Finish Line Report: The Latest in Marketing

Finish Line is going to ramp up its marketing budget this year in a big way. And the majority of its brand-building action will take place in the company’s stores and online.

“Our stores are more compelling, our window displays are more textural and have more depth,” said Steven Schreibman, chief marketing officer for the retail firm. “Once you’re in the store, the experience is much more engaging.”

Part of the marketing makeover includes a focus on everyday sports and activities, instead of just hard-core athletics. In stores, Finish Line uses everything from specific scents to music as a way to reach the target consumer and entice them to spend.

It’s an approach execs hope will be seamless, as consumers continue to rely on social networks, smartphones and tablets to shop.

“In the past, we weren’t as consistent as we wanted to be with our overall message and what we were trying to portray to the customer,” said Schreibman, adding that Finish Line’s consumers are generally 18- to 29-year-olds. “Most important for us, we need to encourage awareness of our brand and repeat purchases. Everything we’re doing points to those two strategies.”

With its updated marketing mission, the brand will debut new initiatives during the big retail seasons, such as spring break, back-to-school and holiday. It plans to play up some of its major brands — Nike, Under Armour, Reebok, New Balance and Lacoste — in interactive, in-store contests and by using store signage to tout a particular event.

For vendors such as New Balance, the cross-marketing benefits both parties, according to Tracy Knauer, manager of channel marketing for the brand. “Finish Line wants to engage with the consumer at all touch points, even when they may not be considering a purchase,” she said. “Finish Line and New Balance can develop compelling unique content and deliver it to consumers and exceed their expectations with this strategy. This will benefit all of us.”

The retailer also is ramping up its Winner’s Circle program, which offers discounts to members, such as $20 off for every $200 spent. Additionally, a magazine and lookbook are distributed to the group. For spring, Finish Line showcased its footwear selection using runners in such various settings as the beach, with the snappy headline “Run Amok.”

“You get the idea of activity, vision, fun and being outdoors,” said Schreibman. “It’s [content] you’ve never seen before that’s really critical. We can look like a shoe store or we can look like something more.”

For that reason, direct mail is a focus for the company. During the holiday season, one mail promotion included a free T-shirt giveaway.

“We try to drive traffic with direct mail. For the free T-shirt offer, it was designed to get people to Finish Line first, and it worked. We got an amazing response and they transacted three times what the [stores] normally transact,” said Schreibman, adding that the firm sends out 18 million direct-mail packages annually to the top 2.5 million customers in its Winner’s Circle.

To advance the program, the company recently hired Tiffany McCorkle as director of relationship marketing. She will mine data on how rewards program members shop. “This will allow us to identify those big spenders and to dive deeper into associated purchases,” Schreibman said.

Such information also will be useful for the company’s efforts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media pages. The firm has played it “safe” up to this point, but the new information could help “leverage fans on Facebook,” Schreibman said, adding that Finish Line has 1.3 million “likes” on the site.

On Facebook, for example, the retailer posts new launches and asks for feedback on footwear styles. The company also incorporates contests and showcases its ad campaigns.

For back-to-school last year, the firm asked Facebook fans to create their own college ID, including a college name and mascot. And on Twitter, Finish Line will tweet responses to questions from customers.

“We’re very transparent with our feedback. You’ll even see negative feedback on the site,” said Schreibman. “You’ll see kids say, ‘That shoe’s ugly,’ but that’s part of the game and brands have to be prepared to embrace that.”

The retailer will relaunch its app in early 2013, where customers can check inventory, scan products using a QR code and receive Winner’s Circle updates.

With the various marketing methods in play, the company is working on omnichannel communications, from what’s in store to what’s online.

Dan Sheridan, GM of North America for Brooks, is pleased with the retailer’s direction.

“Finish Line continues to innovate to keep up with their customer needs. Their strategy has embraced the omnichannel retail trends and shows Finish Line’s commitment to technology and innovation. That helps them win with the customer,” he said. “These advancements allow the customer to interact with products, engage in content and understand the features and benefits of great running shoes.”