of Retail Concepts for my client, I was working on a new retail concept which incorporated city, sport, and wellness.

We wanted to make consumer experiences hyper-local and personalized by incorporating live data from the city they’re in. This might relate to the weather, or a marathon taking place in the city, or how many burpees Los Angeles has done today.

Amid the pandemic, people were returning to retail, but their expectations had changed. We needed brand storytelling that responded to those changes.

Consumers are now very comfortable shopping multichannel. We needed our storytelling to be consistent across platforms and to make sense at every point in their journey. We wanted to always connect them to the next experience and ultimately turn more consumers into members of the company. To that end, whether in-store, online, in-app, or on social media, every interaction would count.

Thankfully, I’m very comfortable at the intersection of retail and digital. As the two have evolved and merged over the last 10 years, I’ve always been part of that journey, so they came hand in hand in all my planning.

Meanwhile, at a basic level, we were still trying to connect with customers about products. There was a huge risk of visual overload. Our goal was to harness and organize this mass of information.

The project hit on my key strengths of creativity, strategy, and consumer experience.

Execution

Remaking Storytelling, In Store and Out

Consumer Research

Everyone has assumptions about consumer behavior, including me. We wanted to counteract this by taking very parameter-led questions to the consumer globally. This research would be adapted to each country’s handling of the pandemic.

In three markets, Europe, China, and North America, we approached the consumer with a set of questions about storytelling in retail. How much information did they want to know? At what point in the consumer journey were they looking for it? When could they not find it? When was it overwhelming?

Most importantly, how comfortable were they sharing their data with us? If they're in a running club on our app, are they comfortable with us knowing how many miles they've run so we can recommend the right shoe?

We pulled three major themes from their answers, which we were able to use in hypothesis testing.

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Hypothesis Testing

During this step, we went back to the consumer and put some ideas in front of them. I provided the Consumer Research and Science team with a brief, and they conducted the research.

A big part of the process was positing hypothetical concept stores and asking if consumers would find them interesting. The team worked with an artist to sketch up our ideas — say, an Ulta beauty counter in the footwear section of a store. They would then take a selection of different sketches to a consumer group and ask questions like, “Which of these is the most interesting to you? Which one would you shop at more often?”

This global consumer vote helped us recognize some key things about storytelling that we need to achieve in this space. By including some ‘out there’ ideas as well as very safe ones, we got an accurate impression of how farfetched we could be.

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Identifying the Role of Storytelling

We then had to clarify the role and intent of storytelling in the space.

We defined the story in stages. First, before the consumer arrives in the retail space, they might see an ad for an in-store workshop on fueling your training with a vegan diet.

Once they’re in the space, we might say, “There's rain in the weather forecast today. We have a rain jacket for your rainy runs.”

After they leave the store, we extend the engagement and build positive brand sentiment. For example, we might invite them to an event that feels logical for them based on their shopping behavior. For instance, after they buy the jacket, we could extend an app or email invitation to meet our athletes and attend weekly training.

Communication would be based on the current weather, the consumer’s needs, and their sport. We were always getting the consumer back into the store or onto one of our platforms while keeping to the ethos of city, sport, and wellness.

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Identifying Content Inputs and Outputs

If you create a place that hosts content, you have to feed the beast and make the process sustainable. We started to consider what input we needed to support storytelling at each juncture.

This store was about connecting to the consumer through sport, so our content would have to talk about sport in a very human way. What type of story would be suitable? Would we talk about women running for the first time in Mozambique? Or how to train for your first 5k? Should we focus just on the product?

We also thought about appropriate outputs for the story. A video screen, an iPad, or an analog or digital sign, for example, might be the best way to host some kinds of content. Others might work better delivered by a salesperson in our store or through a workshop. There’s also visual merchandising, styling in the space, wayfinding, paid media, social media, and app notifications.

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Mapping Content in the Journey

Next, we considered how the content should be mapped in the consumer journey. I took every zone in the store from the window to the cash register and assigned it a storytelling objective.

I organized the stories to connect with the consumer on different levels: seasonal and daily. Everything we were asking our stores to do fell into one of those two buckets.

That was a great wake-up call in terms of how much information we were trying to convey. Clearly, prioritizing everything would be important if we wanted the consumer to absorb it all as they walked through the store.

At the time, the company's app was getting lost in everything else we were doing. Over 50% of customers who signed up never used it again. To increase downloads and in-store interactions, we needed to give the app a place in the storytelling.

To achieve this, we assigned primary, secondary, and tertiary stories. Say we want the product we’re trying to sell, a running shoe, to be the primary story. Discussion about our app should be tertiary. They’re both important, but when you go into the space, the app should feel like a quieter conversation than the shoes. At other times, when the app is bringing value and the goal is to get our consumer to focus on it, the other storytelling becomes tertiary.

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Testing IRL

This was a great time to trial some elements we wanted to include in the concept store in the long term. So we leveraged a couple of stores that were being remodeled or built to test our content and gauge consumers’ reactions.

The response from staff was amazing. They felt the hierarchy system was very clear. In fact, it became a great tool to facilitate conversations between me on the global side and our local partners. It helped us talk about where things like marketing and membership sat in the store and where we should make adjustments.

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Results

Cohesive Consumer Journey Curates Personalized Experience & Increases App Users

The final marketing plan, of which this brand storytelling project is a small slice, was adopted not only in new stores but in our existing retail fleet at a significant scale.

With the right stories shining through, our app membership and retention rate improved quickly. We were keeping the consumer in our flywheel and increasing their communication and engagement with us at every touchpoint. The company now thinks more broadly about marketing and its implications.

This is what a consumer journey may look like since we rolled out the storytelling system.

A consumer sees a billboard for this sportswear brand about International Women's Day. Later, she sees an Instagram story from a local fitness influencer and thinks, “Wow, I love that bra.” She lands on a page that talks about her local store and the bra fit service. She decides to get a fitting but has to be a member, so she signs up. We've converted her before she even comes into the store.

In the store, she sees that there’s an all-women yoga session happening soon. She talks to a store team member and gets signed up. As she’s leaving, she sees there's a wellness seminar coming up that will help optimize her yoga workouts. She knows she can easily sign up for that, too, because she’s already a member. She's entering our yoga ecosystem.

After she’s left the store, she gets a total recap of her visit and a list of upcoming events. Lots of the storytelling happens on her phone, but it works with the retail space to create a cohesive journey. We have now achieved converting her to be a member as well as showing her the value of her membership, and inviting her back to the next event or product launch.

I am a brand marketing leader and creative strategist with over 20 years of experience creating global marketing campaigns, content strategy, consumer journeys, membership strategies and more. I have been a key leader in building retail concepts across the global marketplace.