As marketing becomes more digitally refined, maintaining the humanity that attracted people to brands in the first place becomes increasingly important. Which is why digital-first brand Nobull is so focused on building a community.
Boston-based sportswear brand Nobull became the title sponsor of the CrossFit Games and official supplier of CrossFit apparel in March 2021, taking over from sportswear giant Reebok when it decided not to renew its sponsorship deal after a decade.
The announcement raised eyebrows, with the direct-to-consumer digital brand having only launched in 2015 in a bid to challenge the status quo and provide an alternative to the traditional brands that owned the fitness space.
Todd Meleney, the vice-president of marketing at Nobull, tells The Drum how the brand had launched in CrossFit, and that the sport was its exclusive focus for the first few years. It wasn’t until 2018 that Nobull began to grow outside of CrossFit with the launch of its first running shoe.
Since then, its product line has grown to include running and cycling apparel and accessories, in addition to its classic trainers, as it seeks to become a global training brand for athletes of all disciplines.
“In nearly six years, Nobull has grown from a small, three-person team operating out of a garage to a multi-disciplinary global brand,” says Meleney.
“As a bootstrapped brand, we had to manage the business in a way that has allowed us to grow profitably. In the early years especially, we simply made as much product as we could afford, and that sometimes meant getting uncomfortable.
“We were so limited by what we could produce that it started to naturally create hype around our product launches. But with that also came the challenge to learn how to best manage customer expectations.”
Another lesson the Nobull team was learning on the fly was how to best utilize marketing tools and technology to allow the brand to connect with its customers. That meant that in order to grow, a lot of people needed to wear a lot of different hats.
Meleney says it wasn’t always glamorous, but everyone was willing to put in the work to get the job done and grow the brand to where it is today.
Now, he says the team is working to scale as quickly as it can to make sure every customer can get the product they want and have the best experience possible while doing so.
“We are very protective of the Nobull brand identity we established back in 2015. Content is one of the most important pieces of our marketing strategy. We have built a content team in-house, some of whom have been with us since the very beginning.
“With a strong team in place, we are able to collaborate with our sponsored athletes and our community to create content that is both powerful and authentic. We are always working to tell the stories of the athletes on the podium, the faces on our website and the people in our workout classes.”
“We make sure everything we produce is something that our community can identify with, but we also try to have fun with it and don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
From a strategic perspective, Nobull believes the most powerful form of marketing is word of mouth, with Meleney saying the brand wants to give people something to talk about and to make sure there is a story to share about why they love the product they wear.
As the Nobull community has grown, the brand has seen its customers connect to the stories around its designs. That has led to annual collections, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday collections and the floral collection.
“Community has always been at the forefront of the brand. Our co-founders – Marcus Wilson and Michael Schaeffer – were members of the CrossFit community themselves when they started Nobull. There has always been a deep level of understanding of our customers because we work alongside them.
“One key component of our Nobull code of conduct is to go above and beyond for our customers. We put the community first in every way that we can. What’s best for the community, in the long run, is ultimately going to be what’s best for Nobull, so we make sure that to meet the needs of our customers at every stage of growth.”
This means Nobull has to be thorough to make sure that it can live up to the expectations it set for itself, says Meleney, and it utilizes data to get there, regularly asking what styles are selling out quickly and what product its customers want to see.
“Whether through customer service data, digital advertising, social media metrics or simple conversations with our customers in the gym, our relationship with the community drives everything we do.”