CMO of the Week: Foot Locker, Inc.'s Jed Berger

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For Foot Locker Inc.'s chief marketing officer Jed Berger, innovation, transformation and evolution are constant at the company.

For Foot Locker Inc.'s chief marketing officer Jed Berger, innovation, transformation and evolution are constant at the company.

“As cheesy as that sounds, it is very true,” he says. “This is a portfolio that has not stood still because it caters to a young consumer who doesn't stay still and that's meant bringing things into the ecosystem. That's meant potentially making the hard decision to sunset themes and things in the ecosystem. That meant that we needed to establish ourselves to be able to bring in more creators and more brands, who are a huge part of innovation. Innovation comes from amazing ideas and sneaker culture gives birth to a lot of amazing ideas and brands and collaborators and creators.”

One of the big changes that Foot Locker has pushed in the industry is the idea of concepts over colorways. The brand created their own in-house incubator team to build innovative products that bridge the gap between storytelling and product creation. 

“Traditionally, footwear was built with a story in mind, but it was only inspired by it,” says
Berger. “Instead, we took real stories and embedded them into the design of the footwear that was part of the story –whether that was a creator’s vision or a third-party license or IP.” 

They created an in-house concepts team with their own budget and mantra –concepts that were colorways. They brought this process to different brand partners, and the brand partners matched their own teams with the Foot Locker teams and created a formalized entity and process to produce innovation at scale. “Culture is moving really fast,” says Berger. The idea was “to bring new creators and new brands along in a disciplined way that over time will be something really successful.”

One example of work to come out of this process is the Foot Locker Cinnamon Toast Crunch Crocs that actually smelled like Cinnamon Toast Crunch. “People loved it,” recalls Berger. “I'm a big believer that if you're going to really get behind something to move forward, you have to give it a name, a dedicated team and dedicated resources.” 

Brand Innovators caught up with Berger from his home office in New York to talk sneaker culture, customer journeys and storytelling. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is your vision as CMO of Foot Locker, Inc.?

Footlocker Inc is a portfolio company and I want it to be a connected ecosystem. Simply said, I think we want to create and amplify and grow sneaker culture and bring it to people all over the world. I feel like that's really part of our responsibility. I really love the idea of creating and amplifying as a framework to think about our business and brand. And bring it and celebrate it with people all over the world.

Can you talk about how brand purpose is showing up in your creative in your brands?

For any of our properties, it's that people –whether it's youth culture or in general – nobody really wants to be just one thing anymore. People want to see themselves as much more dimensional and they want to be athletes, but they don't want that to preclude them from being advocates or students or entrepreneurs or leaders or entertainers and musicians or into fashion or whatever it is. It’s a really important realization for companies to get behind inspiring the diversity of self and self expression is a really important piece of our purpose. What has to come alive in the storytelling of the vision that I mentioned before. If we create an amplifying and growing sneaker culture it is what we're saying about ourselves. And what we want to do for others is really inspire and enable diversity, self and self self expression. And that's really in the initiatives. It's in the storytelling and that's who we collaborate with and and, and the stories that we choose to tell.

Can you talk about the channels that you are using to connect with your consumers?

I am a big believer in following in participation and focusing and I think consumer journey work really does help. So understanding how your consumers are behaving and where they're spending their time. And really, in really making sure that you're backing that up with actual data is really important. For instance, 90% of our online traffic is mobile. Over 50% of our traffic goes through either Google our or our internal search. But honestly, still a lot of our purchases end up in stores, even if they start on the phone. 

We have, by far, one of the largest volumes –not only in size of social followers, but also engagement – of any retailer in the world. Those things will tell you how the consumer engages with us and engages with our products. They spend time on their phone, they search and shop on their phone, they like to come into the store. There's more breadth of product and more choice, because most of the time they're shopping online. They're going directly to a page. They're not spending a lot of time on our homepage, we know that from the data. They're spending an amazing amount of time on Instagram. They're expecting us to post six to eight times a day and see new products. Those are the channels – search, mobile app, mobile web and social. 

Is there a place for Foot Locker in the metaverse or through NFTs?

100%. But not because it's a shiny penny. It's not why I'm interested in the metaverse or empty space, I'm interested because there are amazing new sneaker culture creators actively taking part in that space. There is a parallel between the idea of NFTs and art and scarcity in sneaker culture. But even more exciting is there are creators and brands that are coming into that space that people haven't heard of or they're just beginning to hear of and that really excites me. 

I love it when there's a new medium to invite people into our community. Whether that's RTFKT, which Nike acquired or there's a brand called AGLET or many others. There are actual sneaker brands that are launching in the metaverse space, and a lot of those brands are producing both physical and virtual goods that are not tied to manufacturing. There’s an amazing thing about the idea of virtual sneakers. Space Runners, legitimately make shoes for your avatar that make you fly faster. There's no manufacturing guardrails there.

That's sneaker culture. They're building trendy shoes that also help your avatars ability. I mean, it's a piece of sneaker culture. The metaverse and NFTs are allowing sneaker culture to morph in new ways. I want to create that space. I want to amplify those amazing brands and people that are already there. And then there's an opportunity to grow the sneaker culture community, and at the same time our business.

How has your media buy shifted since the pandemic?

How we spend our money has drastically shifted over the past few years. Nobody has endless dollars and we've shifted a big piece of our money that we spend into the idea of product concepts. It could be investing into a license to bring it into footwear or apparel creation, that is inherently a piece of marketing. You're doing that because the third party brings perceived value. We're doing it because it brings honesty and it makes the story much easier to tell. 

What are you most excited about for the rest of the year?

I love our team. I really am excited about the directions we're going with the business and part of my pushes is that our brand and our business have to be one in the same and and I think that the ways that we continue to reshape the business to focus on on great product stories on new amazing community growing initiatives on community and purpose. I'm just excited to help the team structure those ideas. That’s something that I can offer to our amazing teammates to bring those to consumers all over the world. I'm really excited about the direction and helping to guide. We have great people and I feel fortunate to be in a place where I can help guide that.

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