In today’s interview, we talked to Alexander Nehls, International Marketing Director at the mountain sports brand Dynafit with a focus on mountain endurance sports. We talked to him about the role of the brand in the sports and outdoor sector and learned from him why consistent brand implementation is so crucial and how this can succeed. Also, Alexander Nehls told us why ski boots should be able to talk…
Alexander Nehls, thank you very much for being with us today! Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your role at Dynafit?
Hello everyone, my name is Alex Nehls. I am currently the International Marketing Director at Dynafit. Very few people will know Dynafit – we are a brand that is in the sports segment. We have entered a very narrow niche: We call ourselves the brand by athletes for athletes and we also have a very clear focus in the segment: mountain endurance sports. We are a pure mountain sports brand with a very clear focus on athletes, which is very exciting for me from a branding and brand perspective, especially as Marketing Director. I myself have been working purely in marketing for sports brands for well over 15 years. I have experienced a lot, was also active in the area of football, but then “indulged” in my personal passion and said that mountain endurance sports is actually my home and that there might be a job in this area one day. So one thing led to another. I am totally happy to be International Marketing Director at Dynafit for over 5 years now and also to be responsible for this position. I am a ski mountaineer, cyclist, runner and marketer myself. About my responsibilities at Dynafit: Marketing at Dynafit is an all-encompassing role because we are a small company – over 100 employees worldwide. I’m responsible for everything from press releases to shop windows, both the offline and online brand presence in all areas: sports marketing, digital marketing, … it all falls under my responsibility. I have a team that does all this together with experts, but in our case, all the brand touchpoints in the marketing area go through my desk.
What role does brand play in the sports and outdoor sector in general, especially in comparison to other industries?
I am convinced that brand is the be-all and end-all. We have a lot of great brands when I look at our sports sector, especially the outdoor world. There are so many brands in this field. They are all good brands. There are many highly functional products, we all rely on similar technologies. We all have similar brand value to some extent, etc. At the end of the day, I am convinced that the brand image we want to convey will also lead to success. It’s just that every brand tries to occupy its own space, especially in the world of mountain sports. And that’s a good thing. We occupy the highly athletic, the highly performant and also the almost “exaggerated”, you could say. But brand is the be-all and end-all. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what kind of jacket or what kind of fleece I’m wearing: It’s the feeling of what that jacket and what that brand image does to me as the end consumer. That is first and foremost my main task, to also really work on feeling like an athlete when I am wearing a Dynafit product. And to answer your question: For me, the brand is the be-all and end-all, because there are far too many brands, far too many touchpoints and far too many good products on the market, that you have to bundle up somewhere. You have your brand, your community and that goes a bit in the same direction. You have your fan base and it is born because of the brand and not because your jacket is blue.
How has the pandemic changed the role of the brand, also in the sports and outdoor sector?
Has it changed the role of the brand? I would question that. Or the other way around, I’ll speak for us: For us, the pandemic has not changed the role of the brand, it has rather strengthened it in what we do. We are a brand that lives from the experience, from going out, from sport, from mountain sports. That’s more important than ever, and people are paying more attention to how nice it is to go out, how great it is to have the mountain right in front of you, and how nice it is to experience the happiness of the summit. And even on the mountain tending to try to experience some solitude, or even that rewarding moment, as they say. So the pandemic has not changed the brand, except maybe in the way we address the consumer and so on. But the brand image has remained identical, has not changed, has even been strengthened in the direction that even more attention has been paid to it. Speaking for us in mountain sports, I can say that.
Among other things, you deal with digital measures to increase brand awareness. What does your work in this area look like and how do you see the role of digitalisation with regard to the brand?
Quite an exciting question. Digital measures have gained more attention than ever, especially now in pandemic times. We simply see how much value you have to place on your own eCommerce shop. But also very important is the link and the digitalisation between retail and brand: between the availability of products and the presentation in retail or also the support from retail. And right now we have seen how important it is to reach the end customer through digital communication channels and also to take a little pressure off the retail trade. So be it that we close our eCommerce shop for a short time in order to really strengthen the retail. At the end of the day, digitalisation, brand and retail must become one. A very exciting measure we have now: we try to play out the brand content we create in the retail sector (Facebook posts, social media posts, presentation of the brand in the retailer’s web shop). We are talking about product images and wording. Digitalisation gives us many opportunities to really get the brand message out through retail. And not just: “Hey! I also have Dynafit in the shop, come and see me!”, but “I have Dynafit in the shop because it makes you an athlete. The shop window looks exactly like the Facebook post and also shows the entire communication on all touchpoints.” On the one hand, this is of course quite exciting: it’s more of digitalisation, retail and sales glasses. But if you talk about other brand enhancement measures, it is of course direct communication with the customer and community building. Be it simply: share your picture with us, be in contact with us, tell us about your experiences. I don’t want to talk so much about digitalisation, it’s simply communication, 90% of which takes place digitally to the end consumer these days. Brand awareness is very important here, because we have all done the same thing and we all speak to the customer. You have to consider where the customer is, what the customer looks like and how the customer is reached. That’s where the brand awareness or even the increase is quite big. In our case, there are external platforms where it’s really about who ran the fastest time up the mountain. You can compete with each other in a digital world. You’ve physically run the course, but you upload your record time and through that you get an interaction with the brand because we say: “Wow, you ran the fastest time. For that you get this and that from us.” That’s a very exciting interaction and digitalisation simply offers the opportunity to get directly to the customer.
What developments and challenges do you see in the brand sector in the next five to ten years?
Certainly the topic of artificial intelligence. We still assume that the customer will look for us, find us, find out about us – that’s the state today. In the past, that was through a salesperson in the shop, that’s still the case to a certain extent today. The second possibility is the website or social media posts. But digitalisation, especially artificial intelligence, is learning. We understand the customer based on their consumer behaviour – also in terms of social media, in terms of videos, we learn very quickly what the customer needs and what they want. We as a brand need to be able to answer that and show the customer already what his next desire will be. If I know that he has been ski touring a lot, he will get an offer for new skis because they might be worn out. Or we send him the information that he has to go to the service without him noticing. Later on, digitalisation will lead to a situation where the customer unconsciously contacts the brand at the very first moment, without doing so of his own accord – instead, we contact the customer and then try to convince him of the brand, so that loyalty develops. The topics of community, community building, fan base, brands and interaction are a big trend at the moment and are becoming increasingly important. It works because people like the brand and say that there is real added value for them. I see thousands of brand touchpoints every day. The best example is the petrol station: you see at least 4,000 different brands in one go and you are totally overwhelmed. It’s the same on the internet. We want to and have to take this stress away from the customer. We can do this primarily with artificial intelligence and how we address the customer.
The second point, which also stems from digitalisation, is that we are making products smarter. If I look at my brand now, we are of course in winter sports. We have hardware products such as skis, ski bindings, ski boots, poles, helmets, and so on. There is of course the communication between these products. I’m not talking about wearable technologies now, but simply about when I get the information whether my boot is still good, when I get the information that my binding needs to be serviced or how I get the information on how I can use the product at all. They are technically complicated products. If I put one of our shoes in front of you, many people would have a hard time understanding how it works. It has to become more intuitive and there are many great digital tools for that. Be it NFC communication, be it that the product talks to the customer, that you understand the product better. That’s the biggest challenge for us as a brand right now, because everything has to become faster, more intuitive and simpler. “Simple” is a very big challenge. I always catch myself using my favourite example, the smartphone. You don’t even use it for calls anymore, you use it for everything else. I don’t use a navigation device in my car anymore, I have that in my phone. I don’t use a camera, I have that on my smartphone. That’s a trend that’s now gone by the wayside. But there are still a lot of possibilities to translate this to other areas, so that at some point you don’t even notice what you need, but the product does it on its own.
Based on your experience over the last few years, what do you consider to be the most important learnings with regard to brand management?
The most important lessons: Consistency, consistency, consistency. Stay consistently true to your own line, stay true to your brand and don’t immediately try to play along everywhere. Instead, when it comes to branding, always think of the end consumer and try to think from the consumer’s perspective. Do they even understand this wording? Do they know what message I’m sending? There are three aspects: The first is that the brand with its identity characteristics must always be played with consistently. Typical marketing campaigns should, in the best case, be repeated again and again. Brand elements, such as a colour, a wording or an image, should appear again and again. I keep thinking that even if I, as a marketer, am sick and tired of my own key visual because I’ve seen it a thousand times, it’s only then that probably 5% of the customers have caught on to the fact that it’s the brand. We live in a time where we are always overtaking ourselves and always want the latest, the best, the fastest. And it’s really consistent to always play the same brand touchpoints, and I don’t mean staying stale, or oldschool. Around that, the playing field is very large, but the brand core must always remain the same. And this desire, in my case, to make an athlete out of the customer, that’s the most important message, and that’s what happens through Dynafit with the logo, and so on. You really have to consistently play very similar themes over and over again.
Finally, we would like to know: Which was your favourite brand in childhood and which is it today?
I grew up in East Germany. Then, of course, we had the great influence of brands and as a young person at that time you didn’t know what you stood for and where your own journey was going. For me, a Replay T-shirt (fashion brand) and a pair of Replay jeans were the first time I felt that a brand value also had a connection to quality. I have now caught myself: I still have the shirt and the jeans, as well as other Replay products. I have remained loyal to this brand all my life in the fashion sector. And I always find myself buying it, wearing it, because I identify with it. It’s very funny, because I have a lot of great brands in the sports sector now and bikes that I use, but it’s really my favourite brand from childhood, if you can talk about it.
Even today, this brand is still one of my favourites, it’s still in my wardrobe, I still love to wear it and it hasn’t really changed over the last many years.
Alexander Nehls, thank you very much for the exciting interview and all the best for you and Dynafit!
Credit cover picture: Dynafit