Paul Anderson is director of marketing at Soffe Apparel, an apparel company started in 1949 as a distributor to the military. Over the years, the company expanded into clothing and became known for its signature athletic shorts. The shorts, made for men, became popular among cheerleaders, who would fold down the band so they'd fit properly.

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In the fall of 2014, Soffe conducted market research into the young, female market for athletic apparel that yielded some interesting insights. Soffe learned that women felt more motivated to work out as part of a group, and that that sense of belonging was key to success when pursuing their fitness goals.

I invited Paul to Marketing Smarts to discuss how Soffe used those insights to completely rebrand the company to reach the underserved demographic of young, female athletes seeking inspiration and motivation from one another.

Soffe's "Strength in Us" campaign is a complete turnaround from the brand's previous marketing message. The company's willingness to act on sound audience data has turned its social channels into a destination of choice for its target audience.

Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:

Don't be afraid to rebrand if you're not reaching your core audience (03:23): "The Soffe brand has been going through a massive revamp over the past 18 months.... We noticed especially on the women's side that there was this massive disconnect with our core consumers. So, one of the things we wanted to do...was to go out and actually listen to that consumer. That really prompted [us to conduct] research."

Invest in research so you can truly understand your audience (04:00): "One of the big things we did was to bring on a new agency of record...and they've got some pretty interesting proprietary tools at their disposal [that] allowed us to set the stage for the research that we did. Being able to, at scale, understand and listen on social and through search, we were able to get an idea of brand sentiment.... That then prompted us to dig into the specifics around our core consumer.... Young women were connecting through exercise and these group-based activities.... 80% of young women said they were more motivated to exercise with friends or a team. 92% said they were more powerful as a group... It wasn't that they weren't competitive—they were individually competitive—they just felt that there was something more."

Look for opportunities to connect with audiences your competition is ignoring (05:35): "As we looked at the activewear market in general, we saw a big opportunity there to tell our story, a story that had been part of Soffe for a long time: our roots in the military, our roots in cheerleading, and then how that evolved to how...young women approach active now.... We're a smaller 'fighter brand' as I like to say, but as you look at the big guys that are out there, it's all a lot of the same—advertises and talks about 'lone individuals' with big campaign slogans glorifying the single athlete. We thought that this was an interesting thing that we'd want to hang our hat on, and talk to our core consumer and young women in a more realistic and authentic way."

Once you've reviewed the data, use it to better serve your target audience (07:41): "We did some early segmentation work and really looked at the different groups around dance culture, around gymnastics culture, Zumba and cardio barre—all these sort of new exercise movements that really are based around groups, and they all sort of draft off of dance in a lot of ways. We're really concentrating on messaging around those activity bases where we're building product and merchandizing around those things. It started with segmentation."

Go where your audience is (like Instagram) and give them content that inspires (08:53): "What we wanted to do as we launched for spring 2015 was to put a break between the brand's old and new content. We wanted to be pretty stark about it. To launch the 'Strength is in Us' campaign, we released a 24-word manifesto in 24 separate posts, and each post featured compelling statistics around our study, and it really just captivated—the statistics around teamwork, around the power of collective strength. It was interesting to see our consumer who was used to our 'old' content, and then seeing the reaction from our new 'coming out' party.... It's just about being a content source for our consumer and really to inspire and motivate young women around this idea of 'the power of we' and 'the strength is in us....' We were on Instagram before, but we're being more strategic and more channel specific about it. It is our most engaged channel."

Experiment, but not without a strategy; establish a baseline to measure against (12:18): "We can see Likes, comments; and as our audience grows, those things are all important. One of the things...we had seen through our initial research around the brand was digging down and understanding brand sentiment...and we're going to be paying attention, obviously, to that. We wanted to be a place to host the conversation around our positioning, sort of a content source of inspiration and motivation.... We want to be a brand publishing content that engages our consumer. It's one thing that we just didn't do when we lost touch with them.... We've established a brand-tracker base that we're going to use to measure yourself against quarterly, so that'll be really interesting to see where the needle moves there.... We have seen our followers increase at a rate that was higher than what we were previously doing, so that's a good sign."

To learn more, visit or follow Soffe on Twitter: @Soffe. And be sure to check out its Instagram feed: @soffegirl.

Paul and I talked about much more, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

This episode brought to you by CallidusCloud.

Special thanks to production sponsor Candidio, an efficient, affordable video production platform allowing marketers and communicators to collaborate and curate video content, with help from a team of professional, on-demand video editors for the finishing touches. Check them out!

Show opener music credit: Noam Weinstein.

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