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Why when Clarks says Asia, it doesn’t just mean China

Until recently, the Asia Pacific region was seen more as “one which always had potential, rather than one with opportunity” for heritage shoe brand Clarks. According to Jack Quinlan (pictured below), its APAC president, Asia Pacific today brings about “diversity and opportunity” for the company, as “it brings something real and not just an idea”. He said:

Many companies say they want to grow Asia, when really what most of them mean is China.

But for Clarks, this was not the case. Currently, there are several growth markets Clarks has identified – Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Korea being one of the top few. Each of these markets however, varies greatly in terms of business online and offline. Indonesia, for example, is one market which has been identified to possess great opportunity due to its growth into one of the largest economies in the world, he explained. Given the Indonesian economy will continue to grow, the brands wants to get in there and build a solid foundation. As such, a goal for Quinlan is pushing its growth in these markets, and he reiterated that the company sees opportunity in each individual market within the region.

Prior to his appointment around a year ago, Clarks’ Asia Pacific function was seen as “a group of countries working independently”. Fast forward to today, it proceeds on one united front. When asked what took so long to put Asia Pacific in the front and centre, Quinlan said that Clarks had always felt the potential in Asia Pacific but it was necessary to find the right person who understood the region.

“Once you have someone who is willing to grasp it with the team and drive it, it makes all the difference in seeing what a particular region brings to the brand,” Quinlan said. Given the mosaic of cultures that make up Asia Pacific, he said it is necessary for marketers and their management teams to live in the region to understand it, as compared to coming from another culture and having a general idea of Asia.

That being said, the road to uniting is not an easy one. It has no doubt been a struggle for the teams in the different countries to merge back into the corporate [mindset] but eventually it was done, allowing the brand in APAC to speak with “one team and one voice”. Nonetheless, aligning everyone on a clear strategy as a reason is crucial, although strategy can mean different things for different countries. But the true principles of the strategy need to remain the same; be it growing the wholesale distribution, digital capability or bench strength.

Changing perceptions

To go beyond its perception of being a brand for “reliable, sturdy work footwear”, Clarks is leveraging on it sub brands such as Cloudsteppers, Originals and Kids. According to Quinlan, the brand is now trying to offer an alternative to adidas or Nike in the athleisure area. The direction in which it is headed towards in all its products, is more subtle and quiet design without the big loud logos.

“[Products are] going to have more style without having all the trademarks plastered over everything,” Quinlan said.

Building on the athleisure trend has also allowed Clarks to come up with its Comfort in Your Soul campaign, which Quinlan says can be interpreted in a couple of ways. The first is comfort in your footwear (sole) and the other is comfort in yourself – which includes your opinions, values and personality.

“This is about empowerment which is a great message for Clarks. Empowering people can mean getting them up to move as well as getting them to feel comfortable in themselves and what they think,” he added. This tagline was used in its recent Spring-Summer 2018 campaign and will continue to see traction in its future campaigns and marketing collaterals which includes in store and on social media.

To continue standing out in the cluttered work shoe brand space, Quinlan said it was all about going back to the product in such cases. This means ensuring comfort remains at the core of the brand, along with being a product which is great quality and long lasting – driving value for the consumer’s dollar. What else is crucial is a connection.
“You need a connection to any brand and what we are doing is building the sub brands and surprising consumers with something they would never expect,” Quinlan said.

Other initiatives the brand is also taking are collaborations with other brands. For example, Clarks partnered with Land Rover – bringing two traditional British brands together. This saw the shoe brand creating footwear based on how Land Rover is evolving its cars. Another is Star Wars as well as Black Panther, which also did well commercially for the brand.

“The footwear space is highly fragmented. If you take Nike and adidas out of the picture, there are so many players who don’t have a commanding market share. There is a lot of competition and that’s a great thing because it allows for innovation and movement. This allows brands to burst out of the pack and grab more market share,” Quinlan said.

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