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Modernising Bata’s 123 year-old family business

If you grew up in Singapore, chances are you spent your childhood in a pair of white Velcro Bata shoes. While the shoe brand incites nostalgia, many of us are still unaware of the heritage behind the 123-year-old brand.

Bata was in fact one of the first mass-produced shoes in the world and was known notably for its simplicity, style and light weight.

The T. & A. Bata Shoe Company was founded in the late 1800s in the Czech Republic by Tomas Bata, his brother Antonin and his sister Anna. They came from a long generation of cobblers. The family-owned international business saw its tentacles spread in the 1900s and currently has more than 6000 stores worldwide.

And, despite the rich history it possesses, over the years the brand has been perceived more as a simple, convenient retailer present in the local heartlands, rather than a brand with a strong rich history and a story to tell.

Addressing this issue was Thomas Archer Bata, CMO of the Bata Group. Archer Bata took on the role in December 2015, and is a descendant of the original Bata family. He was previously head of operations at Bata Group in Chile

Born in Toronto, Canada and raised between the UK and Switzerland, he says he has always had a love for shoes, and business in general, having been involved in both areas since childhood.

Speaking to Marketing during a separate conversation, he also admits that like most youngsters growing up, he wasn’t always sure if the Bata shoe business was for certain, the one he would go into. But definitely, the business was and had to be on his radar.

“Many of my summers were spent going to our family shoe factories,” he said.

As such, there was definitely a push and pull dynamic going on. But fast forward to today, and he is boldly overseeing and changing the course of 15 of the Bata brands.

When asked if there was any nervousness about taking up the role, he said it was more about the excitement and the huge opportunity to bring more “swagger” to the brand. More interestingly, at a time when brands are trying to localise, Archer Bata is looking to take the international brand, global.

On stage during the Socialbakers’ Engage Prague 2017 conference, he said: “Being global and international are completely different. Today we are international and have a presence in 76 countries and have retail stores in those countries. But our positioning is inconsistent.”

He explained that every country targets different groups of consumers with their own business model. But to go global as a brand, there is a need to focus on one insight throughout the world, even if the execution slightly varies.

“Global brands are consistent. In a digital world where people can access content from anywhere in the world, you obviously have to be constant in your communication and send the same message, wherever you are in the world,” he said.

Taking that into consideration, a year ago the brand closely scrutinised its 220 million global customers buying its products. The brand wanted to see who they were and what they were like.

The team promptly realised its shoppers were tech-savvy and connected to social media; while 75% of these shoppers were also women making decisions for husbands and families. Many were middle class as Bata has maintained its long-standing tradition of creating products that are affordable for all. However, where the brand fell short was having an iconic product that resonated with the brand name.

“If I say Timberland, immediately an iconic product comes into your mind. A challenge we had was that if you mention our brand, people say ‘oh shoes’ and not much more than that,” he said.

As such, the brand needed an iconic product and story. Keeping all these issues in mind, Bata created a fictional character to represent its target base. Her name was Angela. Next on Bata’s agenda? To sweep Angela off her feet.

“We want to make comfort sexy. We wanted to show that you don’t have to choose between looking good and feeling comfortable,” he said, adding that in the modern world, a woman shouldn’t have to choose one or the other.

Deep diving into social

While the product team at Bata got busy creating comfortable and fashionable shoes that would be deemed iconic, the marketing team dived deep into social. Before last year, Archer Bata admits the brand’s social media strategy was immensely underdeveloped.

For years, Bata had simply used its numerous Facebook pages for promotions, discounts and to drive traffic to the store. To make matters more complicated, the various country Facebook pages all had their own strategies, with completely different investments, no brand stories and slow response times. All these issues were hurting the brand’s equity.

To turn things around, the marketing team at Bata decided to divide the various mediums and channels into ones that had equity and ones that had traffic conversion. Social media, was as such, classified as a channel that could drive brand equity and engagement.

Today, the majority of the content on social is done locally, but in line with global standards and guidelines. About 30% of content is also dictated by global to allow for consistent brand messages and global keep standards. Bata has also cut back significantly on traditional mediums.

“Social media is global and you can reach a huge target audience via a few channels. Traditional media has hundreds of media outlets, and as such, calculating ROI becomes more of a challenge,” he said.

Moreover, on social media, showing ROI on investments is also much easier. TV and print on the other hand, tend to have low engagement levels because unlike social, there is no way for consumers to express themselves on traditional media.

As for its retail, he said: “We have brick and mortar stores, but they are problematic from a marketing perspective because of the high costs needed to modernise them. We come from a retail background, and when you are in that space, marketing is still seen as a spend.”

But getting everyone on board the social journey was not easy, Archer Bata admits. One big challenge he faced was that, given the company was 123-years old, to tell a traditional marketer who has been doing his job for years that a chunk of his budget would now go to social media was not terribly popular. “Naturally there was resistance, but with data as evidence, people quickly fell into line,” he said.

Becoming cool again

But just because Bata is now going global, doesn’t mean the brand isn’t keen on localising its content. Currently, the team at Bata works with numerous local influencers. This, he says, leads to better ROI for the brand as local influencers are much more committed and engaged. Nonetheless, a global overarching direction is mandated, and because of the sensitivities present in each market, tweaks are constantly made.

Recently, a stunt Bata pulled to revamp its image involved a global fashion show. In fact, the event was hosted in Prague in April this year to celebrate the brand’s 123rd birthday. The event featured catwalk shows, exhibitions, celebrities, prominent designers and saw thousands of visitors from all over the world attend. The massive event also saw many celebrity guests from more than 20 countries around the world gather. These included TV stars, models, editors from top media publications, and bloggers, who all travelled to Prague from all parts of the world to be part of the event.

And because its social media strategy was in place, Bata could also draw in people through its Facebook page. The Bata team saw 3.3 million people following the event through social media, live streaming and websites. This led to more than 35 million people interacting with the brand, with eight million coming from China and six million from India.

But this is not the end of the road for Bata, said Archer Bata. He said the brand is at the halfway point of where it needs to be. He hopes that by 2018, the brand will invest more on growing its following on Instagram and Facebook. “What I encourage is for everybody to think of how you can use tools to create change in an organisation. Technology always works. It’s the people who are the biggest challenge.”

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