Why a shoe brand is maintaining its digital paid media strategy well beyond the pandemic

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Since the onset of the pandemic, Keen Utility, a footwear brand, has nearly doubled its digital paid media investment to serve ads to the tradesmen and women who have been spending more shopping online than in-store in that time. That digital investment is likely here to stay as doing so has helped boost brand awareness, explained Robin Skillings, vp and global gm of Keen Utility.

“We opted not to turn down our investment but to invest more,” said Skillings of the company’s digital media strategy. “We invested a lot of our marketing into our digital presence and e-commerce. We added new channels [for us] like digital TV and digital radio. It helped drive an immense amount of awareness.”  She did not give an exact breakdown of spend.

By investing more in digital channels, the company was aiming to meet the tradesmen and women who typically shop for its shoes and work boots in-store wherever they were spending their time online. The increased paid media investment has gone to social channels like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube with tests on Reddit and Pinterest. As for digital TV and digital radio, the company has added Hulu TV and Pandora radio to the mix as well as some podcasts. Milwaukee-based Hanson Dodge is KEEN Utility’s digital agency creative partner.

“We’re trying to figure out where the best channels and best tactics are to be able to get the best engagement we can in the most relevant way,” said Skillings. “Digital channels are where our tradesmen and tradeswomen are online, helping drive brand awareness. If you’re not in front of people in their digital journey then you’re not top of mind.” 

Per Kantar, Keen Utility spent $26,000 on paid media investments in 2020; that figure does not include social channels as Kantar does not track that spending. It’s unclear how much Keen Utility spent overall, on each channel or exactly how much the company increased its spending as the company declined to share exact figures.

Aside from upping paid media spending, Keen Utility is also working with influencers. 

“Ensuring we have strong relationships with those influencers is key,” said Skillings, adding that the company has already begun fostering relationships with Instagram creators. “Our product needs to be spot on. It needs to answer the call and manage the daily wear and tear our fans are looking for.” 

Keen Utility’s tactic — to reach shoppers online as the pandemic kept them from in-store experiences — isn’t surprising to analysts.

“To some extent, like every category, workers are spending less time shopping in retail so there’s no choice,” said Allen Adamson, brand consultant and co-founder of Metaforce. “The pandemic forced everything online. I suspect habits changed and when stores reopened people didn’t come back after being forced online. Ultimately, their business probably fundamentally changed but that’s not unique to utility workers.”

Keen Utility is planning to continue its push into paid digital going forward. 

“We’re not taking our foot off the gas when it comes to our digital media investments,” said Skillings. “That younger fan, that younger consumer coming into the market by the time they’re a toddler they have some sort of tablet in front of them with video. Younger people coming into trades have likely not known not having a cell phone.”


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