Two retail trends that sport can learn from

22 06 2013

Recent articles in FastCompany and AdAge have highlighted some interesting innovations and trends in the retail sector that could also impact sports delivery.

Starbucks has had a go at re imagining the rules for building coffee outlets. It’s designed its new concept store to be a work of art, and deliverable on a truck. The big idea is to find ways to build scale while still being locally relevant. This is the same challenge that the sports sector faces, to drive national scale while reflecting local needs. However I suspect the sports sector has yet to see this as a designer’s problem to solve like Starbucks do?!

Meanwhile some American retailers are working towards a concept of the “omni-channel“. This sounds impressive, but its really just looking at channel strategy from the customer’s perspective. Customers don’t categorise their relationship into bricks and mortar, franchise outlets, call centres and online. They just want to browse, buy and collect a brand’s products in whichever way is most convenient to them at that time. So the big idea with the “omni-channel is that the business re-engineers itself around delivering a consistent customer experience across all its channels. This breaks down silos internally and helps reinforce brand values externally.

Of course behind the scenes neither of these trends are easy to deliver on, in retail or in sport. Achieving scale while being locally relevant requires constantly searching for local needs that are common across the market. Local customisation can then be kept to a minimum and focused on areas of high impact to customers & partners. Likewise delivering a consistent and seamlessly connected customer experience across all touch points will require a whole new way of working and information sharing, both across the business and out through the network of partners.

So will the pain be worth it? Well organic growth comes from engaging more customers more often, and improving the customer experience is a critical part of achieving that. So whether its thorough visible delivery innovations or business model innovations the customer never sees, organisations will need to adopt these principles or risk losing out on the growth they will generate.

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Why do we play sport?

1 01 2013

New year is a great time to start or increase our sports participation. For a start there’s safety in numbers, as “do more exercise” and “get fit” are high on the list of annual new year’s resolutions.

But to create a new habit out of these resolutions, personal trainers will tell us we need some extra steps. To succeed we need to set a goal & get a “gym buddy” to help keep us going. We also need to understand and identify our motivation for doing it. Asking why isn’t something we do enough, but only through really questioning ourselves can we understand why we want to do something.

Goals are good, but what happens once you’ve ticked off the race? Buddies are helpful, until they get injured or too busy at work. So if we don’t have a good reason why, then the new behaviour is unlikely to stick long-term.

So why do we play sport? And do we play all sports for the same reason? There’s plenty of research around, telling us the reasons people drop-out of sport or won’t start. But what about the millions that do play? What gets us out of cozy beds or (hopefully) dry houses to ride, run or kick balls around? What drives our love affair for playing, not just watching, sport?

Digging beneath the responses of SportEngland’s satisfaction survey shows that we can participate in the same sport for a multitude of personal yet common reasons. For some it’s about the competition & progression, for some it’s about improving their health or fitness and for others it’s purely social & not about the sport at all.

These motivations become important when we think about the competing activities. Those motivated by specific competition will be less inclined to play a range of sports than those driven to improve their general well being. Equally for those motivated by the social opportunity, a coffee shop or social media chat may be a competitor on a wet & windy day!

As for me, I play football because it’s been baked into my DNA since I could walk. I no longer dream of playing for Fulham or Wales, but I still get excited when a tricky pass or move comes off! They remind me of why I had the dreams as a child.

I ride my bike to explore places while getting fit, I run to remind myself I used to be much faster, and I used to swim because achieving a big goal like a sub-3hr triathlon was impossible if I didn’t.

So why do you play sport? Would you be lost without your regular fix, or will other fun activities replace it before the sun returns?





What’s your sport? A look at what a sport’s brand means to you

6 10 2011

What’s your sport? What is running, swimming or football? As a current, lapsed, potential participant, or as someone that never wants to do it, what do these sports mean to you? What does each sport’s brand stand for, in your eyes?

Strong brands are ones that create an emotional response in people. When you ask them what the brand is, they don’t reply with a list of functions and features. Instead they tell you about it’s benefits or how it’s relevant (or not) to them.

Growth comes from understanding the needs and expectations of the target customers you want to buy/use your brand – a strong connection with them often means a disconnection with others. Those who don’t engage deeply with a brand will usually dismiss it as “marketing hype”. And that’s the point about great brands, they divide opinion precisely because they are distinctive enough for people to have an opinion, as the varying eulogies to Steve Jobs have demonstrated.

Brands drive growth
Growth of the iPad, Starbucks, Manchester United, Ikea – each has invented or re-invented their category and achieved growth and success way beyond the wider market or what was considered normal. Each brand has their passionate followers with whom they deeply connect, and they have passionate detractors with whom they often disconnnect equally strongly. But that doesn’t matter – if you create something genuinely relevant and meaningful, it can’t be relevant and meaningful to everyone.

If you ask someone “what is Manchester United”, you wont get a list of features about ground capacity, employees or their upcoming fixture. Instead you’ll get a story about the role the team has played through someones life, the glory of a great victory, the thrill of watching great craftsmen at work. Or you will get the complete opposite – I’ll stop there before my inner Fulham fan takes over. But regardless of where you stand, its clear they’ve succeeded in growing the revenue and success of the club, by becoming a brand that people want to be part of and engaged with, both on and off the pitch.

The same dichotomy occurs if you ask people “what is Ikea” or “what is an iPad”. But all these brands have achieved stellar growth because their brand has deeply connected with enough people to drive it.

Branding and participation
So in terms of sports participation, my question is this, “what is sport?”. Or to make it more specific: “what is swimming, running or football?”

I chose these sports to get a mix of what gemba sports research call “franchise” sports (those where the number of fans vastly outweighs the number of participants) and “grass roots” sports (where the opposite is true).

The sport of football has a strong brand for spectators and sponsors, whether people and companies choose to engage with it or not. Likewise with the Olympics around the corner, the spectator brand for elite swimming and running will get more and more coverage – which will delight some and annoy others. But that’s why the Olympics works, if everyone cared then no-one would care. It creates a deep level of inspiration and excitement, because it connects with most people but not everyone. If every elite sport became relevant to everyone, they would be passionately relevant to no-one.

But what do any or all of those sports mean to you, as a current lapsed or aspiring participant? What does running, going for a swim or playing football mean to you? Does the idea thrill you or fill you with dread? Are you constantly trying to get friends to join in, or are you always planning to start playing it “tomorrow”? Are you looking forward to your next session, or is it something you keep saying you will do but probably never will (like I do about parachuting)?

Please add your thoughts in the comments below…








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