Tennis Industry magazine

 

Footwear: Success Stories?

With new marketing strategies and products, shoe manufacturers have some strong stories to share.

By Kent Oswald

While full shoe customization is still somewhere on the horizon, players (and manufacturers and retailers) will continue their quest. In the meantime — that is, for spring 2016 — what they will be able to choose from is a continuation of choices along lines of recent year’s trends of increased support, flashier colors, and options emphasizing either more durability or flexibility.

Retailers will also deal with the less attention-grabbing, but equally important, themes of how what goes on their customers’ feet is integrated by the competing brands into the other parts of a player’s kit, and the different marketing strategies.

As an example of the stories to consider this spring, Wilson introduces a “360-degree” campaign in conjunction with the launch of its Glide and Kaos shoes (each of which offers an “inner mesh glove” that Wilson says provides a custom-like feel). The program’s concept is that each of their items in the whole tennis product line works both individually as well as in unison to provide a competitive edge. To help players better understand which are the related products, the company will label according to a “player ID system,” categorizing by style of play (e.g., baseline, attack, all-court).

Head is using a similar player-taxonomy strategy in helping players differentiate whether the debuting Nitro Pro shoes or the recently introduced Revolt Pros are the better option. Social media programs, as well as print and marketing campaigns, will offer consumers a comparison of the benefits of the two lines, while attempting to drive the viewer to a “Nitro vs. Revolt” microsite. Clicking there offers a variety of questions whose answers will help define whether one is Team Nitro or Team Revolt.

What’s the Promise?

As it is for the sale of every product, the key message from a manufacturer is what does the brand promise for that item in terms of customer satisfaction, and how does it meet or (preferably) exceed that promise? What makes tennis shoes an unusually challenging item to sell, particularly in their debut year, is that the purchase will almost always be a commitment made without the possibility of a demo other than a few moments walking or jogging down a store aisle.

This is not to suggest manufacturers are comfortable putting the same shoes out season after season with no tweaks. Asics, for example, expects to continue to ride the wave of success it’s seen with its lightweight Solution Speed 3 line by making small changes to the upper package and adding new colorways to the men’s, women’s and juniors’ selections. The idea is that even if it looks like little has changed, there has to be something new for the folks on the selling floor to talk about and/or something eye-catching in a new design so that a peek at the shoe wall suggests to the player comfortable with the line that it might be time to update the bottom line of his or her wardrobe.

Providing an interesting example of how to add pizzazz to the marketing of the tried and true is New Balance’s “Always in Beta” campaign. Identifying shoes by number as the Boston-based company does, and keeping the same shoes on the shelves seasons in and out, is not inherently sexy. Rather it isn’t until you infuse it with a sales proposition that the R&D folks are teaming with the player to keep everyone striving toward that next level. New Balance also will be introducing new colorways to align shoes with its clothing options in “grand slam kits” throughout the year. Most intriguingly, with an eye toward that ultimate goal of full customization, it will be introducing 3D printing capabilities for the midsoles of its running shoes into select retail locations in April, an innovation likely to cross over in the near future to tennis shoes as well.

Tennis Aspirations

Despite the different trails companies take with their marketing of shoes, what each is ultimately trying to do is connect the customer and their wants and needs in tennis footwear to their aspirations regarding their game. Those who take the most direct route, like Babolat and K-Swiss, are selling themselves as tennis-only, or at least tennis-primary.

The French company adds new colorways to its shoe lines this spring, and has not scheduled any sort of big announcement regarding its next technological leap for footwear. It has, however, offered hints that there is shoe research and development that might provide personalization (if not fuller customization) for the feet, just as its recently introduced “smart” technologies have allowed players to change their approach to racquets.

As for K-Swiss, the California company’s shoes (including the Hypercourt Express with 2016’s new colorways) will continue to be the foundation of its marketing. For the year, the major promotion theme is that even now, in its 50th year of selling shoes, it is a tennis company, 100 percent, and should be the first thought of those who define themselves in part or whole by their favorite game.

Strong Stories

Reviewing the various marketing strategies and new products makes clear that in 2016, manufacturers as a whole will be sharing their strongest shoe stories in years.

Despite that, success will not be based solely on the product, or even the marketing. Hovering above every shoe on the back wall is the question of player participation. In particular, there is a need for an uptick in “core” players, whose larger amounts of court time naturally lead to greater wear and tear on their footwear and consequently more shoe purchases.

The TIA reported a 1 percent drop among the core group of players for 2014, the latest year for which complete information is available. So, for 2016, while players continue their quest for the premier foundation for their games, manufacturers and retailers both are concerned with their own quest, one for more core players tied ever tighter to the game of a lifetime, and, hopefully, a lifetime of tennis shoe purchases.

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About the Author

Kent Oswald  is a contributor to TennisNow.com, producer at the JockBookReview.com and a former editor of Tennis Week magazine.

 

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