adidas and Thread collaborate to scale content

Process improvements and tool selection helps put adidas on stellar growth trajectory.

Executive Summary

adidas looked to writing services studio Thread to outsource product copywriting. What they found was a partner to mastermind an entirely new way of producing quality copy at speed and scale.

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60k

Scaled from 5k product to 60k in less than 4 years.
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3%

Reduced errors to well below industry norms.
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6 mo.

Reduced product copy distribution to within 6 months.
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$1B

Sales made a record leap with no signs of slowing.

Challenges

1. Missing product descriptions meant lost revenue

Products without copy could not be sold. It was as simple as that. No copy, no revenue. Product team silos and an unclear tracking system created the perfect petri dish of ugly or missing copy. As a result, millions of dollars worth of product languished in distribution centers, unable to be listed online until a product description existed.

2. Bad copy is worse than no copy
“Product descriptions are so important for the consumer’s buying decision and for searchability. Because of this, global e-commerce is focusing more on how we bring our products to life in written form.”
- Sebastian Kerl, adidas Global Asset Creating Team

The past 10 years has seen e-commerce emerge as the predominant mode of consumer shopping. As a result, consumer shopping behaviors are shifting and search technology has become smarter at rewarding quality of copy. adidas knew they needed to improve the consumer experience through better product descriptions. This would involve more than just hiring more writers. It was going to require a rethinking of entire processes and systems.

3. Lack of visibility meant stalled growth
“There was no easy way to track progress and that slowed down the process and made it ineffective.”
- Sebastian Kerl

Up to this point, Excel was the primary means of sharing information between Thread and adidas. Despite valiant efforts, the lack of immediate visibility was a constant strain and source of duplicate conversations, missed errors and general confusion.

4. The level of scalability was limiting
“It was clear that our number one problem to solve was getting rid of that confusing back-and-forth. We needed a place to reflect everyone that was going on with product copy across all brands and markets”
- Brian Hennessy, CEO of Talkoot  

Both adidas and Thread wanted to consolidate all 31 markets of B2B and B2C copy into a single process, but at the time only two markets were being run through Thread. The strain was already evident and simply hiring more writers was not a viable option. At the heart of the problem was Excel’s single-user mentality.

How the product helped

Having all the copy centrally located was significant by itself but not revolutionary. Thinking back to the problems, it was not just about distribution of content. It was about getting great content written in the first place.

“It really boils down to convenience and efficiency.”
- Sebastian Kerl
“Because of the pressing need for lots of content, lots of brands right now are just going with sub-par content. Eventually, the world will catch on to generating good content at scale, and Talkoot will be part of that.”
– Brian Hennessy
1. Increased process visibility improved quality and creativity

Visibility starts with shared access. Because Talkoot is cloud-based, it is possible to create a centralized flow of product content and people from beginning to end. With everyone working together, teams can better track progress at all stages while also contributing to the overall quality and accuracy of the content. The major difference with Talkoot is that its interface is designed with the writer in mind, allowing them to freely work in Talkoot vs switching back and forth between Word or Excel into Talkoot.

Today, 200 adidas product managers log into Talkoot daily to work directly with Thread writers, editors and researchers. This access and visibility keeps everyone on track and creates an environment for cross-pollination of ideas and concepts.

The end result is that product copy has improved dramatically. PMs have found that working with writers across different brand segments and product lines has strengthened the product stories and contributed to a more unified understanding of how the brand is communicated through these stories. We know this because all copy goes through the same translation services, and thus adidas is able to compare quality levels within different brand segments. Copy from talkoot has been consistently higher quality across other brand segments not run through Talkoot. Of course this has a lot to do with the skill of the Thread writers, but when interviewing Thread writers it’s clear that using Talkoot makes their job much easier.

2. Carryover and workflow reduced work and increased speed to market
Reuse allowed adidas to save $1M a year by using UK copy as a base and localizing it for US. On-time deliveries went from 80% to 96%.

Copy carryover is no longer something that’s just nice to have. Support for omnichannel marketing has made it a necessity. Teams save days or weeks of work when they can pull from parallel channels or previous seasons. Carryover in Talkoot is much more that copying from another season. Talkoot creates links that can be synced based on timing. This ensures that copy that is synced is complete and reduces the potential of rogue, half-baked copy running amok.   

As Talkoot’s use expanded and more and more product and people were thrown at it, there was a questions about how it would handle the rise in volume. In the end, speed and quality increased because of the combined features mentioned above. The reuse and collaboration created an exponential benefit that continually built on previous high-quality, well-executed seasons.

“Now we receive product descriptions half a year before product information goes live. This helps us grow as a team, expand markets, and continue to fulfill our requirements.”
- Sebastian Kerl
With a 215% increase in copy volume, copy was completed 14% faster, resulting in an overall process that was 26% more efficient.
“Little things like altering a brand technology bullet or updating copy to reflect legal change were now fixable in minutes rather than days.”
– Anne Bowman, Talkoot Co-founder and Chief Customer Success Officer
Better product copy increased sales
In 2014, the adidas Group had online sales of $466M. In 2016, sales were more than $1B.

There are many factors to adidas’ astounding rise over the past few years, but adidas’ overall strategy of brand consistency required strong processes and systems. Because of Talkoot, Thread and adidas were able to provide well written, effective copy to 31 markets globally. The original goal was to handle only 15 but because of the success of Talkoot expansion was a no brainer.

In the end the solution arrived through a combination of process and tools. Talkoot was specifically designed for creating and storing product copy. adidas and Thread use talkoot mostly to manage the creation of copy and through integrations the copy is then synced with other adidas systems.

How was it implemented

Because talkoot started as an internal tool for Thread, implementation with adidas took place in three phases:

Phase 1: Thread usage and process

Thread started using talkoot early, before adidas was fully aware of the solution. Copy was imported and exported through Excel. This helped Thread prove Talkoot’s value before pulling adidas into the solution.

Phase 2: adidas initial rollout

The first team at adidas was their brand segment adidas Originals, a team of about 30 product managers. The goal was to introduce Talkoot and demonstrate the value of a centralized collaborative tool for copy creation. The team was very enthusiastic and it didn’t take long for word to get out among other adidas’ teams.

Phase 3: Faster-than-expected adoption

Because Talkoot helped PMs work faster and allowed Thread to take on more products, adoption happened quickly. The intuitive UI allowed new users to onboard quickly, and adidas PMs preferred the new process to the old one.

Looking Ahead

Broadening departments and integrations are in the future

As adoption grows, more people within adidas are finding value in Talkoot. Currently copy translation team members are signing in to review the copy. Looking ahead, additional departments such as customer success and sales would find value in the quick-search capabilities and descriptive product information Talkoot can offer. Integrations with internal adidas systems such as translation tools and product information systems are also under way. This will build on existing integrations with adidas’ digital asset management that will allow product images to update consistently.

Talkoot makes product copy simple.

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