Bata ramps up efforts to stay relevant

Under Mr Alexis Nasard (above), Bata has opened Asia's first AW LAB, a multi-label sneaker store with more than 200 outlets in Italy and Spain, at Suntec City last month.
Under Mr Alexis Nasard (above), Bata has opened Asia's first AW LAB, a multi-label sneaker store with more than 200 outlets in Italy and Spain, at Suntec City last month.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Footwear giant Bata's CEO is on his toes daily, thinking of what "Angela", the personification of the brand's consumer, wants

Every day, when he goes to work, it is the mission of Bata's chief executive officer, Mr Alexis Nasard, to seduce a woman named Angela.

Angela, in reality, does not exist. She is the personification of Bata's target consumer, born from the global footwear giant's extensive data studies.

Beyond demographics, which every brand can deal in, Mr Nasard, 51, says: "We know Angela's most intimate aspirations and frustrations.

"She'd like to have more time for herself. She'd like to look a bit more glamorous, like Emily, her office co-worker, but so far, she hasn't managed to. She wishes her husband were a bit more stylish and fun, but he's becoming a little too comfy in their marriage."

Angela was rolled out by Bata when Mr Nasard was appointed CEO in April last year, having come with 24 years of consumer experience working with companies including Procter & Gamble and Heineken.

"I felt strongly, when I arrived to the business, that the company needed a target consumer. It can bring a lot of focus and clarity to everything that you do," says Mr Alexis Nasard, who obtained his MBA from the Hass School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.  He is also a senior adviser at management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

In his vast experience with consumer brands, including fine fragrances and household names such as Pantene, Pampers, Tampax and Tiger Beer - "I co-designed the logo," he reveals - he has honed specific skills.

"I was always privileged to be associated with many global, iconic brands, and I also had the opportunity to participate in the evolution of these brands when they were at delicate junctures of their development - either they were plateauing, their consumer profile was ageing or they were facing severe competition.

"For example, I was on Pantene when Dove was making a big hit in the haircare market. I was running Heineken when craft beers were flourishing everywhere. I've done a lot of brand repositioning... in my career. I find that process intellectually challenging, personally fulfilling and great fun," he says.

He is aware that Bata, a 123-year-old Czech brand now headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland, may be able to benefit from those skills, at least in Singapore, where it has been present since 1931.

"The brand has very high recognition and awareness in Singapore. It is not as relevant as I'd like it to be. We have a very loyal and staunch consumer base that we are very grateful for, because it has made us who we are. But we want to attract, in addition, a score of more trend-setting millennials," he says, adding that the brand is breaking new ground.

"You are going to see things coming from Bata in the next few months that you would never have expected."

While he would not reveal specifics, part of this approach includes opening Asia's first AW LAB, a multi-label sneaker store under Bata Group with more than 200 outlets in Italy and Spain, at Suntec City last month.

The store also offers fashion accessories, has a lifestyle concept and, unlike other athletic footwear brands, is targeted at female consumers, says Mr Nasard.

There are plans to expand the brand's presence in Singapore, where the current number of Bata stores is 41. And, in addition to developing their product ranges, all the stores here will be revamped to look cleaner and crisper.

Some stores that already have the new look include the VivoCity and Eastpoint Mall outlets. Another launched at Northpoint City on Monday.

Singapore, he shares, is a strategic focus for Bata because it is "the window of Asia". "It's an acid test for all of Asia Pacific. It is one of the most competitive marketplaces, with a very fickle and demanding consumer," he says.

If there is one big takeaway he has gained from all his consumer experience, it is this: Loyalty does not exist.

He says: "Many times, consumers were loyal because they had no options. Inertia is another word you could use in place of loyalty."

The solution is what every successful Casanova knows: "If you want to keep a consumer faithful to your brand, you have to keep seducing him every day.

"It's not a marriage - it's a non-committed relationship. You want to be consistent, but you don't want to be predictable."


Correction note: This story has been edited for accuracy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2017, with the headline 'Seducing Angela every day'. Print Edition | Subscribe