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How Reebok got its groove back by targeting a different kind of sports fan

The brand has looked to those tough consumers seeking a challenge.

REEBOK IS NOT Lululemon or Under Armour. And that’s fine.

Reebok has been capitalizing on how it’s different from its competitors by targeting a completely different consumer: the tough, challenge-loving one that does Tough Mudders, mixed martial arts, and CrossFit.

The rise of athleisure has practically eclipsed the tenure of denim in the casual-fashion world, with many companies vying to get a piece of the athleisure pie. “The people selling fitness apparel go…from H&M to Karl Lagerfeld,” Reebok’s President, Matthew O’Toole, said in an interview with Business Insider.

“How we differentiate ourselves — it’s all we do, it’s what we do,” O’Toole said. “Look at the big brands. They’re kind of moonlighting in fitness, and then you have Lululemon or Sweaty Betty — brands like that are really catering to a much older and mature consumer. And the net of it is, we’ve been able to carve out a very unique identity in tough social fitness in this space.”

Reebok's 'The Sport Of Fitness Has Arrived' campaign launch - London Source: Empics Entertainment

There is definitely a social element to these taxing sports. CrossFit has been compared to a cult by some in part because of its extremely tight knit community.

But to solidify its focus on this new target customer, Reebok has focused on truly owning the CrossFit and tough fitness space.  Look no further than the brand’s deal to outfit the UFC, and the company’s CrossFit gyms and competitions. And technology — which has been increasingly prevalent in the fitness apparel business — is not lost on Reebok. The brand also makes shoes that are specifically designed for tough activities like rope climbing.

Last December, the brand secured a partnership with Ronda Rousey. After her wild success, it seemed like it would help the brand solidify its status as the premiere ‘challenge sports’ company. At the time, Rousey acknowledged that Reebok was the athletic brand that stood for tough women.

Reebok understands what tough fitness means for women and what women need for their fitness lifestyle. Together we’re going to inspire even more people to train like fighters,” Rousey said in the release at the time her partnership was announced.

Reebok is particularly focused on women — he said that the women’s sector makes up roughly 40% of the brand’s business. He also stressed that more women than one might think participate in these grueling sports.

And O’Toole doesn’t think that Rousey’s recent knockout will tarnish her reputation. “I think it’s only going to make the story line that much bigger for Ronda when she comes back,” he said. 

SOCCER - Reebok - Liverpool New Kit Launch Reebok have come a long way from their football-focused strategy of the mid-90s. Source: Matthew Ashton/EMPICS Sport

Perhaps her comeback will be in tandem with Reebok’s.

Reebok has been transforming itself. It overhauled its logo and replaced it with a delta sign, perhaps signifying its own change, but O’Toole thinks the heart of it all is shifting its emphasis from a general sportswear company to one that zeroes in on a specific athletic demographic. 

“The bigger backstory is just the whole shift of the brand from a multisport generalist to a fitness-focused specialist,” O’Toole said. 

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Business Insider
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