How Head Tennis approaches global marketing in a new era

While we’re all a little tired of the phrase “new normal”, it’s true that global marketing is entering a new era in the wake of Covid-19. With everything changing dramatically, from the way teams collaborate around the world, to the ways consumers think and feel, many might argue that global marketers are having to adapt and progress faster than ever.

So, we decided to catch up with some top global marketers via Zoom to gather their thoughts on what it means to be a marketer today, and to discover what the next generation of global marketing holds.

First up, Eleonore Maudet, Head of Marketing here at Freedman and Co-Founder of the Global Marketers’ Club, chats to Christian Wilbers, Director of Advertising and Communications at Head Tennis. 

Christian reveals how Head found ways to make a lack of purchasing during lockdown work to their advantage, delivering content to a whole new set of tennis consumers. Plus, he discusses how next gen marketing for legacy brands is more about evolving and less about revolutionising in order to keep the game alive. Read on to find out more…

EM: To start, can you tell us a bit about your latest campaign and how you felt it went?

CW: With our recent brand campaigns, we tried to address the current situation with Covid-19. For our #HeadTogether campaign, we invited people who play tennis to share their experiences, mostly talking about what it’s like for them when the courts are closed. We then shared this user generated content alongside some of our own.  Once the tennis courts started opening again, we ran a campaign called “Be Good on Court”. It was a set of guidelines on how to play tennis safely which we sent to our global retailers and partners.  It’s hard to say how those two campaigns went because the fast-changing situation meant it was hard to set clear benchmarks or KPIs. Overall, I think the #HeadTogether campaign worked really well because we saw that there was a need for tennis players to interact and talk about tennis, even during a global pandemic, and we provided that space. From April into early July, we were the strongest growing tennis brand on social media, especially on Instagram. We had the highest rate of interaction. So I guess you could call it a success.  The “Be Good on Court” piece played out more on the retail channels. And again, we didn’t really have any benchmarks. We just wanted to be close to our partners, to our retailers and to the clubs. But the feedback from the markets has been really positive.  And finally, we’ve been busy launching our new Extreme racquet series. My main takeaway from all of these campaigns is that tennis fans are still thinking about tennis, even when they’re unable to play. During Covid-19, people were just as excited about our products as they ever were.

EM: So, have you had to change the way you run campaigns due to Covid-19? If so, how much of this change is temporary and how much is long term?

CW: Well, to be honest, I think the crisis will not impact our market structurally. The consumer journey remains unchanged.  What we did for a while was shift marketing dollars from the bottom of the funnel to the top of the funnel, because no one was buying tennis racquets when all the courts were closed. Instead, we used this unique time where you could get enormous reach and awareness for your product with very little money in order to build new audiences. We got them interested in our product.  But I don’t think there will be a long term impact on the way we launch and market our products, apart from an acceleration of the changes that we already saw happening before the crisis.

EM: I guess you’ve had to change the way you did your marketing in terms of events?

CW: Yeah, that’s definitely one “asset” that we lost. Of course, it’s always a great opportunity for us to talk about our product when there’s the French Open or Wimbledon where our players are competing and winning. During the pandemic, none of that was possible.  But it looks like the first tournaments are coming back this month, and ultimately these tournaments are going to return to a normal routine. It might not be this year or even next. But I would argue that the longer it takes, the more demand you’ll see for tournament entertainment.

EM: Has the crisis had an impact on the retail side of things? Obviously people weren’t going in shops, initially, but now they’re starting to go back to stores.

CW: I think it’s probably too early to say how big that impact has been. What I would say is that the retailer that does a good job locally – the retailer that’s really well connected with the community, with the clubs, with the players, with the coaches and that provides a good retail experience – is going to survive and continue to do well. Tennis is a community based sport and consumers are looking for that advice and support when they buy product. So the retailers that are on their feet and are actively offering those services are going to survive.

EM: Speaking of being active and ready to roll with the changes, when it comes to adapting to the crisis everybody talks about being agile. But what does being agile in global marketing mean to you?

CW: So this goes back to how we operate as a business and how focused we are on the markets, with our forty thousand doors, with our coaches and with our retailers. We have a large foundation that’s in place and, as long as the research or the market doesn’t tell us any differently, we need to keep that in place.  For us, the agility comes in smaller ways. For example, in the last year or two, we’ve adapted how closely we work with our online retailers. We realised that they’re not only a point of purchase but they’re also a point of storytelling and a point of information for the consumer. So we’ve gone to them and worked on content with them that the consumer is looking for. I guess you could call that a fairly agile adjustment to the changing marketplace.  The project that we’re working on right now with Freedman is an agile response to a process that was sped up by Covid-19. A lot of online retailers are now looking for video content and testimonial based brand content which gives the consumer more context before making a purchase. This is something that we need to understand and that we need to address as a brand, so that we can be successful.

EM: I guess Covid-19 has sped up this whole shift to digital, and having to adapt.

CW: Yeah, and I think that’s also one of our strengths as an organisation, that we can be agile and that we can just make those changes without having to align 50 ways and shifting the strategy.

EM: When it comes to the period we’re in, I think some consumers see brands as an element of stability, so it’s good to be agile without dramatically transforming your strategy long-term.

CW: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s the challenge with many of these buzzwords, determining whether there’s actually a need for it. For example, if as an organisation you have to speed up your processes because you realise that you don’t get to the finish line fast enough, then agility is a tool. But if you make agility the strategy, it just goes nowhere.

EM: That’s an interesting point. Thinking about the relationship between agility and strategy, how do you weigh up the risks when pivoting your marketing?

CW: We’ve grown a very successful business over the last three or four decades. We’re usually one of the top three brands in each market that we’re in. But when it comes to change, we have to be extremely careful because tennis is a very conservative market. You want to adjust to the new realities and you can’t miss the boat on some of these things, but you also have to protect what you have.  For us, this whole idea of grassroots marketing, of being close to the consumer, of being close to the community, that’s our moat; that’s how we protect our brand. We do experiments, we try things here and there, but most importantly we protect our castle, we strengthen our moat and that’s why we don’t pivot a lot.

EM: So what would be your three ingredients for a successful global campaign?

CW: I think the most important thing is that you have to have a message that resonates globally, something that’s emotionally connecting to consumers around the world. Otherwise you’re going to use messaging that’s maybe very American focused and then European audiences are left thinking: what does that even mean?  For us, the universal message is always based around competition. It’s a global feeling, right? Everyone wants to win. We want to help you win with the right product. The way you phrase it, of course, is where it gets complicated. That’s why it’s always helpful to have a global partner for your marketing, to help you fine-tune the message. But at its very core, it needs to be an emotive message that resonates with all audiences.  Then you want to make sure that you hit all the touch points that matter for your particular audience. So you have to understand your audience really well and make sure it lands where the audiences are. That’s the second point.  The third point is duration, it’s hard to pull off a successful marketing campaign with lasting sales success if it’s only a one week or two week thing. The campaign needs to be there for a while for it to make a lasting impact. Most consumers are somewhere else, they’re not waiting for your message to land. You have to penetrate again and again and again in order to really make a lasting impression. So it’s those three things: the emotional message; the right touch points and the long duration.

EM: I guess tennis is a passionate sport built on community, so I can imagine with social – which doesn’t cost as much as other channels- you can already do quite a lot to engage with the community.

CW: Absolutely, social media is very valuable to us because it’s an enthusiastic tennis consumer that follows our channels. We absolutely have to engage this particular audience, because they are often coaches or passionate players, whose recommendations make a huge difference. But, in the end, depending on the market that you look at, it’s only between five and ten percent of all tennis players that follow any tennis brand on social media. So, if you only focus on social media, you’re going to miss nine out of ten people. You have to make sure that you’re also spreading out, that you’re on the ground with the coaches, that you have the online platforms where consumers leave reviews, etc. You have to be everywhere otherwise you’ll fall flat.

EM: So we know your recipe for success, but what’s going to be your focus for improving further?

CW: I think the focus is on duration. And the way you achieve longer duration. So, what we’re focusing on right now is connecting the storytelling between product and brand a little bit more. Because you can only talk about a product for a few weeks before it gets boring. The interplay of brand and product can help you tell a long term story which really penetrates the market and gives the campaign duration.

EM: When it comes to making a lasting impression around the world, what are the top things you look for in a global agency partner?

CW: I think brand agency collaboration doesn’t work when the agency just recommends the stuff that they’re good at, or suggests using the networks they already have, without paying attention to what the business needs. In order for the two to work together well, they have to complement each other. So the agency has to engage with and understand the business strategy, and then think about what they have to offer in order to support and improve that strategy. That’s the recipe for a winning partnership.  What I see as the opportunity between Head and Freedman, for example, is that we have good global campaigns but we could do better in localisation. We have small organisations in the markets that are very focused on the tennis community. They’re very good with the clubs and with the coaches. They’re all tennis players and they’re really enthusiastic, but they’re not necessarily marketers and we shouldn’t expect them to be. This is where I think the two of us can really come together. We have a global approach, but we could use some help with localisation, which is your area of expertise.

EM: Onto our last question, we’re interested in how next generation marketers are finding innovative ways to deliver campaigns for disruptive brands. But what does next generation global marketing mean to you?

CW: Obviously, it’s always fun to think about these disruptive brands that do all these innovative things. But at Head, we’re on the other side of that; we have to make sure that we’re not being disrupted because we’re a legacy brand. We love tennis as it is, we’re invested in it and we hope it doesn’t change dramatically. Of course, as a brand, you try to move a sport forward but it’s an evolution, not a revolution. So you have new products and services – sometimes these innovations really land and sometimes they don’t. But you keep trying. In the end, it’s not about disruption. It’s about continuation.

EM: That’s really interesting to see your perspective from more of a legacy brand. Obviously there are disruptive brands who will become legacy brands as well in the long term, I mean Amazon have been around for almost twenty years. So, I think being next gen is more about how you evolve and how, as a marketer, you find new ways to connect with your audience.

CW: Absolutely, you have to evolve. We continue to evaluate where tennis players are and what the most important channels are. What that means in practice is this: you can’t get distracted by the newest fad and forget about where your customers are. It’s always more exciting to build something new than to maintain the established. If our audience is on Facebook, that’s where we need to be. Focusing on the new shiny thing can be great because everything you do is innovative – nobody’s been there or done it before –  but the impact is elsewhere. So you have to find a balance. And if you shift your attention, you have to do so with full force: you can’t just do it for a week or two and then disappear.

Key Takeaways

  • Next gen marketing for legacy brands is about finding the balance between innovation and continuation.
  • When it comes to buzzwords like agility, determine how they can actually help your marketing, rather than building your entire strategy around them.
  • For Christian, the top global marketing challenges include: finding a message that resonates globally, hitting the right touch points and sharing the campaign for a long amount of time in order to make an impact.
  • The way you phrase your global message across your local markets is key, that’s where collaborating with a global partner comes in handy.
  • Social media only works if your audience is actually there. Don’t just try new channels for the sake of it, and make sure you’re present across lots of touch points.
  • Keep evaluating your customers and what it is they’re looking for, a crisis may not sway their interest as much as you think.

A huge thanks to Christian Wilbers for answering all our questions about brand communication during Covid-19, agency collaboration, and what’s in store for the next generation of global marketing.

If you’d like to take part in our interviews to discuss what next gen marketing means to you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Or, if you need some help solving your global campaign challenges, let us know, we’re always here for a chat.