In 2019, Adam Petrick, PUMA’s Global Director Brand Marketing, talked about PUMA’s brand strategy in The CMO Podcast by Jim Stangle.
Stangle led transformations on brands like Hershey, Lexus, Nestle, SC Johnson and Shire. He began to see a common thread that truly significant transformation is born from authentically activating a brand’s higher purpose. In his The CMO Podcast, he takes a unique look at the thought process and motivation of Marketing leaders.
This is a condensed excerpt of the entire podcast, which you can find here.
JIM: Adam, you have done what few have done. You have kept a 71-year-old brand relevant. You´ve made it a real Sportstyle brand, attracted amazing talent like Jay-Z, Rihanna and Cara Delevingne, while competing with Adidas and Nike. What can we learn from what you´ve done to give this brand the energy, relevance, magnetism and growth?
ADAM: Right now is an interesting moment. In 2013, we were in really bad shape and we had to reinvent this brand. We knew that we had a great logo, a great history and great people. We developed a brand concept that reflected all of that and put it into perspective for where we wanted to go next. That was a great opportunity to take what I had learned from the previous 14 years about fashion, style, culture and the connection with the consumers and blend that with the longer-term mark of the PUMA brand, which is going back 71 years. PUMA has always competed in providing athletes with the gear that they need to perform at their very best - from Maradona and Pelé up to Usain Bolt.
In this latest 15-year cycle, we went from being a sports brand to a culture fashion brand - and then we tried to marry those two. We had the opportunity to bring something together that was a performance brand, based on innovation and servicing athletes. This is the heart and soul of what we do, but we do it in a way that’s different from our competition. We said let’s start from sports, let’s go through creativity, fashion and culture and let’s talk about activism.
JIM: When did you know you were starting to turn the corner after 2013?
ADAM: We had some luck and some influential people. Nobody hates PUMA, and the brand awareness is high. We have the best logo, everybody knows and recognizes it. When you have that heritage, people will take a risk. Rihanna was the first to take a risk on us. Having the conversation of whether somebody like her would work with PUMA was the turning point.
JIM: For your size, you’re punching above your weight in the sort of people you’re attracting. Do you think it’s that spirit of collaboration, openness and listening?
ADAM: Our philosophy is: We don’t make our brand, our consumers make our brand and by extension our ambassadors. We choose ambassadors based on who they are and on their values. If we just sign someone based on their Social Media KPIs such as the number of followers, that´s probably not going to work. I think it matters that we truly care, truly listen and truly go out of our way to do whatever they find interesting in our brand.
JIM: You are ceding control to people who also care?
ADAM: We were doing research, trying to figure out who these people are and if they are aligned from a value standpoint. If we think we can do the right thing together, then why not give them the keys? That’s important to us. The same thing applies for our consumers. If they want to shoot a campaign for PUMA, we’ll give them a camera and they can send us the pictures and we’ll post them. This allows our audience to say: “I’m a part of the creation of this brand, I’m invested in it.”
JIM: We talked about brand purpose. What does that mean at PUMA?
ADAM: Our purpose was to be in a place where everybody who wants to play can play. This means we are open and allowing for everybody who wants to take part to do so. It also extends to the areas of being supportive of universal equality and extending our values into places that other companies might not be comfortable going, because you’ve got to pick a side. If I can feel good about extending that purpose into a territory that might be risky, I don’t care. We go back a long way as a brand in trying to do the right thing. Those are powerful shoulders to stand on.
JIM: Tell me about your job! Your title is Global Director of Brand and Marketing? How do you spend your time?
ADAM: I spend almost all day talking to my colleagues. My job is to inspire, to get people to be thinking the right way, to prevent mistakes. My day is getting up and get on the phone: phone calls, meetings, video conferences with Germany, text messaging simultaneously. It’s a lot of communication.
JIM: What have been your lessons in building this lifestyle brand?
ADAM: This idea that the brand itself is a long-term project, it’s never finished. PUMA for me personally is like this giant enormous sculpture and every day I come in with my little hammer and try to constantly refine and improve it. That’s a long-term view. And it has to start with a really strong sense of values. You have to know what you stand for and why you choose to operate in the way you do.
JIM: Anything else that would help others to learn from?
ADAM: We did focus on product and product creation. At that point, we had to invest more in technology and innovation. We were a style company, almost a “casual company.” We had to go back and revisit what the design aesthetic was and the ideas behind the product. A lot came from the idea that sports has to be at the center of everything. If you ground the product in something that is true to the brand, then you will yield something more consistent and meaningful over time. Attention has to be paid on the why of the product, that’s my advice.
JIM: How do you stay in touch with sports, culture, business? What are your habits?
ADAM: Staying in touch is about listening to our ambassadors, we want them to inform us. There are hundreds of athletes. Listen to people who aren’t in the offices and seeing what they think is important. Taking clues from that is valuable. That’s a competitive advantage. My advice: Who do you have outside of your organization that’s telling you the truth?