Li-Ning, which is named after its eponymous founder and iconic Olympic champion, views the U.S. as an important market to begin global expansion. While it’s already a giant in China – $1.5B in sales and over 8,000 retail stores – Li-Ning remains relatively unknown in the U.S.
Can the 22-year old company’s eastern principles of mind, body and spirit resonate with the American consumer?
Craig Heisner, Li-Ning’s VP of Marketing, Sales and Merchandise thinks so.
“There’s a generation that’s very open to considering a global brand from China. They view China as being almost mystique. They see the world differently than the older generation. We call these people ‘New World Thinkers” and we think they are ready for a brand like Li-Ning.”
Digital Li-Ning, a joint venture between Li-Ning Company and the Chicago-based Acquity Group, which specializes in digital marketing, was funded in July 2011 and launched its e-commerce business just before the year’s end.
“The concept was sold by the Chairman of the Acquity Group, George Lu,” Heisner continued. “It’s a direct-to-consumer play, leveraging digital mechanisms where younger consumers are living. We’re not the only Chinese brand using digital media, but we are the first to enter a large, crowded marketplace as digital-only.”
This is the company’s second pass at the United States. In 2007, Li-Ning opened a design center in Portland, backyard of behemoth rival, Nike. Supply-chain issues and poor positioning caused the company to pull back and re-evaluate.
Now Li-Ning’s taking an entirely different approach, capitalizing on a younger demographic while leaning on the Acquity group and its expertise in digital marketing.
“This is a great challenge and opportunity to launch a consumer sports brand in the U.S. The lead for us is basketball. We’ve established ourselves in a small way with athlete endorsements (Jose Calderon, Baron Davis and Evan Turner) and basketball reaches more of the sweet spot of our 12-24 year-old primary demographic.”
Li-Ning is riding a successful weekend of planned activities at NBA All-Star in Orlando, including a sponsored party and an organized basketball game between influential NBA media and established bloggers.
Turner, who wore a limited release ‘Year of the Dragon’ sneaker, participated in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge and had the chance to showcase his skill-set and custom footwear on a global stage. He shot an impressive 8-for-9 from the field, good for 16 points, and added 11 rebounds and seven assists.
Turner’s not the only who’s posting impressive numbers.
Since the Acquity Group joint venture was formed, Li-Ning has ramped up its Twitter following, increased its Facebook fan base from 1,200 to 26,000 and sees all-time highs in online activity and positive sentiment around the brand. Involving its athletes as the face of the company has also helped spike growth and awareness.
Future plans center on activating around the London games later this year, where Li-Ning’s endorsed by the highly talented and experienced Spanish and Argentinean teams, who are considered key threats to the United States’ repeat gold medal aspirations.
And as for the product’s positioning?
“We’re positioned as a performance brand. We’re not going to compete on price. We’re not astronomical. Our sneakers are priced at the $100 mark.” It’s a long road to gaining a significant foothold in the U.S., but Heisner’s optimistic about the future.
“Early indications show that consumers are not being adverse to looking at our brand. That’s a start.”