Why Reebok doesn’t rely on data to understand its consumers

The sports brand believes the best way to understand customers is to employ people just like them.

Eleanor Carter-Silk is not only Reebok UK’s head of sports marketing, she is also an athlete and a former ambassador for the brand – like most of its head office.

All of its marketers are trained in the areas they work in, and as such, Reebok can afford to be less reliant on data from third parties to understand its consumers.

“We are our own consumers,” Carter-Silk says. “While we bring in consumers and focus groups, and listen to people by email and in person at events, a lot of us live the brand ourselves so there isn’t as much guessing as there would be if we were in an industry that was more heavily reliant on data.”

Carter-Silk was speaking at an event held by We Are Social in London this morning (30 May) on a panel debate looking at how brands should market to increasingly data-conscious consumers – especially now the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has come into effect, and following the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier this year.

A lot of us live the brand ourselves so there isn’t as much guessing as there would be if we were in an industry that was more heavily reliant on data.

Eleanor Carter-Silk, Reebok

As the dust continues to swirl and the impact of GDPR remains unknown for many businesses, Carter-Silk says Reebok is “giving it a bit of time and breathing space to see how things shape out” – and that it will be making sure it puts out high-quality content so consumers don’t feel like it’s a frantic chase to get them to re-subscribe.

“The data that you do have becomes more valuable and how you use it becomes even more important,” she says. “I liken it to Neo in The Matrix: you want to be the woman in the red dress, a stand out moment for someone rather than another voice that’s blending in with a load of black suits.”

READ MORE: Inside the sports fashion group launching a brand building academy to unleash cross-functional creativity

While Reebok might not rely on third-party data, events, brand partnerships and the communities it chooses to engage with play an integral role in the relationship Reebok has with consumers. This is how it brings people into its consumer base – and, crucially, drives sales.

“We can speak to our consumer base online and look at their preferences and what they’re interested in but the best way we can validate the product is by getting on the feet of a big community,” she explains. These currently include London running group Midnight Runners, fitness programme Les Mills, Spartan Race, UFC and 15 Reebok CrossFit affiliates across the UK.

“Our global and local partners help us to tell that product story directly to consumers. So we have less issue with trying to reach them directly because we have this intermediary trusted point where consumers can access that product from. We are less reliant on that broader brush approach.”

But the relationship works both ways, and Carter-Silk says it is less about building Reebok’s own community but rather adding value to the communities that it works with.

“It’s our responsibility to let people do what they’re doing anyway but to add value to them.”

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  • David Burrows 30 May 2018 at 4:16 pm

    If your head office mostly comprises ‘former athletes and ambassadors for the brand’ then I think that you have to be careful to guard against group-think. Keeping a close eye on customer data is a good way to do this. You may think you know best, but the data can prove whether your instincts are right or wrong.

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