Converse unboxes plan to convert chatter into brand experiences

Converse is letting fans imbue their personality onto its brand so that they can own, produce and share as it looks to amplify efforts to engineer word-of-mouth into brand experiences.

For the world’s biggest little-trainers brand, Converse's fans are the secret weapons in its bid to retain its cool factor amid its push for broader appeal. Where its rivals have been able to call on hefty media budgets to court new fans, the company has at times dabbled with user-generated content as a cost-effective yet disruptive way of standing out in a crowded market.

But user-generated content will barely pierce the clutter without the edge of a clearly defined strategy. It is why Converse is shaping its marketing around an ethos of using its fans to promote its brand as a service and not just a fashion staple. Advocacy is a tried and tested method in the social media age though Converse plans to get marketing mileage from it by linking it to personalisation.

The approach has inspired the brand’s latest global push. “Made by You”, that celebrates customers who make their own mark on the sneaker. Converse fans share thousands of photos on a daily basis, according to the brand, and once it noticed this behaviour got to work crafting a campaign around customisation and visual storytelling.

Art installations are being erected in cities across the world, including London and Shanghai, where fans can view limited-edition custom Chuck Taylors in virtual reality. The bespoke sneakers can also be viewed online, while the brand is encouraging fans to share their own.

Speaking at Microsoft’s Advertising Week Europe panel yesterday (25 March), Chris Marsh, social media manager at Converse, said the brand wanted to allow customers to stamp their personality on the brand. Converse has always tried to promote individual style over performance despite its origins as a basketball shoe 100 years ago but this has been crystalised over the last four years with the idea of fans celebrating the individuality of their own trainers.

“It’s true that we’re not necessarily regarded as true innovators in the modern sense of the world but we’ve always been creative and contemporary,” said Marsh. “We’re arguably the most iconic footwear of all time. One of the great things about our product is that it’s one of the only few in the world that when you take it out of the box it actually gets better.”

Converse hopes its updated mix of customisation and word-of-mouth is enough to bring new people to the brand. It knows that only a small percentage of its fans are likely to fully engage with the customisation mechanic but believes those creatives that do have the conversational capital to propagate it to the right audience.

The move is backed by “Chuck Hacks”, an online community the brand set up in 2013 where fans can come and share ideas with one another and it can foster creativity.

“When social is used in ways where you listen to fans and give them a voice then it allows them to do the talking for you,” said Marsh.

The activity is part of the company’s move away from the all-American branding that first defined it as the disruptive force it is becoming increasingly known for now. The impact has seen Converse’s sales rise 71 per cent over the last five years, a rapid turnaround for a business yanked from bankruptcy by Nike in 2001.

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