‘Everybody Wins’: Inside Wolverine Worldwide's Digital Product Testing and Consumer Data Strategy

Lisa Johnston
Managing Editor
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Wolverine Worldwide, the $2 billion-plus footwear and apparel company that includes a dozen brands in its portfolio, is marrying consumer data with digital product testing in order to navigate today’s rocky landscape.

As part of this, the company is not only partnering for solutions that are expected to increase speed to market and reduce markdowns, but it's even developing its own tech solutions in order to properly improve consumer experiences during the pandemic. 

The company has structured its strategic framework upon the three legs of hindsight, insight and foresight, each leveraging the necessary experts and tools in order to triangulate data and provide a holistic view of all brands, Wolverine Worldwide's Lindsey Goodman, consumer insights director, tells CGT.

Through hindsight, it focuses on market data, competitive intelligence and other dynamics affecting relevant categories. Within insight, its research team dives into consumer behavior data through digital product and concept testing and ethnography, while its foresight competency leverages consumer macro trends and innovation solutions to anticipate and solve consumer desires.

Operating in this structure enables the company, which includes such brands as Keds, Saucony, Merrell and Sperry, to make informed decisions and move quickly to activate innovation and growth, says Goodman.

Saucony’s NYC Endorphin Speed

Wolverine Worldwide continuously tracks product and marketing stories from creation to sell-in in order to get a sense of ROI, while other, more traditional metrics assess impact. Goodman says its digital testing capabilities have led to proven ROI for the business, with many early contributions to product ideation leading to successful products at market.

“Strategically, we’ve also seen a strong uptick in the level of investment in tools and research across the organization,” adds Amber Hall, Wolverine Worldwide trend manager. “While less measurable, they are equally important ways we define success. For example, the relationships and trust we are building within the organization directly impacts our engagement with external partners, who serve as an extension of our team.”

Like most consumer goods brands, Wolverine Worldwide is trying to adapt to abruptly shifting consumer demand as a result to the pandemic, which Goodman says it’s navigated via testing and “near constant consumer touchpoints,” becoming voracious consumers of data, trend and insights.

The company struggled to find a partner that tracked consumer behavior specifically in footwear at the beginning of the health crisis, so it developed a proprietary Covid-19 Consumer Tracker via a mobile ethnography platform. The platform, which tracks consumers on a bi-weekly basis, asks focused questions about Wolverine Worldwide's category brands that Goodman says are immediately actionable.  

When coupled with its increase in digital product testing, the company has been able to react quickly to rapidly changing consumer behaviors, as well as begin anticipating what’s next in order to shift its strategy from reactive to proactive.

Digital product assortment testing has also served as some of the company’s most productive work with retailers during the pandemic. In doing so, Wolverine Worldwide measures competitive assortments that are currently on shelf alongside its own assortment, testing with customers from a specific retailer who are likely to buy the products in the category. This info in turn enables it to provide retailers with optimized assortments.

The colorway on Sperry’s Windsurfer Blue Saltwater Boot was voted on by the brand's social followers.

Goodman notes that these tests incorporate such factors as cannibalization and incrementality in determining recommendations. “We present in a compelling way which of our products are likely to outperform what the retailer currently has on-shelf — and we’re honest about where our products actually underperform compared to the competition,” she says. “And so far, retailers have been extremely receptive to this because it’s their consumer too. Everybody wins. The level of trust and partnership we’ve been able to build with our retail partners as a result has been invaluable.”

While Wolverine Worldwide has developed its own data tracking platform, it’s also partnering in order to better leverage the potential of consumer data. The company teamed with analytics provider First Insight earlier this year to further leverage data in its product decision making process, and is integrating First Insight’s predictive analytics solution, known as Voice of the Customer, across all brands.

As data is increasingly leveraged to provide more personalized experiences, Hall expects this to take shape via new brand experiences, data-driven marketing campaigns and new product offerings that serve to surprise, delight and solve consumers’ needs.

“Previously, the industry may have often defined personalization as a highly customized product,” she notes. “While those types of programs continue to resonate with consumers, there are new and emerging use cases of leveraging what we know about consumers and their shopping behaviors to deliver more intentional messaging, features, benefits and experiences.”  

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