How Steve Lesnard Came to Understand the Global Sports Consumer

Previously an executive at one of the largest athletic brands in the world, Steve Lesnard knows a thing or two about taking products and brands to new heights. He has a wealth of experience in the sports industry, which has provided him with the tools to better understand consumers and what they are looking for when shopping.

Lesnard’s decades of experience have given him insight into changing consumer landscapes, the role of data and technology in marketing, and how to continue pushing the boundaries to grow brands. All of this knowledge dates back to the early days of his life when he learned the values he would take with him into the business world.

Early Life

Steve Lesnard grew up as a dual citizen between Paris and Corsica where he was one of three children. Sports have played a formative role in his life since the beginning of his childhood.  Apart from falling in love with the games he played as a child, he also learned values and skills which have stayed with him throughout his life. At the same time, a son of two working parents, Lesnard quickly decided to make hard work and integrity values that he strived for in everything he would go on to accomplish.

Lesnard completed business school in France with a focus on entrepreneurship and international business. During his time in school, he maintained his connection to sports, becoming the president of the sports club and organizing all sports and tournaments for the school. Later, Lesnard would move to the United States to pursue his MBA at Babson College in entrepreneurship.

Lesnard in the Business of Sports

After his studies, Lesnard found himself working at the luxury fashion brand Wolford in New York City. As the company’s marketing director, Lesnard led initiatives to open retail stores and establish the company’s brand across North America. However, this job was short lived, as after one year, Lesnard made the jump both geographically and professionally to the west coast to work in the sports industry.

His first role in the industry was in global sports marketing and product management. Here, Lesnard was tasked with line planning, seasonal product creation, and signing professional athletes in winter Olympic sports, including the first two snowboard gold medalists at the Nagano Olympics. Lesnard remembers that he “started in sports marketing, signing athletes for the Nagano Olympics and serving athletes, which gave [him] a true understanding of the consumer [they] were trying to serve, which was elite athletes.”

Lesnard then ventured to product development, which, he believes, was a key experience for his growth. “I then went [on] to develop products for elite and everyday athletes, which was a great learning experience on how you bring a concept into a physical product that consumers will use,” he says. “And that led me to a brand career, and I worked across many different areas.”

Over the next two decades, Lesnard had the opportunity to work in various marketing and product roles in the sports industry, leading several different Olympic campaigns, as well as heading the women’s and running categories, among other things. “Throughout my career, I had the opportunity to lead high-profile business growth, launching industry-changing products and directing some of the most iconic brand campaigns,” notes Lesnard. “I have a strong track record as an innovative marketing executive with a deep product, digital, and consumer expertise along with successful general management experience driving a P&L in excess of $5 billion in revenues.”

Overall, Lesnard sees his experiences in the sports industry as formative and powerful in his life. He says that “it was really inspiring to bring the power of sports into people’s lives.”

Big Data and Technology Driving Marketing

A report by the McKinsey Global Institute states that companies that are data-driven organizations are 23 times more likely to acquire new customers and 6 times as likely to retain the customers they already have. This is no secret to Lesnard, who is well-versed in how technology is growing to help brands target and acquire customers better than ever.

Understanding the needs of a consumer is a major key to success, according to Lesnard. “You always want to know your consumer, and you always want to be able to predict what your consumer would want,” he says. “And we’ve never been in a better position to actually have more access to data to actually be able to predict or be closer to delivering real personal and meaningful services to consumers.”

Big data can be coupled with evolving artificial intelligence to bring marketing to a new level. “I think that the brand landscape is evolving really fast by bringing data through artificial intelligence and a bunch of other ways to actually help marketers and help brand market data and insights to deliver meaningful services,” Lesnard predicts. “And I think that brands and profiles will be able to leverage these data to actually craft clear and simple consumer benefits to breakthrough in people’s lives.”

This, according to Lesnard, is how brands can stand out from the pack and drive business growth.

Technology Changing the Consumer Landscape

These technologies have also changed the way consumers are viewed by brands. Lesnard sees many shifts in the consumer landscape of key industries that are already underway.

“You know, if you think about the key shifts that are happening just in transportation [with] the way of rideshare and transportation in big cities, there is so much congestion leading to alternative ways of transportation like rideshare and scooters [causes],” says Lesnard. “The way cities are going to be designed in the future [will] be very different, and helping consumers through their mobility journey is going to create a completely new way to interact and offer services. Health and wellness is another big one.”

Lesnard certainly sees this concept applying specifically to the health and wellness industry, where a growing concern over personal wellness is actively changing the ways consumers shop. “You know, as people are leading more sedentary lives they realize how activity [and] movement is going to become a core part of their daily routine, from mindfulness to recovery to even athletic activities,” he notes. “I think that in [the] environment sector, [this] is only going to get bigger and more diverse. And then I think people are more and more recognizing the impact that the environment is having on people’s lives and the impact that humankind has made on the environment. And that will, I think, change behavior in so many different ways as well.”

This, according to Lesnard, makes it imperative for brands to improve the lives of their customers. “Just thinking [about] these three macro trends, I think, is going to be a super dynamic and exciting time to find new ways to provide meaningful solutions and services to consumers.”

At the end of the day, technology is a key driver in improving quality of life for everyone. Lesnard says that he is “a big believer [in] providing real benefits to people’s lives knowing that there [are] so many choices out there that consumers will naturally self-select based on what is best for them. But technology applied the right way can be really, really powerful and, again, [make] your life easier.”

Consumers in Control

Steve Lesnard sees that “consumers today… are completely in charge.” This makes it a challenge for brands to understand the utility and value they can provide to customers. Customers “are clear on what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. And therefore, brands have a completely new challenge and truly understand what benefits they will deliver to consumers so that they can break through.”

Consumers no longer sit back and wait for their favorite brand to bring them what they want. Instead, they seek out new brands to fill their needs. “Consumers are not waiting for brands anymore, and they will find brands that will deliver their needs,” says Lesnard.

Lesnard points back to new technological tools and solutions for marketers to obtain customers outside of traditional methods. He says that there are “some levers that continue to be really powerful, like public relations.” Still, he asserts that “traditional advertising can continue to play an important role. But there [are] so many other ways to create personal connection, particularly with digital tools today that make the marketing landscape really, really dynamic and fascinating.”

Rising Consumer Expectations

It is no secret that consumers expect more out of brands and products than ever before. When a customer receives an amazing experience from one company, they expect the same from the rest of the brands that they interact with. “You know, there’s this idea of transference, where when you have a great experience with a company or a service, you immediately expect another industry or another company to do the same,” notes Lesnard. “If a company can deliver…, you expect another company to deliver your product within an hour as well.”

Lesnard understands that this puts significant pressure on brands not only to provide better customer experience but also to innovate new ways to keep things fresh. This has the potential to create problems for brands that don’t stay relevant in the experience they provide customers, while at the same time allowing new entrants to take market share from brands not willing to make the jump. “The rising of consumer expectation is going to continue to force brands to innovate and stay up-to-date with what consumers’ expectations are or I think you’ll see a lot of big shifts with brands that  won’t be able to adapt quickly enough, and other brands coming and changing complete industries,” Lesnard warns.

The Importance of Clarity

Steve Lesnard stresses the importance of creating a clear vision for any marketing campaign. This requires being consumer-centric in a way that guides marketing. “I talk about putting the consumer at the center of your strategy, and being very clear on what solutions or problems you’re solving for that consumer is a great way to guide your marketing strategy into mediums that you’re going to use, whether they’re more traditional mediums like retail… or experiences and services that you could deliver in a more personal way digitally,” he explains.

Lesnard is a big believer in video as a medium of telling a story and delivering a message to consumers. “I think video is one component of that element, but I’m a big believer that if you’re very clear with your storyline, [and] what you want to stand for and you can articulate it in a simple way, it really helps maximize your ability to deliver a crisp piece of communication and, also, a consumer experience that will be remembered by your target consumer.”

Influencer Marketing

Another key area for brands is utilizing influencer marketing. Lesnard calls these influencers “super users.” This method has become commonplace in the age of social media, where influencers can be a guiding force into the success of a brand with the general public.

Just make sure that the connection between brand and influencer isn’t obviously fake. “I think influencer marketing or celebrity marketing works best when you actually have a truly authentic connection between the product or the service you offer and the audience that you have,” notes Lesnard. “When you think about influencer marketing strategy, understanding who your super users are and establishing a real authentic connection with these influencers is going to leverage your return on investment tenfold because these super users will be, by definition, leveraging and using your product [or service] on a regular basis… and therefore, [promoting] it on a regular basis.”

Lesnard has seen plenty of brands fail by attempting to work with influencers and celebrities who do not authentically represent and appreciate the products they are touting. Lesnard thinks “it’s fun to watch that environment, as sometimes brands are trying to jump in with celebrity marketing or influencer marketing.” He claims that establishing a “genuine, authentic connection” is the best way to leverage this method of marketing.

Sports Runs in His Blood

Lesnard has spent two decades analyzing and improving product development and marketing for a major athletic brand. This has led him to garnering vast amounts of knowledge and insight into how sports shape the lives of consumers and how those looking to acquire new customers must present new and innovative solutions.

It isn’t just that Lesnard enjoys the competition of sports; he sees these games as life-changing for the consumers they affect. This pushes him to provide the best products and services for sports enthusiasts around the globe and drive brands to succeed in all aspects of business.

Listen to the full interview with Steve Lesnard on Soundcloud here:

Written by Eric

37-year-old who enjoys ferret racing, binge-watching boxed sets and praying. He is exciting and entertaining, but can also be very boring and a bit grumpy.