Keen Footwear is a small company on a big mission. The popular shoe and outdoor gear brand hopes to expand consumer perceptions about the great outdoors (and the versatility of its shoes) through a call to action it dubs living the HybridLife—mixing outdoor play whether it’s gardening a tiny plot in the urban jungle or trekking remote hiking trails with giving back to the community and the environment. How to spark an ambitious perception shift among target consumers—and get them to buy your shoes in the process—without breaking a shoestring budget? Keen looked no further than its own customer base. The resulting portfolio of hardworking small events and activities goes where passionate customers live transforms Keen-wearers into brand evangelists and empowers brand fans to spread the love wherever and however they see fit.
Make Fan Stories Your Story
Keen regularly features everyday people it thinks represents the HybridLife on its website: keenfootwear.com/community.aspx. The mini-profiles include a picture of the Keen customer and a short story describing the ways their passions and activities live up to the HybridLife mantra. This summer Keen plans to turn its search for HybridLife fans into an on-the-ground marketing effort. “We’re finding interesting stories we want to feature on our website and going into cities to combine maybe some trail cleanup or other social events while getting the word out about our message in the community ” says Bobbie Parisi vp-marketing at Keen Footwear. Rather than funding a standalone event or proprietary tour a Keen HybridLife crew will travel to large and small markets to visit existing local events to connect with fans who will be featured on the website. For a fan who works on a river cleanup program for instance the crew will travel out and join the weekend cleaning effort too activating throughout the weekend via local media outreach and online efforts and tweeting their on-the-ground activities to Twitter followers to generate positive word of mouth.
Give Fans Relevant Incentives
Keen’s 2008 Stand program reached out to people who are passionate active and involved in making a difference in the environment and invited them to nominate themselves or their friends for a shot at three $25 000 prizes. (Winners best exemplified the HybridLife and Keen’s sustainability values.) The campaign included a tour of college campuses a Keen-produced documentary film screening and on-site activities that invited students to submit green-themed ideas. The tour culminated at the Hybrid.Stand Festival in Portland OR last June with music and activities sponsored by Keen. The whole process was documented on the Keen website and through social networking efforts on Twitter.
Parisi says the Stand campaign saved costs by tackling multiple marketing objectives with a single program. “We find that when we’re combining different marketing tools we can do events that have strong p.r. value as well as help drive a win for the brand in a market that might not be a core key market ” she says. “[Stand] really leveraged all our marketing vehicles.”
Employ Your Fan Base
One of Keen’s objectives with the Stand campaign was to reach out to a younger demographic than its usual 24-35 year-old target. The brand leveraged a topic—sustainability—that was relevant to college-age consumers reached out to marketing students who were looking for work experience and enticed them with an internship opportunity. When the Stand tour stopped at colleges students would host an event. Whichever student designed and ran the best event for the tour won the internship at Keen and helped put on the final event of the campaign. “It was a win-win for everybody ” Parisi says. “We were able to save a lot of money and they got an opportunity to work for a business and put on an event at their college on a subject that was interesting to them and the other students.”
Foster Fan Conversations
Parisi advises courage when letting your message out of the nest to fly into cyberspace.
“Allowing the consumer to shape the discussion and not being afraid of that is probably one of the hardest things to do ” she says. “But if you are working with your target and they are passionate about the brand and they like what you’re doing and like who you are and what you represent and they feel alignment with you then the risk isn’t as great. They feel a lot more ownership.”
Standing back while fans buzz about your brand can also yield unexpected budget-saving benefits. Keen’s Stand campaign had specific online components that created buzz online which led to a blogger talking about the promotion and the brand. Then someone who worked on “The Ellen Degeneres Show” saw the blog connected with Parisi and asked if Keen wanted to be featured on the show for Earth Day. Keen provided gift bags to the audience and received high-value p.r. on national T.V. “That possibility never crossed our minds but what it led to was tremendous for us in terms of brand awareness ” Parisi says.