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Adidas to digitise trainers and footballs to create ‘over a billion consumer touchpoints’

Adidas is building near field communications (NFC) into its footwear, apparel and sporting equipment in the hope of triggering over a billion consumer touchpoints it can use to keep talking to people long after they’ve made a purchase.

The sportswear maker doesn’t know who is buying its products. It is a complication it is trying to unravel by creating “products with benefits”, football boots, jerseys and balls that are wearable technology.

Speaking on a SXSW panel, Jon Warner, innovation specialist at Adidas, said the decision to stitch NFC into its products stemmed from a realisation that the most relevant content after a purchase is made by customers not brands.

Instead of the bulk of post-purchase customer data being pulled from its ecommerce sites, Adidas wants to generate more information on where and how people are using its products so that it can more accurately predict trends for its marketing and production teams.

The strategy is being put through its paces via limited editions of the Stan Smiths and Superstars trainers. By tapping a NFC-enabled smartphone to their shoe before they set off, the wearer is sent personalised messages, ranging from shop suggestions to exclusive content, depending on what they've done in them. For those shoppers not sure which pair of Adidas' to buy while in-store they can also tap their phone on either the Stan Smiths or the SuperStars to receive additional information that could sway them.

“We want to ensure that there is a consistent message [through our marketing] because store clerks might tell different stories about the products depending on the retail outlet so wanted the shoes to be able to convey the history of the Adidas products,” said Warner.

The thinking behind the trainers, he continued, is to find a way to maintain their value rather than it fade away the more they are worn. The brand has dabbled in this area in the past, most notably in 2013 when it embedded an NFC chip into its Boost running shoe.

“Where we want to go with this is that imagine the product and its advertising campaign are tied to a concert. What if instead of having to queue up like everyone else you could walk straight through to the red carpet line because you’ve got the right shoes on? It’s cool things like that where we add additional value to the consumers purchase,” explained Warner.

“We can say to customers you’re at the point where it’s time to get a new pair of shoes. It’s through that ability to understand what they’re doing, the type of runner they are and how often they tap their products that we can start to learn more about how they are being sued. We won’t recommend them sweaters if they’re in the south and its warm and we can actually start to be very specific about how we reach them just through content that’s fully available from them and mashed up in real-time.”

The company is also exploring how NFC could be weaved into the clothing it makes. However, unlike footwear, Adidas is not yet ready to launch anything with development still in the conceptual stage. One such prospect is a football shirt that would serve up team information or statistics of a specific player when the logo was tapped. Warner used the football shirt of the company’s homeland, Germany, to demonstrate the feature and said it had looked at using it to notify the wearer whether there were other people with the same shirt on nearby.

“It’s basically building a community in situ around these products. It also gives consumers an easier way to provide feedback too. Imagine after three or four wears and then they suddenly notice a tear and notify us by tapping on one of our products,” Warner said. “We know they bought product so now we're going to pay a lot more attention to them because of the fact that they actually own it and it's a not a random Tweet or Facebook post.”

Sporting products are also being lined up for the digital pot. A World Cup ball for example, could reveal its history whether it was the one of those used in Germany's 7-1 mauling of Brazil or the one Mario Goetze struck in extra time to secure football’s ultimate prize last summer to fans.

“These three examples add up to over a billion touch points for Adidas with our consumers,” claimed Warner.

It is not just post purchase the business expects digitised products to make the difference. It also wants to look at pre-purchase to give it greater oversight of its supply chain and combat piracy by allowing customers to check authenticity of a product at the shelf.

Despite the gathering momentum, the strategy could be undone if NFC does not become available on iPhones and the brand fails to properly tell customers that they can tap on the logo of products to access additional content.

The business is also wary of being too focused on being mobile driven at the expense of the customer experience. Wearables are seen as an extension of mobile though that doesn’t mean they need to be tethered to mobile, the business believes.

Warner said: “We can’t do a billion products at this stage so there has to be some progress on how it works in the market. It’s a good thing [that the technology is ready for full launch] because we'll see learnings along the way of what works and what doesn’t but it’s a challenge.”

The plan feeds into Adidas’ wider efforts to generate more direct-to-consumer channels. In an increasingly competitive sportswear market, shelf space for brands in stores is shrinking and consequently Adidas, along with its rivals, are exploring how to integrate burgeoning channels such as mobile and social media into their marketing mixes.

Seb Joseph

Hi, I'm the news editor at The Drum. Give me a shout if you have any questions about our news coverage or would like to pitch in a story.

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