Olympic runner Steve Prefontaine once said that “to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
That’s the attitude Steve Lesnard has brought to the global marketing industry, where he’s helped shape some of the world’s largest sports equipment companies. Working with some of the world’s greatest sports stars, Lesnard has learned that building a successful company is a lot like training to be an athlete. ”Working with elite athletes taught me the value of setting big and audacious goals for yourself and giving yourself the means to achieve them through commitment, hard work, and preparation,” Lesnard said.
Lesnard is a creative and strategic brand leader with more than 20 years of experience in digital marketing and brand building. His work has taken him around the world, leading major product launches for three Olympics and creating new brands to better serve athletes. For Lesnard, success is about not only combining marketing and technology to make good products but also becoming obsessed with the process.
Have a Clear Mission
Having a mission is central to Lesnard’s daily practice. His focus starts when he wakes up for his morning workout and carries him through the day. “I always set clear mid and long-term goals, which allows me to organize and prioritize my day based on the tasks that are the most important and urgent when compared to the bigger picture objectives. Planning ahead allows me to never rush,” he says in an interview with IdeaMensch.
Lesnard says that he has learned how to plan ahead with the help of technology, which keeps him mission oriented during the week. “I rely heavily on technology and certain applications to help manage and maximize my time and try to constantly prioritize what is most important, urgent, and relevant,” he says. “Overall, I always try to set clear objectives for myself that will help me guide and prioritize my focus during the week.”
His mission has also guided him since he first realized his passion for bringing innovation into the sports marketing world. Lesnard grew up between Paris and the South of France, where he was exposed to both nature and urban creativity. That helped develop his appreciation for both fast-paced innovation and the slower, more authentic human experience of being outdoors. He works to combine those elements into products that can help consumers enjoy both.
“Sports has always been a big part of my life. I’m passionate about various disciplines, from martial arts and running to mountain biking, snowboarding, and kite surfing. When you participate in these outdoor activities, Mother Nature forces you to focus and appreciate her strength, power, and beauty,” he says.
After business school in Paris, Lesnard went on to get his MBA in entrepreneurship from Babson College near Boston, which solidified his interest in international marketing. Lesnard says that he stays grounded in his mission, which helps him figure out how to split his time between pressing tasks and those that require a longer-term commitment. “I can tackle the important projects while also giving me the time and flexibility to react to any new and urgent topics that require my attention,” he says.
Be Consumer Obsessed
In addition to being mission oriented, Lesnard says that the core of his work is developing a deeper understanding of his customers. “Truly understanding consumer needs, aspirations, and their journeys help identify opportunities for brands and services to engage with consumers in meaningful ways,” he says. That’s become a tenant of Lesnard’s work over the past two decades as he’s helped build products for both professional athletes and sports enthusiasts around the world.
Lesnard started his career as the marketing director of a women’s luxury fashion brand, Wolford. There, he helped expand the product into the U.S. and carve out a space for the company in the global market. He later went on to serve as the Global Sports Marketing and Footwear Project Manager at one of the largest athletic brands in the world. In this role, he helped provide gear for both the American and Canadian snowboard teams for the 1998 Winter Olympics. The first two men ever to win gold medals for snowboarding competed in the Olympic games that year.
He then helped innovate the brand’s products for women in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. That revolutionized the brand’s retail sports equipment for women while continuing to build the brand’s name around the world. He later joined the general management team and helped generate over $5.3 billion in annual revenue. Lesnard says that he was so successful in that role because he kept his strategy straightforward: develop and find simple methods to build and develop a brand. This method includes a defined brand and product strategy that focuses on a consumer-centric approach where the benefit of a product and/or service is made clear to the consumer.
Lesnard has learned how to better understand his target consumers by focusing on the world’s love of sports. “Sports is an international language that has allowed me to bridge cultural gaps by focusing on common values and leveraging incredible sports and consumer moments to create truly global brand experiences,” he says. That means focusing not only on aesthetics but also the utility of the products that his company creates. He says that he and his team “always spend a lot of time refining the product or service that a brand offers to deliver the most relevant and meaningful proposition to consumers.”
According to Lesnard, at the core of his projects is an obsession with giving customers the best experience possible. “We always spend a lot of time refining the product or service that a brand offers to deliver the most relevant and meaningful proposition to consumers,” he says. “What is unique about the product? What key benefits does it offer? Why will consumers care and remember it? Being clear on these three points sets a strong foundation to build a brand.”
Lesnard has helped create memorable brands by personalizing the products that they offer using data and technology. He says that “personalization at scale is really exciting. Through the incredible amount of data shared by consumers, brands now have the opportunity to become more personal than ever before by delivering and even exceeding consumers’ expectations.”
Have Big Ideas
Much of Lesnard’s success has stemmed from having big ideas. In his work, Lesnard says that he has learned to identify which holes need to be filled and worked to create strategies to fill them. “Throughout my career, I have always looked for the ‘white spaces’ where I could expand or reach new business opportunities,” he says. “Staying curious and being a student of the game has always kept me grounded and excited about the latest innovations, consumer trends, or brand innovations.”
This curiosity pushed Lesnard to lead the very first women’s initiative at the leading sports brand where he worked and work on big and ambitious projects that had never been done before. Lesnard created the company’s first women-only retail stores, partnering with influencers like Jamie King, Madonna’s choreographer, and global superstar Rihanna to inspire women to engage in sports. “I really enjoyed the opportunity to help disrupt this very established industry through innovative product and marketing strategies,” Lesnard says.
Lesnard’s work is also behind some of the biggest projects in global sports, such as Olympic marketing campaigns in Beijing, London, and Rio De Janeiro. Lesnard also helped transform the company’s running division into its fastest-growing category for three years in a row with $5.3 billion in global annual revenue. He launched and helped design various products. He also built a strategic partnership with Apple and developed and running community of over seven million members.
Lesnard says that his inspiration comes from collaboration. “My thinking process is driven by conversations with my teammates. I firmly believe that great ideas can come from anywhere, and group thinking can help develop and sharpen your thoughts,” he says. “From my experiences, the best way to bring ideas to life requires three components. First, define the actual idea and paint a clear picture of the problem that you are trying to solve. Second, know the consumer that you are targeting, and third, be clear about the benefit that the product or service will deliver to the consumer. I call this process the ‘what phase’ – what idea, consumer, and product benefit.”
Lesnard says that the real work comes after the ideas phase. “Then you can focus on how. How can you bring an idea to life in the most distinctive and impactful way possible? By focusing on the consumer journey that you are trying to serve, which will improve their experiences.”
Focus on Your Members
Just as sports teams can’t be great with only one star player, Lesnard says that businesses can’t be great unless there’s a spirit of teamwork and collaboration – both within a company and with consumers. “I’ve learned from the world of sports that you are only as successful as your team, and from my experience, an aligned and empowered team against a common goal becomes unstoppable,” Lesnard says.
That’s why Lesnard has strived to build teams and products that are inclusive to fully represent the diverse needs of the sporting world. “Building and fostering a diverse team – with different backgrounds, perspectives, and points of view – empowered to bring their individual expertise and opinions has proven to create the most innovative, creative, and effective plans that I have been a part of,” he says.
By working closely with his team and his customers, Lesnard says that he has realized that the sweet spot in global marketing is the product of this union. “I always start with their consumer target in mind, as I believe that consumer-centric organizations are in the best position for long-term success.” Lesnard claims that learning from people with different backgrounds has also helped him overcome industry challenges. To make the most of these perspectives, he says that entrepreneurs need to be curious about industry leaders in other parts of the world and willing to learn from their varied cultures and backgrounds.
That mindset has also helped him better serve athletes with diverse physical needs by creating products that help them and providing customer service to support them and answer their questions. “Understanding these consumer pain points helped to reshape our strategy to ensure that we could become the authoritative and go-to source to answer these two questions,” he says. “It also enabled our team to create meaningful and personal connections with consumers on their running journey.”
Lesnard believes that the insight shared between consumers and creators will help reform the way the market works. “This will fundamentally change the relationships between brands and consumers.”
Work with Passion
By using these strategies in his day-to-day work, Lesnard has created something larger than himself. He claims that this could not have happened if he’d stuck with the status quo. It required risk to see the reward. “Always strive to reach your fullest potential. Don’t settle for ‘good’ when you could achieve ‘greatness.’ Embrace all the trailblazing unknowns and risks that this might entail. It is a path that I have always tried to follow, and it has served me well,” Lesnard says.
Lesnard brings that same energy to his personal life as he strives to be the best parent and husband he can be. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and three children. “Above all, my biggest passion lies in doing the very best I can to raise my three children with my wife and trying to teach them the best that we have to offer to make them caring, confident, and loving global citizens.”
The love of the game that first attracted Lesnard to the industry continues to keep him going day in and day out. It’s fueled by his passion for adventure and his love for discovery. “Sports are a big part of my DNA, and when I am not running or mountain biking, I am looking at the wind or snow forecast to find the best spot somewhere around the world,” he says.
Prefontaine believed that runners shouldn’t hold back. He refused to pace himself during his races – preferring to lead the pack until the bitter end when he ran out of steam. His motto was that athletes should give 100 percent in every race and never hold out until the end. That’s an idea that Lesnard strives to uphold in his life and work. “Be truly passionate about what you are trying to achieve,” he says, “and embrace the journey to get there, as it is never a straight line.”