Double-Edged Sword Of Tech Innovation In Sporting Goods Marketing

This month in Media Post, SLRG’s Jon Last shares a unique researcher’s perspective on the double edged sword of tecnology innovation in sporting goods marketing. 


One of the prime elements of sporting goods product development and marketing is the aspirational promise of technology innovation.  The science and engineering become the rationale for the desired product benefit.

For golfers among us, it’s often about more-even distribution of the center of gravity on a club face to allow a more forgiving mishit. In performance apparel, it can be new fabrication that allows for greater moisture management.

The common thread, so we hope, is that marketers create a plausible connection between the science and a desired result for the target market.

An important step in achieving this connection is understanding how innovation and technology resonate with consumers.  Simple on the surface, the process in assessing innovation impact is multilayered and lends itself most effectively to face-to-face concept testing and benefits articulation.

This can be accomplished through a combination of customer intercept work at retail and carefully recruited qualitative depth interviews in controlled environments.  The former allows researchers to find consumers that are literally in the right mindset for exposure to new products, often at the “moment of truth” juncture of the purchase funnel.

Gleaning insights from these customers helps marketers to see and hear how proposed new product introductions fit both within the customers’ perception of brand equity within the particular product category, as well as whether specific message points and differentiating elements of product composition or packaging, resonate and break through in the actual competitive environment.

Controlled testing allows a research team to better ladder up, first from consumers’ broad initial emotional and functional need states in the earlier stages of product consideration, through a more deliberate and forced examination of various features and design elements of a potential new product.  A combined approach allows researchers to both observe and probe for better understanding of the impact of potential product innovations.  This ideally leads to more effective communications collateral and point-of-sale elements.

But often what we hear suggests a bit of a conundrum when it comes to articulating the benefits of tech innovation. The pure science and engineering that truly go into product development often fly over the heads of target consumers, often confusing and intimidating them — particularly since most are nowhere near as engaged in the technical product elements as the brand is.  This phenomenon is often seen in research showing that consumers shut down consideration when particular innovations appear relevant only to elite athletes.

On the other extreme, overly simplifying the explanation can fall into the negative perception of being gimmicky or implausible.  As more than one golfer respondent has voiced in the past: “If every one of these drivers really did what they said, I’d be hitting it 400 yards by now!”

There’s a happy medium to be found, and that’s the fun and challenge of creating compelling sporting goods product marketing communications.