Brand marketing is not what it once was, nor will it be in the future what it is today. Technology has enabled the consumer to have access to more information than ever at faster speeds than ever imagined. For big brand companies to remain afloat, focusing on what the consumer wants, as well as when, how, and how fast is crucial. In other words, if organizations want to remain successful, they have to become focused on the consumer.
“Being a consumer-centric organization means truly knowing your clients. This means having an understanding of what they like, how they behave, what they do, what their friction points are. Knowing this will enable you to truly add value to their lives,” says Steve Lesnard. Lesnard is a global leader, strategist, and entrepreneur with a unique vision for brand marketing and consumer demand. He says that focusing on consumer-centric marketing is one of the best and most effective means by which businesses can retain their client bases for the long haul.
Lesnard’s success is not only driven by his talent and knowledge of his field. More than anything, he is passionate about brand building, the path that leads to the best consumer experience, and all of the steps that lead to a truly successful brand campaign. This is not to say that knowledge is second to passion as the reasons for his immense success. Rather, the two complement each other. And, as is characteristic of almost all experts, he is very eager to share his knowledge and passion with those who are seeking to build a brand that will have an impact on consumer lives.
The Changing Consumer Landscape
Over the past two decades, the brand landscape has changed tremendously and rapidly, and Lesnard is cognizant of that. Just in 2000, the top brands were icons such as Coca Cola and Microsoft. These days, the top players are technology giants like Amazon, Facebook, and Google, to name a few. As a seasoned expert in brand management and consulting, Lesnard is aware of the evolutionary changes that brands go through. Some stay and some go, and what may persist today may not hold up in the future; all of this is driven by the consumer. As such, the brand management consultant believes that there are several key insights that go into building lasting brands.
Given Lesnard’s pedigree in a market driven by consumer demand, he highlights that business success is vastly dependent on meeting the evolving and ever-changing consumer demand. Today’s consumers want frictionless service, and they are likely to remain loyal to the businesses that meet their needs for fast, relevant, and easy or seamless experience. Today’s market is also very different from what it was years ago. A landscape that is headed by millennials who expect personal interaction with brands and want to be engaged rather than talked to is not what it once was. These consumers are quick to change their favorites to those who can give them what they are seeking, or they will simply create it themselves. And that is true for every industry, not just in sports and fitness. Lesnard calls it transference and urges entrepreneurs to embrace it. “Appreciate the concept of transference,” he says. “What consumers experience in one industry they expect others to keep up with immediately.”
The Power of Big Ideas
The way by which a brand stands out determines its future, client base, and image. It requires innovation, creating something that has never been done before. It also requires creating in a distinctive way, almost like a signature by which the brand will be recognized without the company’s name being known. More than anything, however, Lesnard says that it has to be “nuclear, meaning that it taps into an emotion or a need of your community, so that they feel empowered when they take the product home and use it.” In other words, the power of big ideas extends beyond the product alone but transgresses into the emotional state of the consumer. According to Lesnard, a business’ focus on how it can empower consumers and add value to their lives is very important.
Having a Clear Focus
Adding to the challenge of meeting consumer’s demands are growing technological advancements, such as voice assistance and artificial intelligence (AI), that are raising the stakes. As such, business success these days is a direct correlate of an organization and culture that supports the mission of exceeding consumer demand. “Have a clear purpose,” Lesnard advised during a recent talk at the ADMA global forum in Australia. “This sounds obvious, but in my experience, brands that perform best are the ones that constantly check if their mission is still relevant and if they continue to bring it to life in the most relevant way possible.”
Having a clear purpose and mission not only helps keep a business on track, but it also strengthens the output, as all efforts have a common direction. Most of all, it helps keep a team satisfied and successful, as they are all striving toward one common purpose. As such, Lesnard points out that successful organizations are increasingly recognizing the value in building customer-centric models that address the entire journey.
They are building teams that solve for end-to-end consumer experiences across all channels and devices. This focus should be upheld across several aspects of the mission – planning, strategy, and the ultimate outputs of the team. Also, businesses should be clear on the problems that they are trying to solve and always check back to see if their product or service truly adds value to the lives of customers.
Next, Lesnard underlines the significance of a business’ awareness of what it wants to be known for. Again, just as in creating a mission, remaining self aware is vastly important and often overrated. “Focus is a keyword, as it is often tempting to try to communicate too many things and too many features at once,” Lesnard says. “This makes it hard to break through and become known as an expert in something.”
One example is the business model of Peloton in the world of sports and fitness. The company focused on helping consumers overcome one of the biggest fitness challenges there is: getting to the gym. Initially, Peloton only created high-quality spinning bikes but eventually broadened its mission to focus on delivering the best spinning studio classes to consumers’ very own living rooms. The company soon expanded its market niche to running and training. Eventually, Peloton became an ultimate fitness content provider, selling products to enable its mission.
Initiatives to Enhance Consumer Journey
Lesnard believes that consumer journeys are one of the most important aspects of shaping not only the launch timing but also the launch strategy. “I firmly believe that products or services launched in context of the right consumer journey provide the biggest recipe for success,” he says.
It is very much about enriching people’s lives by offering them a service rather than a product. Apple, whose business model is so firmly rooted in driving disruptive innovation to enrich people’s lives, is a powerful example of this. And this business model does not have an elaborate product repertoire. An enterprise that has a few products but constantly strives to innovate and drive the simplest, most intuitive interfaces is set up for success.
“When a consumer interacts with your brand, they give you precious information about what they are interested in, what they are looking for,” Lesnard elaborates. A clear focus is one that moves away from a selling mindset. Instead, a powerful brand should focus on servicing the consumer and truly understanding how they can bring disruptive, positive change to their lives. In other words, a company’s primary focus should be on the type of service the consumer will want to come back for.
Lesnard says that “if you can understand their goals or motivations, you can create a much more personal and deeper relationship and opportunity to offer meaningful products and services to your consumer.” An example of this is offering runners the shoes they love for extended periods of time.
This is particularly intriguing, as Lesnard highlights that it is not always intuitive to keep making more of the same product that is the consumer favorite instead of pushing new products. Lifetime value is also dependent on keeping consumers informed that their favorite product is about to be discontinued. These conversations are the kinds of communication that companies should be having with their consumers as a way to retain a trusted client base.
Personalization at a Scale
Today’s consumers are impatient. Technology is making it possible for them to experience things at incredibly rapid – almost instant – speeds. As such, mobile speed has become one of the aims of any business that is looking to compete on mobile. Speed has become a problem not just for developers and marketers but also for businesses. In other words, an enterprise that is aware of the effects of speed is the one most likely to reap the benefits of it.
This is so prevalent that almost all leading marketers believe that enhancing speed for mobile sites and apps helps drive increases in customer satisfaction scores. Speed metrics such as page-load and transaction time have become crucial metrics for the enhancement of speed. As such, leading marketers are much more likely to direct funding in those directions.
From the perspective of organizations, technology has driven changes in the ability to gather and structure marketing data, the sources an organization uses to reach consumers, and the process of developing different types and formats of advertising assets.
Personalization relies heavily on a deep understanding of one’s clients, and it has two aspects: knowing what the consumer will want and when. Leading marketers are decidedly more likely to believe that anticipating customer needs and providing assistive experiences along the customer journey is one of the most vital aspects of growth.
Success here is dependent on having access to and comprehension of data that supports a consumer-centric approach. Lesnard highlights that the way he looks at data is “simply as an amazing source of consumer insights that powers everything that you do.”
Decoding data such as purchasing history, for example, is possible with technological advancements, such as machine learning, that can predict customer need. “The more you know them, the more you can serve them. And the more you can drive this concept of personalization at scale, offering your consumer exactly what they want, when they want, and how they want it,” says Lesnard. In other words, businesses should invest in these technological advancements as a way to usher personalization at a scale.
One way of looking at that is simply by looking for the top questions asked by consumers on social media, such as “How do I run?” or “What do I wear?” However, businesses are often consumed with putting out new and innovative products, rather than simply focusing on putting out more of what people want. “This is the ultimate goal,” Lesnard elaborates, “offering the right product or service, for the right person, at the right time, at a scale. We have never been in a better position to leverage consumer data to reach that goal.”
Lesnard grew up in two different places: Paris and Corsica. He completed his business degree in France with a focus on entrepreneurship and international business. He then went on to obtain his master’s in business administration at Babson College in the United States, where he focused on entrepreneurship. His connection to sports was profound from the very beginning, as he was president of the sports club and organized all sports and tournaments for the school while in college.
Lesnard has curated his broad skill set by holding several impactful positions over the past two decades. He has led high-profile global brand campaigns, launched iconic products, and established powerful strategic collaborations across sports, technology, and lifestyle for one of the largest athletic brands in the world. Lesnard is a lover of sports, and this is particularly evident from his time as a global leader. Having grown up in several places in the world, he has always had a passion for different countries and cultures and knew early on that he wanted to pursue an international career. It is unsurprising that he has reveled in the opportunities and challenges of building a global brand that can have powerful and personal meanings to the many cultures of the world. Lesnard has leveraged the many incredible sports and consumer moments and created truly global brand experiences, as he views sports as an international language that has helped him bridge the many cultural gaps he has encountered.
Lesnard began his career in 1997 as the global sports marketing and footwear project manager at one of the world’s largest sports brands. There, he signed and serviced the U.S. and Canadian snowboard teams for the 1998 Winter Olympics. This included the first two men ever to win gold medals for snowboarding. He then served as the brand’s European, Middle East, and Africa brand director for women & cross, where he created the brand’s first women-only retail stores. This disruptive redefinition of the retail sports experience for women was a collaborative effort with influencers including Madonna choreographer, Jamie King, and global superstar Rihanna, who also inspired women to engage in sports.
In his most recent tenure as the Global SVP of running, Lesnard transformed and lead the innovation agenda for the brand as whole. With $5.3 billion in global annual revenue and an innovation-driven, mobile-first strategy, he launched various successful products, built a strategic partnership with Apple, and grew the brand’s online running community from 500,000 to over seven million members.
During his free time, Lesnard is occupied by keeping up with his children as they discover their favorite things in life – from sports to arts to exploring. He and his family are also avid travelers who are constantly discovering new cities, countries, and cultures. Lesnard is even a devoted athlete himself. When he is not running or mountain biking, he is actively looking for the best ski spots around the globe. Lesnard lives in Portland, Oregon, where he currently resides with his wife and three children.