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The Fastest Way to “Cool” for Adidas

The Wall Street Journal today ran a piece titled, How Adidas Aims to Get Its Cool Back (paid firewall).  A follow-on article cites 5 Things Adidas Wants to Change in the US.

If the brand wants to be “cool,” it has to start with consumers.  Not with trends, not with executive leadership, but consumers.  The sneaker space is a crowded one – with new entrants; with adjacent categories (like technology) bleeding in; and the sports/lifestyle landscape evolving rapidly.  Creating new opportunities will require finding new consumer needs not being met by other brands.  To be inspired by the lives of the people who will buy and wear its brand.

Increasingly, new needs will be driven by new consumers…the next generation of consumers: Generation Z.  Gen Z is a population ~20 million strong in the US and includes pretty much anyone born between 1995 and 2012…the children of the Gen Xer.

Gen Z is not only a new demographic, it is an entirely new make-up of a consumer.  It is a consumer who has access to anything, anytime, anywhere.  It is one who has expectations that are higher for any given brand because of the experiences this consumer has had with other leading brands across categories.  It is a generation that gets marketing and customer experience.

It should also be said that Gen Z doesn’t “need” brands as much as previous generations to define what “cool” is.  Today, “cool” is more fractured than it’s ever been.  “Cool” is split between an unimaginable set of sub groups and sub cultures that define “cool” less collectively and more individually.  Previous generations relied on others to gather and assemble into neat packages of “what’s cool.”  But now, it’s them…in connection to those closest to them who are defining “cool” on their terms.

The real challenge for Adidas is to understand how it can fit into the lives of Gen Z.  Historically, brands could be “cool” and attract consumers to them.  However, today, Gen Z consumers are defining their personal brands of self and seeing how Adidas and others can complement their own.  So “cool” might not even be the right goal if that’s not what the consumer is trying to be.

This generation is moving faster and adapting better than any generation before it.  If Adidas is to speed its path to “cool,” it will be done through the inspiration of Gen Z.  For theirs isn’t merely the next generation of consumers, it is the leading edge of behavior that will dictate the future for brands.

Adidas will need to be faster and more adaptable than it has been in the past.  It will need to think more bottom-up from consumers, than top-down from celebrities or executives.  It will need to give Gen Z an active role in its brand and put it at the center of all it does.

If it doesn’t, Adidas risks worse than not being “cool,” it risks being irrelevant.

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