Commanding an estimated $90 billion of yearly sales in the US alone, the sporting goods industry holds no shortage of growth opportunities. At the same time, product developers can expect significant challenges as the market becomes increasingly saturated while also evolving at an astonishing pace. Products that support a healthy, active lifestyle are in high demand, but in a competitive environment, it’s no longer enough to promote products based only on their excellence. Great products need great strategy that adequately integrates both the unique challenges and opportunities of the digital age. Innovative approaches to social engagement, brand awareness, customer loyalty, and brand experience form key touchstones of this approach.
Embrace IT connectivity
The rise of “smart” products and wearable tech like the Fitbit indicate rapidly increasing customer interest in IoT connectivity. The wearable tech market alone is projected to hit $9 billion in sales by 2022. Market movement is not just toward new product development; many companies are also re-defining and enhancing the capabilities of existing products and offering new, augmented dimensions to the pursuit of personal wellness. For example, traditional fitness equipment like treadmills or stationary bikes can now offer Bluetooth integration that allows users the ability to import data like heart rate and detailed stats about their workouts. Strava cycling and running software connects to a wide spectrum of other devices to track performance stats so athletes can analyze their data. The Strava platform also offers social networking between athletes, including functionality to upload photos and share data from workouts.
Connectivity is also taking health and safety measures to a new level. The Shockbox helmet sensor tracks the number of direct hits as well as the force of impact and sends this information directly to an app, making it easy to determine when a player has experienced a concussion or needs to stop and be examined.
Connectivity doesn’t just generate revolutionary products; it also means that companies have unprecedented access to real-time customer experiences and a corresponding wealth of customer data. In this sense, sporting goods manufacturers are not simply releasing products; they are developing platforms for customer interaction that can prove invaluable for marketing efforts and continued product development.
Create a community
As customers look for shared brand experiences, brand communities are becoming a key growth driver for new products. Companies that strive to create relationships with their audience can frame their products in a way that supports the desires and values of their target customer. Additionally, meaningful content offerings and brand messaging should aim to educate and give value to customers outside of simply trying to land a sale. Communicating with your audience effectively means you gain access to their unique needs and preferences, which in turn can inform your marketing efforts and overall brand strategy.
Successful product launches are made up of many moving pieces glued together by customer support. Building a community is a process with measurable milestones that can begin even during the conceptual stage of product development.
Conduct thorough research
Understanding the general market landscape is an important point of research for companies looking for growth opportunities, and is a critical precursor to successfully marketing an innovation. Emerging markets experience growth as income and standard of living increases, and people in these developed markets are more likely to expend their income on products that continue to enhance their quality of life. New technology and improvements on existing features are key for success.
Inside this broader trend are movements toward particular products and services, including wearable tech, reactive clothing that can wick off moisture in response to changes in body temperature, and products developed specifically for athlete training like lightweight soccer balls that allow players to practice headers repeatedly without risking injury.
Conducting effective research involves a multi-pronged and innovative approach, the ultimate goal being to connect with customers where they are at and develop products accordingly. Research tactics might include focus groups, beta testing, surveys, or even running a crowdfunding campaign to test out interest in a new product and drive hype toward its launch.
Focus on a niche audience
Niche sports like professional fishing are a growing area of interest for manufacturers and advertisers alike. While ads aimed at niche markets don’t generate the same kind of reach as they would on a broader platform, the impact is often much more significant. Audiences of niche sports are interacting on less traditional viewing platforms than television, such as web streaming or on websites. Businesses can drive growth by supporting these niche audiences and meeting their specific interests and needs, thus bypassing the layers of resistance involved in differentiating products on bigger platforms. Additionally, advertising to niche markets often proves more cost-effective, a factor that could be attractive to companies looking to minimize risk during new product development.
While the challenges of launching new products in flooded markets are undeniable, thorough research, meaningful customer connections, and the pursuit of niche audiences are all viable tools for exciting growth in the sporting goods industry.