Speedo Wades Into the Social-Media Pool

Marketer Hopes Digital Platform -- With Shades of Nike+ -- Will Foster Community, Broaden Consumer Base

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Speedo isn't just a brand; it's a community. And the iconic swimwear marketer is taking a rather radical approach in expanding that community beyond competitive swimmers.

Urging enthusiasts to "Dive in," Speedo is rolling out a new platform dubbed "Pace Club," along with a newly redesigned website, catalog and tagline. Pace Club includes a mobile app that allows swimmers to sign up for training programs, log workouts, view professional athletes demonstrating proper technique and share their progress with friends through Pace Club's virtual "Swim Team," as well as on Facebook or Twitter. "Splash Tags" allow consumers to search for and review pools -- 3,500 pools have already been entered into the system, the most comprehensive directory in the country. There's also a blog featuring content from a dozen Speedo athletes and a product widget highlighting relevant Speedo products.

"We went in with a digital strategy and came out with a whole new business endeavor," said Omino Gardezi, CEO of New York-based digital boutique Syrup, which is working with Speedo. "We're hoping to make Speedo the pioneering brand in swimming, as far as online. It's all quite radical to swimming. It's been a very traditional sport."

Speedo hopes to make a splash with its Pace Club community.

The goal is to expand the brand's user base and make it more inclusive. "We're reaching out to more fitness swimmers and active consumers," said Katie Tyrrell, director-marketing at Speedo. "We realized we needed to go out there and try some new things and provide some new tools that position us as a brand that 's not just for Michael Phelps. Pace Club will put us on a path in that direction."

The target audience for Pace Club is still relatively niche; Speedo has pegged the competitive and fitness swimming market at about 8.8 million people. But Pace Club could have broader implications moving forward. Ms. Tyrrell says there are 83 million active purchasers of swimwear in the market and swimming is emerging as an aspirational sport, according to one industry survey.

The comparisons to Nike + are inevitable, though Pace Club, for now, is reliant on manual data entry. "For now, our main focus is on the launch of Speedo Pace Club and the success of its existing functions, but we will be exploring ways to expand the Speedo Pace Club platform in the future, including the possible integration of GPS into some of our existing products, while also looking at waterproof cases and workout holders," Ms. Tyrrell said. "Ultimately, user feedback will help guide the evolution of Speedo Pace Club."

Speedo, which last year reported $217.5 million in sales, faces a unique challenge. The number of consumers aware of the brand far outnumbers those consumers who regularly use the brand. But it's one that the brand's chief, Jim Gerson, president-swimwear at Warnaco, Speedo's parent company, has encountered before. Mr. Gerson spent eight years at The North Face before joining Speedo a year ago.

"When I went to North Face in 2001, it was pretty much known as a mountaineering brand. We were able to take a lot of those same aesthetics to an aspirational brand," Mr. Gerson said. "Not everyone climbs Everest, but you see people walking around New York City with the same technology in their jackets [as the people who do]. There's definitely a correlation there with Speedo."

Last summer, with the London 2012 Olympics on the horizon, Speedo began thinking about where it wanted to take the brand and the sort of presence it wanted to have by the summer of 2012. Ms. Tyrrell says she's keen to solidify the brand's presence in the digital space.

During the Beijing 2008 Olympics, several of Speedo's athletes, most notably Michael Phelps, were much-discussed in the online world. Mr. Phelps won a record eight gold medals during the Games. "Michael Phelps has set off a chain reaction that raised the profile of swimming," said Ben Abramowitz, creative director at Syrup. "As we move toward this Olympics, there is a wave happening that Speedo is riding on the crest of . It puts Speedo in a position to change the nature of swimming and take advantage."

Pace Club is rolling out this month and will be promoted at the world swimming championships taking place in Shanghai through July 31. Ms. Tyrrell says there will be a digital and social-media campaign, as well as point-of -sale promotion. But for now, Pace Club will rely primarily on grassroots marketing efforts and word-of -mouth.

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