Steve Lesnard is one of the world’s leading visionaries when it comes to consumer-driven brand marketing and the successful integration of technology to provide better service for consumers, a strategy that he claims is the basis of building brand loyalty. The newly appointed global vice president of marketing at The North Face, a global leader in outdoor sporting equipment, Lesnard brings his elite 20-year background as the leading force behind the explosive growth of one of the world’s most high-profile athletic brands to the drawing board.
Lesnard’s natural love of sports and the outdoors makes him a natural for connecting with the outdoorsy consumer base that The North Face serves. His strategic appointment at The North Face comes at a time when the company is primed for global expansion and inspired to connect in deeper and more meaningful ways with its consumer base, a talent in which Lesnard is particularly gifted.
In particular, the company is preparing to launch its groundbreaking new FUTURELIGHT line in the fall of 2019. FUTURELIGHT boasts a new technology that will deliver the world’s most advanced line of breathable waterproof outerwear for sporting enthusiasts who like to brave the outdoors and weather extreme conditions. The launching of FUTURELIGHT coincides with the company’s plan to launch several focused sustainability projects such as the Explore Fund Grants that the company is offering to innovative nonprofits in several countries to encourage global interest in exploring the outdoors and protection of wild natural environments around the world.
The Explore Fund also aims to build global communities, connecting people to international opportunities for outdoor exploration and empowering individuals to launch innovative projects that encourage exploration and protection of wild environments.
Harnessing the Global Passion for Sports
This new appointment at The North Face feels like a perfect fit for Lesnard, a lifelong lover of sports and the outdoors. Lesnard grew up dividing his time between the buzzing hub of Paris and the quiet, natural environment of the island of Corsica in the South of France, a location that he still considers “the most gorgeous place on earth.”
This opportunity to experience both the excitement of a buzzing city and the laid-back, outdoorsy lifestyle of an unspoiled natural landscape also shaped his interest in exploring different countries and cultures. From an early age, he decided to pursue an international career that would grant him opportunities to get to know different lifestyles and cultures around the world and learn from all of them.
These natural interests are evident in Lesnard’s ability to impact people around the world by connecting them through one essential universal thread: a passion for sports. He views this universal passion as an international language that builds cultural bridges, encourages global understanding, and unifies people around the world. Lesnard has successfully led global marketing campaigns that harness this passion to create truly international brand experiences that impact the entire world.
Prior to joining The North Face, Lesnard invested his talents and keen marketing insights in developing a series of revolutionary sports marketing campaigns for the running department of a leading sports brand, where he served as global vice president and general manager, overseeing the launches of several revolutionary products. Lesnard was also the force behind two global Olympics marketing campaigns for the company and launched the first running line specifically designed for women. During his years there, the running business grew to become a leader in innovation and growth, expanding the company’s influence and brand loyalty to 30 countries.
Lesnard has amassed a broad range of skills and acquired international marketing expertise by holding high-profile positions over the past 20+ years, through which he devised strategic global brand campaigns. He has also launched revolutionary and disruptive new products that have transformed the relationship between brands and consumers in the sporting industry. Lesnard was also a key player in the formation of strategic partnerships across major international brands that brought together services for consumers interested in being on the cutting edge of the latest developments in sports, technology, and lifestyle trends.
Connecting with the World
Lesnard joined one of the largest athletic brands in the world in 1997 as the global sports marketing and footwear project manager. During the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan, when snowboarding was featured in the Olympics for the first time, Lesnard engaged, signed, and provided services for the U.S. and Canadian snowboarding teams. These teams coincidentally included the first two gold medal winners for men’s snowboarding.
Lesnard then went on to serve as the company’s brand director for women in the European, Middle Eastern, and African markets, also launching the brand’s first line of retail stores specifically serving female athletes. Lesnard’s team engaged the collaboration of such prestigious influencers as Jamie King, a choreographer for Madonna, and global pop icon Rihanna to encourage women around the world to engage in sports.
Lesnard also launched global branding campaigns during the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympics, and he launches a massive campaign during the 2014 Soccer World Cup, targeting the European market.
Over the course of two decades, Lesnard lent his talents to the global expansion of the brand in several areas. During his final tenure with the company as the global VP and general manager of its running division, Lesnard transformed the brand by launching a series of impactful products and creating a strategic partnership with Apple that transformed the way consumers manage their fitness goals. This led the brand to growth of $5.3 billion in global annual revenues and expanded the brand’s online-based running community from 500,000 to over 16 million members.
Lesnard has also worked as a global brand strategy consultant for several important sports industry brands, helping his clients reimagine and redefine corporate strategies to orchestrate and provide unique and transformative experiences that better serve consumers.
Centering the Consumer
Respected globally as an expert in international marketing, branding, and motivating a unified, global consumer base, Lesnard is often sought by peers for recommendations and advice and provides a podcast on which he provides strategic marketing tips. He recently spoke at the Australia Alliance for Data Leadership Network’s ADMA Data Day 2019 conference in Sydney and Melbourne.
Lesnard has learned, by working with some of the world’s leading brands, how to intuit and interpret the constantly changing needs and trends that motivate consumers globally. He believes that “consumer-centric” marketing is the key to retaining a company’s client base over time. Centering consumers by learning to understand their needs and providing services that meet and even surpass their expectations, he says, is at the heart of building a successful brand. “Being a consumer-centric organization means truly knowing your clients. This means having an understanding of what they like, how they behave, what they do, [and] what their friction points are. Knowing this will enable you to truly add value to their lives,” he says.
Lesnard also emphasizes the importance of developing and using technology to provide efficient and simple solutions that respond directly to real consumer needs, optimizing brand recognition and building consumer loyalty by providing genuine, valuable service. He advises focusing on one particular consumer need at a time and addressing it effectively and creatively.
“The best product introductions articulate clear consumer benefits, outlining what is new and better,” he states. “Make no mistake, this is far from easy. Simplifying forces teams to focus on the most innovative and relevant features to communicate [can be challenging]. And sometimes, you have to simply pick a lane and go for it.” Another key principle that Lesnard stresses is to “get the storyline right” and “center the consumer experience that you want to bring to life.”
“How does it look on your body? What does it do? How would you use it? All these elements can be presented in ways that can cut through and energize the medium you choose,” he explains. And this is where the strategic use of technology comes in. Technology can be used to answer a consumer’s question before they even ask it and center the experience that they will have by using your product.
“The use of videos placing the product in the right context, the ability to bring consumer testimony into the story line, and the opportunity to outline the best features you want to be remembered for have never been more rich and dynamic with today’s tools,” Lesnard points out.
Choosing the right brand ambassadors is also crucial to centering consumer needs and interests by communicating the marketing message in the right way. “As you embark on your next marketing campaign, ask yourself: What is the main consumer benefit that I want to be remembered for? What are the most immersive, creative ways to bring it to life? Who are the best ambassadors to help broadcast the message?” says Lesnard.
Keeping up with Technology and an Evolving Landscape
In addition to his inherent passion for sports and nature, Lesnard’s success is driven by his passion for the art of building a top-tier global brand and discovering the journey that provides the best experience for consumers. Brand marketing has evolved considerably since its inception, thanks in large part to the influence of technology that has enabled consumers to access more information than ever before. For big brands to nurture consumer loyalty, they must focus on responding to consumer needs and desires.
Timing is also critical, now that information moves at faster speeds than ever before. Essentially, for companies to retain their consumer base, they have to respond in real time to the constantly evolving needs and demands of that consumer base. Additionally, companies must harness available technology to better deliver solutions for their consumers.
During Lesnard’s two-decade tenure at a major sports company, the global marketing landscape evolved considerably, a reality that Lesnard is keenly aware of and one that has heavily impacted the way that he does business. In fact, he attributes much of his success to the fact that he has been able to keep up with that evolution, adapting his strategy and approach in response to new consumer needs and tendencies every step of the way. Lesnard stresses that maintaining awareness and sensitivity to evolving consumer demands is the most critical factor in sustaining a loyal consumer base. Consumers respond to solutions that meet their needs quickly, providing seamless solutions and an innovative, empowering user experience.
Today’s marketing landscape is also heavily influenced by technology. Currently, the world’s most successful brands – such as Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook – are all technology-driven.
Today’s consumers are primarily millennials who are used to personal interaction and ongoing engagement with their favorite brands, and they are quick to switch up those favorites according to who provides the easiest, most seamless, and most satisfying user experience. These consumers don’t respond to the sales tactics of even just 20 years ago, when brands could more easily manipulate consumer demands by simply coining catchy slogans. Today’s consumers demand real solutions that engage innovative technology to enhance their convenience, and if they don’t receive that from one brand, they will quickly shift their loyalty to another or simply create the solution for themselves.
According to Lesnard, this is happening across all industries, not only in the area of sports and fitness. He refers to this phenomenon as “transference” and encourages entrepreneurs to work with it. “Appreciate the concept of transference,” he advises. “What consumers experience in one industry they expect others to keep up with immediately.”
A brand’s ability to stand out and develop a reputation as an innovative leader in its field will determine that company’s image, consumer base, and future success. To leave a lasting mark and legacy upon their consumer base, companies must be creative and provide innovative solutions that simplify life for consumers, enhance their user experience, and allow them to experience something that no one else has ever offered before.
Brands must develop signature products or services for which they can be globally recognized, and these products, services, and solutions must tap into an emotion or need within the target community while also adding real value to consumers’ lives. Successful brands make consumers feel empowered when they purchase a particular product and, especially, when they use it.
As Lesnard steps into his new role at The North Face, the brand can certainly expect an uptick in engagement across all markets. His unique combination of skill and passion, as well as his wide range of experience working for major sports apparel brands, is sure to translate seamlessly into the outdoor industry.