Some brands are so busy looking forward that they forget to nurture their legacy. Fila, one of the fastest-growing brands in the athletic lifestyle category, is an exception. Not content with being one of the most storied brands in footwear, Fila has committed to continuously reinventing itself for new audiences while maintaining historical elements that make their products special. A critical part of that journey is a social and digital strategy that brings the Fila story together. Alex Frias (pictured at top), Vice President Digital at Fila, shares his thoughts on why the Fila legacy is important and how culture plays a key role in driving their social story.
Philip McKenzie: Tell us about your role with Fila.
Alex Frias: I oversee social and e-commerce and drive our strategy around those two connected verticals. My main goal is to create a holistic synergy that drives our brand story and strategy. We have a big opportunity with the momentum of being named "Sneaker of the Year" by Footwear News to bring in new customers. I am constantly asking myself, "How do we go beyond awareness and build an emotional connection with our customer?"
McKenzie: I have been a long-time fan of the brand with its strong connection to the "golden era" of hip-hop. How important is that legacy to the current social strategy?
Frias: When you're a brand like Fila with a history that spans over 100 years, it takes on a different meaning depending on the audience. Some people connect to the brand through the lens of '80s/'90s hip-hop and they remember that wave. There is an older generation that remembers Fila as a tennis brand. Now, there is a totally new (and younger) generation that is discovering the brand for the first time and isn't familiar with either of those stories. That's where we can really find a new place through social to speak authentically to this audience. We want to lean into our legacy, whereas some brands have to create a mystique that we already possess.
McKenzie: Tell me more about how the Fila history makes for a strong brand story.
Frias: History is our strength. There are new brands in Urban Outfitters sporting a retro look in hopes of fabricating a history we already possess. Our legacy is an undeniable part of our story. For example, we dropped a limited edition Grant Hill shoe tied to his 1994 draft year. It gave us a chance to tell a story, which was part nostalgia and part discovery.
McKenzie: How do you balance between legacy and discovery?
Frias: When talking product, we leverage our retro silhouettes, which connect to that older consumer while creating a new DNA that can become something fresh. In terms of digital and social, we turn around and become hyper-targeted in how we reach our audience. We are very much on-trend and can fully connect to our Millennial and Gen Z customers. The stories we tell, which are primarily driven through social and digital, give us a resonance that cuts across different groups. Partnerships with SoulCycle and others are a big part of making these connections really organic. We end up speaking the same language as our desired customers and existing in the spaces where they are naturally.
McKenzie: How do you use influencers/influencer marketing as a part of your brand strategy mix?
Frias: Influencers play a big role for us and we have them separated by tiers, creating a better mix to activate at the right time across our verticals. The macro-influencer is a celebrity like Grant Hill, who has a long history with the brand. We also have three of the top five female tennis players, including Ashleigh Barty and Kiki Bertens. Partners like SoulCycle represent a completely different tier, as it is a strong connection with the lifestyle and activewear consumer. Finally, we have our micro-influencers, and here the focus is on honesty. We can activate these types of influencers directly at our retail outlets or, again, make a big push via digital. With micro-influencers, we don't want to have a one-off type of situation. We want to build a relationship that is ongoing and mutually supportive. Our audience recognizes that commitment and responds with the same brand loyalty.
McKenzie: In your career, you've run your own agency, worked at Tidal and have touched a lot of projects. What are evergreen best practices that are critical for building a brand where culture is emphasized?
Frias: As a brand, you have to understand if any particular environment or culture is one you want to position yourself in. In short, does this make sense? Not everything is a fit and customers will recognize that right away. You have to understand when a vertical is not a fit rather than saying you're going to jump into music, as an example, when music isn't your thing. Understanding culture and having it mean something requires a long-term plan. You can't dip a toe in and out and think you're going to have a lasting impact. Too many brands just jump from one thing to another and it doesn't pay off. A long-term plan demonstrates commitment, purpose and focus. You can't lose sight of your business objectives, but you have to leverage that connection with culture if it exists.
McKenzie: Looking into the future, what makes you excited about branding and marketing opportunities?
Frias: A couple of things jump out at me right away. First, the new brand focus on purpose is overdue and many are taking it seriously and making a real long-term commitment that is part of their identity. Overall, we are becoming more of an experience economy. What I mean by that is brands can't solely be focused on transactions. They have to find a way to integrate the things that people care about. Things like culture and purpose are not going away; they are getting stronger. Second, audio is an incredible field that is just beginning to take off. Brands that are smart, nimble and committed to purpose and culture have an exciting runway. At Fila, our runway connects to our legacy and I feel we are positioned to take advantage of all these movements to be best in class to our audience. We don't run from our legacy trying to reinvent ourselves to catch every trend. We're agile but grounded at the same time
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