The Rebranding of an NBA Team

I’m from Charlotte, NC. Born and raised. 1988 was a big year for my hometown. Even though I was pretty young at the time, I knew something major was happening. Charlotte got its first major sports team, the NBA Charlotte Hornets expansion team, and the city was changed forever. People LOVED the Hornets, from the outset. Known as the “hornet’s nest” of rebellion during the Revolutionary War, Charlotte was a growing city with big city dreams and it finally, had its own sports team. I remember begging my parents for a stuffed Hugo, the team’s mascot, and the only one my dad could find me was one with the suction cups on his hands because stuffed Hugos were flying off the shelves. As was all Hornets merchandise.

The original Hornets team was made up of other teams’ discards, but that didn’t matter to fans at all. (Though, let the record show, original Hornet Muggsy Bogues is to this day, still my favorite basketball player.) At the end of a 20-63 first season, the city threw them a parade. During that same season, the Hornets beat the Chicago Bulls — yes, when Jordan was in his prime — ticket sales were on fire, selling out the next 364 games. For 14 years, the Charlotte Hornets led the league in attendance eight times. Nationally, Charlotte Hornets merchandise was only outsold by Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. Charlotte had a true love affair with its team. But it did not last. (Please read Scott Fowler’s article on the Hornets’ rise and fall in Charlotte.)

To make a long story short, after much debate and a bond failed to past, the team owner took the team, with its name, to New Orleans. In 2004, Charlotte got its chance again, with a new NBA expansion team, the Bobcats (named after owner Bob Johnson). Enthusiasm was luke warm at best. People wanted the Hornets name back. Even when North Carolina native Michael Jordan later bought the team and ticket sales increased, the city was slow to warm to the Bobcats. Eventually, the New Orleans team changed its name to the Pelicans and rumbles around Charlotte emerged. Fans rallied, showing up to Bobcats games in Hornets gear and “Bee-lieving” took hold. When Jordan submitted the request to the NBA to change the name back to the Hornets and it was approved, fans were overjoyed.

Starting in the 2014-2015 season, with an estimated $4 million spent in rebranding the team, the arena and everything in between, the Charlotte Hornets were back! Season tickets sales at the start of the season skyrocketed, only behind Cleveland (once Lebron James announced he was returning) in league sales. Game attendance is up, hovering just above 90% on average. This renewed enthusiasm, thanks to rebranding, not only supports the team, but also benefits the restaurants and bars surrounding the downtown arena, boosting the city’s local economy and reinforcing a vibrant downtown scene.

But let’s talk about retail. As part of the rebranding, there was a fine line between keeping it old school and bringing the team into 2015. Instead of trying to walk that line, the team opted to utilize both, with applications for its original logo, known as its legacy line, and for its sportier, modern logo. As a designer, I’d say brands should really be solid in one look, but knowing the history of this team brand, I think this was an incredibly smart decision, particularly when it comes to retail. Some fans want the old school and some will want the modern; better yet, they’ll spend their dollars for some of both and continue to grow their collections. The new uniforms pay a homage to the iconic Alexander Julian designed uniforms of the original team, but with modern styling.

The enthusiasm for the rebranding shows in the retail sales. New Hornets merchandise became available at the Bobcat’s arena in early 2014. In just the first few days, with exclusive sales rights, the team store and its site produced record sales, setting the pace for what is expected to be a banner season for the team and for its merchandise. Though specific sales numbers have not been made public, the renewed amount of teal and purple being worn around the city should be a prime indication.

So what does this mean for brands? Strategic partnerships are key during a rebranding. The Charlotte Hornets have a distinct advantage over all other NBA teams thanks to Michael Jordan’s ownership, his Jumpman brand with Nike and his own partnerships, like with Hanes. As the excitement for the team rises and attendance is up, brands have increased visibility and can take this same opportunity to refresh their connection with fans. It’s a great chance for national and local brands alike to jump in on the resurgence.

When I went to a game in December, the impact of the rebranding was clear. Brand sponsors, including Hanes and Jordan, featured prominently next to the Hornets-themed stadium refresh. Fans were excited and the marketing team has really fed into the excitement with a Swarm City campaign that launches each game. And if you want team merchandise, you’re going to have to wait in line at the team store. I’ve never seen a team store so busy and keep in mind this is almost a full year since the first merchandise became available. It was nearly impossible to get in the store, which had even expanded to outside its walls and into the arena to help accommodate additional Hornets merchandise, just in time for the holiday push.

Eventually, things will calm down and sales are bound to stabilize as fever-pitched excitement is not something that can be sustained. However, I think there is so much to learn from this rebranding story. It’s more than changing the team’s colors, its about being true to your fanbase, listening to them and making a connection. Brand loyalty is crucial for any sports team, especially as players/coaches come and go. For me, it feels particularly personal, because it was a fun part of my childhood and a turning point for the city I love. I’m thrilled to see that the Buzz is back in Charlotte!

Canadians Probably Expected More from Target

With over $2 billion in cumulative losses over the past few quarters, Target has announced it will be pulling out of the Canadian market altogether. This decision follows a careful review of all the retailer’s options in the country and the subsequent realization that none would realistically return Target Canada to profitability until 2021. In addition to losses already incurred, the company expects to lose an additional $5.4 billion this year and over half a billion next year, although Target’s climbing stock prices following the announcement show investors’ confidence it made the right call.

In an article in Canada Business last June, Bruce Philip described Canadian shoppers as “complicated”. However, its difficult to just assume that Canadians being set in their ways was the key reason they didn’t flock to Target. National president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, Paul Meinema, mentions Target as a bad neighbor and attributes that to Target’s lack of success in Canada. When Target moved to Canada, they took over the retail footprint of the Zellers chain and reportedly let 20,000 Zellers employees go. Not a great move when you’re trying to win the hearts and wallets of a new market. Supposedly there was also great pricing difference of products compared to those in the US and a USA Today article from yesterday stated that “company lacked the distribution network it needed to supply stores, leaving shelves inconsistently stocked and disappointing shoppers”. Needless to say, Canadians probably expected more and Target couldn’t deliver.

Target made a difficult decision in choosing to exit the Canadian market, an area of weakness and little promise even on an extended timeline. However, by cutting its losses, the company can now redirect its resources into areas of strength and continue to focus on those key initiatives its new CEO identified last year like fashion, children’s products, and natural and gluten free foods. 

Shoppability 2.0 in the age of Curated Discovery

I’ve been thinking a lot about curated discovery lately. As I opened my 1st Stitch Fix box, giddy with excitement, it occurred to me that if this isn’t engagement, I don’t know what is. But not just brand engagement, because to be honest, the brands I was receiving in my stylist chosen box of clothes didn’t matter as much to me as the deep sense of connection I felt with the enabler of this unique experience: Stitch-Fix. They made me feel like they got me and my tastes – and were offering up selections they wanted me to like. Kind of like the stylish friend you shop with so they can introduce you to cool new things. While I did not keep everything my Stitch Fix stylist selected for me, I kept most of them, spending more than I had planned, and happily so.

The personalized, curated aspect of this exchange heightened it beyond a mere transactional purchase to that rarefied realm of marketing nirvana – a space of deep engagement and emotional connection. This notion offers tremendous opportunity for retailers today, who can position themselves as enablers of these more personalized and meaningful shopping experiences.

In today’s connected marketplace, more and more shoppers are demanding increasing levels of personalization – a curated selection designed just for them that helps them find what they are looking for as well as discover new things that might be right for them. If the hallmark of Shoppability 1.0 is about aiding selection through insights driven way-finding and organization, Shoppability 2.0. will require getting these basics right AND infusing a sense of personalized, curated discovery into the experience. This isn’t just a nice to have, but an emerging business imperative that retailers ignore at their peril. A recent article about the shuttering of a number of underperforming Macy’s and JC Penney’s is case in point. Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow, author of The Consumer Mind was quoted in the article as saying “Retail is in a massive transformation period. Consumers have lost their enthusiasm for trolling through massive stores hunting for a bargain. They can do that online.”

In order to remain competitive, brick and mortar retailers will need to up their game, as online retailers and services are surging ahead in this area of personalized, curated discovery. Amazon was a pioneer in the space, making it’s vast assortment more navigable and personalized with “more items just for you”, and there has been a recent proliferation and growing popularity of new online services all geared to promote discovery of relevant items customized to your preferences – from Stitch-Fix and Trunk Club, (stylist-selected clothing for Gals and Guys), to BirchBox (personalized beauty product samples). However, mobile devices and advances in retail tech like beacons, geo-fencing, and digital store signage are beginning to level the playing field for retailers with physical spaces. Retailers that leverage their wealth of shopper purchase data with these technologies to deliver personalization and curated discovery not only in the pre-shop but also at the shelf will be much better positioned moving forward.

Shoppers are looking for connected experiences and personalized choices today more than ever. For brick and mortar retailers, Shoppability 2.0 can become a critical tool in their arsenal to remain competitive amid growing threats from purely digital players.   Aided by retail technologies, Shoppability 2.0, this experience of insightful merchandising coupled with personalized, curated discovery, will have the power to drive deep connections and shopper loyalty all while making the buy happen well into 2015 and beyond.

Shopping: Men Vs Women

In a recent story in The Future of Commerce, Amy Hatch writes about the “Myth of the Mansumer”, a study surveyed of 1,700+ consumers that highlighted the how the differences of shopping habits between men and women are “virtually non-existent”. The main culprit in driving the lack of difference: technology.

Over the last few years, many retailers have worked to craft shopping experiences that separately appealed to the two genders. The “Myth of the Mansumer” study put these beliefs to rest. They found that men are more efficient and concerned about time; they are not influenced by browsing; and they make logical rather than emotional decisions. It turns out that with the rise of online and omni-channel shopping, both men and women are displaying increasingly similar shopping behaviors when it comes to their use of technology and how it shapes their expectations of customer service and the checkout process. However, this increased use of technology has brought a few new areas of difference to the forefront: Women expect store associates to help with in-store returns that were purchased online; women are more influenced by social media; and they spend less time researching products before buying.

With new technologies rapidly changing shopper behavior, it is safe to say most former assumptions about different demographics of shoppers should be carefully questioned, and some will need to be abandoned altogether. For example, while men were once thought to be more concerned about how much time they spend shopping, it turns out they are more likely than women to spend 30 minutes or more researching products before they purchase them. This isn’t to say that gender roles have reversed, however, but they do seem to have converged to a point where gender affects shopper behavior less than in the past. Knowing this, its essential for agencies to develop better shopper segmentations in order to craft retail experiences around the behaviors of a specific target rather than a gender.

Zappos Pops Up in Vegas

While some techies might think the most exciting time to be in Vegas is now, during CES, we were there last month as well and ventured into another type of Vegas spectacle, a pop-up retail experience brought to shoppers by Zappos.

The store took over an old casino space off of Fremont Street in “old town” Las Vegas, an area that is being revitalized with new parks, shops and dining. It was a brilliant, no-longer-so-futuristic shopping experience, with limited merchandise and interactive shopping kiosks. It combined the best of both the online and in-store retail experience — enabling shoppers to browse online and touch/feel the item (or a similar item) before purchasing. Oh, and of course, they offered free returns.


If that wasn’t enough, while at the store, you could visit their fully-stocked bar/lounge and cafe for a snack or beverage.


While we haven’t heard of any plans by Zappos to expand in other locations, we loved our shopping experience and hope others will follow this trend.

#CES2015 – Faster, Smarter – and connected.


The #CES2015 mission by the numbers: In 72 hours, you have to cover 2.2 Million square feet of exhibit floor, wade through over 3600 exhibitors, not to mention a record number of Kickstarter and Indiegogo startups. Oh, did I mention you get to do this with over 170,000 attendees?

Here a quick hit-list of trends for the coming year:

The Connected Home
This year the battle for the smart home continues as the big-time players with recent tech company acquisitions are gaining traction. We are starting to see more some fruits of their labor with even smarter appliances, smarter home devices such as Google’s “Works with NEST” initiative, or Samsung’s “SmarterThings” and Apple’s “Home Kit”.

Connected Cars with Self-Driving/Self Parking Functionality
As the automotive industry continues to squeeze more and more mobile tech into cars, we expect to see more integrated smart watch apps that help  automate tasks or act like a remote control of the car. New platforms to connect the car to the “smart-home” will be coming and, there may be some devices that leverage Apple CarPlay or Google’s Open Automotive Alliance that were announced earlier in 2014.

SmartPhone Accessories
Samsung and Apple don’t have anything big planned since they updated their flagship phones in 2014, but we expect to see some new smartphone accessories that extend the functionality of the smartphone. There continues to be innovation in new battery charging technology and new cases that offer more than just protection.

SmartWatches + Wearables + Fashion/Apparel
We think a lot of the smart watch tech innovation may be overshadowed with Apple’s Smartwatch looming on the horizon. While we’re sure see new and updated smart watches and possibly some cheaper ones, we don’t expect anything too revolutionary this cycle. However, this should lead to renewed innovation in Wearables, as we’ll have access to Apple’s new “HealthKit” platform. We expect to see smarter wearables that track and monitor more biometrics, well beyond sleep tracking and pedometers. Companies such as Adidas, New Balance and a few others are showing technology that moves away from the wrist to become integrated into the clothing, shoes and apparel.

3D Printing, Robots/Drones and VR.
These 3 categories continue to grow each year and, while they are still in their emerging stage, its always interesting to see what type of trajectory they have for the upcoming year. 3D printing may focus more on food, Robots + Drones will continue to get smarter and smaller. More personal drones with built-in cameras are debuting and VR looks to be on the horizon. Facebook, Sony, Samsung and Google are all working to become the dominant player for this specific category.

Smart TV’s Get Smarter, Faster and Better
Samsung is switching over all of its TV’s to their Tizen operating system which should make for a better experience for viewing, interacting and even shopping on TV. LG continues to evolve WebOS. This year, it looks like the big innovation is Quantum Dot, which basically brings better color quality to LCDs so they can compete better with OLED screens.

Cable TV’s Business Model is Under siege – 
Dish debuted their cheap $20/month Sling TV service allowing people to watch an assortment premium channels on major streaming devices (Roku, Xbox One, FireTV) -as well as on mobile devices (iOS/Android) with no contract. A few other interesting devices like Sony’s PlaystationVUE and the Channel+ DVR were at the show, these platforms combine the streaming of over the air channels with some premium subscription programming. As if this isn’t enough competition – Netflix is in the process of certifying even more smart TV’s – and all of the new connected TV’s have streaming capabilities.

Retail Commuting

We are truly a nation of commuters! I, personally, commute via public transportation daily, 90 minutes each way, 5 days a week. The idea of being able to easily and efficiently get my shopping done in route is very appealing. And while I know that this option has been available to me on my mobile for some time, retailers are now using much more interactive, omnichannel tactics to make the process more engaging.

A great example of retail commuting is the IKEA-converted Monorail train in Tokyo created to celebrate the grand opening of one of the retailer’s new locations. Customers were selected, by raffle, to come aboard the IKEA decorated train to party with IKEA staff and gain exposure to the IKEA design aesthetic. The decorated cars were only temporary, but did a good job of introducing the retailer to their new neighbors.


Another example comes out of Zurich where Starbucks created an entire train. The outside was decorated with the Starbuck’s logo and colors and inside they created a soothing palate inspired by different shades of coffee. Riders could visit the on-board café and have their drinks delivered to their numbered tables in the lounge.


Across the UK, hundreds of railway stations have started to open ‘click and collect’ stores including big fashion retailers ASOS, New Look and TM Lewin. Commuters can make purchases online and pick them up on their way through the station. These retailers are really effective in molding to commuters’ busy lives.

In the U.S., New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is hopping on the bandwagon. Earlier this year they rolled out large digital kiosks that display transit system maps. And, Amazon had the brilliant idea of using these kiosks as digital pop-up stores – just in time for the Holidays! Commuters can swipe through the screens to see gift selections and obtain more info about the product. Then, they scan a QR code or send a text message to receive an link, from which they can purchase once they come out of the Subway.


Finally, Peapod has tested virtual grocery shopping at commuter rail stations across Boston, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. They are leveraging technology to create billboardson the train platforms to mimic grocery store aisles. Commuters can use iPhones, iPads, or Android phones to scan a QR code allowing them to download the Peapod Mobile app and then scan bar codes of various products to add to their virtual cart. Once they get on the train, they can continue to add to their cart, pay and schedule their delivery.


Recent publications have cited that in the U.S. people board public transportation 35 million times each weekday with an average commuting time of 25 minutes, each way. That means there’s an opportunity for retailers to garner millions of marketing impressions each day. So, keep your eyes peeled the next time you board public transportation; chances are you’ll see a retailer using an interesting tactic to get you to spend money while you ride!