​Nike VP: 5 ways data and customer thinking can build brand

Nike brand experts shares his brand and customer engagement insights at ADMA Data Day

Steve Lesnard
Steve Lesnard

Given how fast the consumer landscape is moving, and how quickly brands leaders of today can be out of touch tomorrow, it's clear brands must change how they operate to remain relevant.

That's the view of Steve Lesnard, who has spent the last 21 years with Nike, culminating in his role of global vice-president/general manager of running. Lesnard recently left the fitness brand to become a consultant, but shared his vast consumer insights and the steps he believes are critical to building lasting brands at this year's ADMA Data Day .

Here are his five critical steps.

1. Have a clear mission

When brands have a very clear understanding of who they are trying to serve and the value they are trying to create for consumers, it creates a north star in a company, Lesnard said.

“The companies that are strongest are the ones that constantly review their actions against their mission and adjust their mission depending on consumer landscape changes,” he said. “Focus on what it is you want to be famous for. What do you want your customers to talk about and promote?"

Lesnard pointed to Nike's recent marketing campaign featuring controversial US football star, Colin Kaepernick.

"While it was controversial, it was weighed with Nike’s mission to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world, so when they came to make that stance they knew exactly what they were doing and it was a risk they were prepared to take, because it fit the mission," he said. "And it was very successful.”

2. Be consumer obsessed

According to Lesnard, consumer–centric organisations create a culture of innovation, a culture of competitiveness, and they challenge organisations to move forward.

“I’ve never seen as much change as I have for the last few years, which is powered by technology and the consumer,” he commented. “The consumer is in charge. If a consumer has an incredible experience with a brand, they expect every company to then provide the same. They expect brands to know them.

"When it comes to the younger consumer, they also expect brands to solve problems for them, understand their pain points, and understand how to add value to their lives.

“This then drives a relentless focus on innovation, brands have to inspire the consumer and break through so they remember who you are and what you stand for. Brand must be clear on how your consumer likes to consume your communication."

Of course, data is liquid gold in terms of delivering consumer insight. "Data provides information to truly help cement, define, and identify the opportunities to engage with your consumers. It’s about knowing them better so you can serve them better, and it leads to the holy grail of personalisation at scale,” Lesnard said.

3. Obsess over the consumer journey

Similarly, it's vital to understand the pain points and the opportunities customers have in their journeys, so you can add value and surprise and delight them.

“When something works well, you want to share it with your friends. Brands can make a true difference,” Lesnard said.

4. The power of big ideas

Innovation is equally vital, and for Lesnard, that means following those big ideas. "It’s got to be distinctive, you’ve got to make it your own and different from the competition," he said. "It’s then got to be nuclear, and by that I mean you have to empower your community to take it and make it their own. Make it nuclear and it can inspire a whole generation.”

5. Focus on your members

Finally, Lesnard said to focus on what he calls ‘super users’.

“They are your most valued customers. They provide the highest ROI, are the most loyal, give the most feedback, and are your strongest ambassadors, so understanding who they are and how to serve them should always be foremost on your mind," he said. 

“They provide the foundation you can build on, so listen to them, they will call you out. But they are also the first ones willing to try new things for you, and to give you feedback." 

Finding them means moving away from just selling to service, as well as from transactions to lifetime value.

"And move from initiatives to consumer journeys. The most powerful launches are informed by the consumer journey and this leads to personalisation at scale, where you provide the right info at right time to optimise,” Lesnard added. 

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