Sneakers may conjure up images of dirt-crusted, formless shoes with tattered laces worn to the gym or to take the dog out on a walk. Some brands are trying to kick that association to the curb with sleek sneakers made from high-quality materials. Allbirds, Greats, and Koio want to prove that sneakers can serve as a casual-but-presentable footwear choice.
But is there room in the sneaker market for sensible shoes that are also fashionable? And, if so, what are consumers looking for in this new type of footwear?
Best foot forward
All of these sneaker brands are relatively new. San Francisco-based Allbirds launched in March 2016; Brooklyn-based Greats launched August 2013; and New York City-based Koio launched May 2015.
In terms of social media conversation volume, newcomer Allbirds has dominated Greats and Koio since July 2016. The Allbirds discussion volume spiked on Mar. 1, 2016, when the brand launched its first product, a $95 shoe called Wool Runner. Reviews were widely circulated on Twitter. The discussion volume decreased from March to May, but rose from May to September.
On Sept. 7, 2016, Allbirds raised $7.25 million in Series A funding and offered new shoe colors. People shared the TechCrunch story that announced the news. On Apr. 4, 2017, Allbirds generated buzz when it launched a new shoe called the Wool Lounger. Their launch was met with positive response, as many consumers praised the shoe’s comfort.
Greats experienced a bump in social conversation on Mar. 19, when Business Insider published a story profiling the company.
— Lifestyle Insider (@lifeinsider) March 19, 2017
Koio’s time to shine was Oct. 8, 2016, when it collaborated with a tattoo artist for a live sneaker customization event. Its discussion volume in October overtook Greats, but not Allbirds.
The share of voice between the three brands in Q1 2016 is drastically different from the share of voice between the three brands in Q3 2017. In Q1 2016, Greats dominated the conversation with 68 percent share of voice while Allbirds had 26 percent share of voice. In Q3 2017, Greats’ share of voice sunk to 18 percent. Allbirds’ share of voice rose to 74 percent in Q3 2017.
The 4 measures of a great sneaker
When looking at the discussion for all three brands, some common topics emerged: comfort, design, price, and quality were the most common topics mentioned in the conversations surrounding the three sneaker brands. However, the prominence of the topics differed for each brand.
For Allbirds, 89 percent of the conversation was on comfort. Eight percent discussed nice design. Some customers said that the comfortability of Allbirds may have jeopardized the shoe’s look. Three percent discussed affordability, and only 1 percent discussed high quality.
The weird thing is that Allbirds, though comfortable, are ugly as sin. Or maybe that makes perfect sense here. https://t.co/9Rl8Bg535O
— Jacob H. Wolman (@jwolman) August 11, 2017
The share of voice of discussion topics for Greats is more evenly distributed. Thirty-four percent discuss comfort. Twenty-five percent discussed nice design. Closely following nice design is high quality, with 24 percent share of voice. Seventeen percent discussed affordability.
— Danchise Phillips (@dansphillips27) August 31, 2016
For Koio, nice design is the most prominent topic, with 39 percent share of voice. Following nice design is comfort, with 30 percent share of voice, then affordability with 26 percent share of voice. 4 percent discuss high quality.
— Jo Ann Palchak (@palchaklaw) May 27, 2016
Using an opinion monitor, we decided to look at the sentiment drivers for the most popular brand, Allbirds. Excluding neutral, positive sentiment is higher than negative sentiment by 18 percent. Top drivers of positive sentiment are eco-friendly, comfortable, and different colors. In a world where consumers are increasingly concerned about how ethically produced their products are, eco-friendly dominates the discussion with 42 percent share of voice. Top drivers of negative sentiment are expensiveness, unattractive design, and shipping concerns. At $95 for both its signature products Wool Runner and Wool Lounger, Allbirds is not cheap.
totally. Dresses + @allbirds. It’s a runner thing. ?
— Sally Bergesen (@oiselle_sally) September 28, 2016
Analyzing the sneaker audiences
You might expect these three sneaker brands to appeal to a similar audience, but the social data begs to differ. The age distribution for those discussing each sneaker brand varies greatly. Allbirds is popular with an older crowd, with 79 percent of the discussion generated by those 35 and above.
As we move down the age brackets, Allbirds discussion dwindles. Koio is also favored most by those 35 and above, with that age bracket making up 64 percent of the discussion. However, almost a quarter of the conversation is generated by those in the 25-34 age bracket, 10 percent higher than Allbirds. Greats is most popular with millennials, with 56 percent of the discussion generated by those in the 25-34 age bracket. The second most popular is those 35 and above, generating 27 percent of the discussion. For all the three sneaker brands, those 24 and below show little interest compared to those 25 and above.
The differences between the brands aren’t only about age. They also lie in audience interests. Comparing Allbirds to Greats, the differences are stark. Allbirds appeals predominantly to tech-savvy Bay Area residents while Greats attracts fashionable New York City residents.
Those discussing Allbirds are interested in tech pursuits like web design, software development, and CSS. They are also immersed in the startup scene, with interests in innovation, Silicon Valley, and venture capital. They opt to read publications like TechCrunch and are interested in tech giants Apple and Microsoft. Unsurprisingly, the cities that are the most prominent in their affinities are San Francisco and Seattle. Allbirds appears to have a more cult-like following than Greats.
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I feel like I’ve joined a cult.
— Josh Wilburne ? (@joshlikesdesign) February 17, 2017
Consumers discussing Greats, on the other hand, are not as tech-obsessed. Many of them have a strong interest in Wii. But the rest of their interests are more consistent: fashion week, haute couture, shoes, and sneakers demonstrate a strong interest in fashion. Interest in music is indicated by hip-hop and Soundcloud. Nike, Peyton Manning, skateboarding, and UFC demonstrate interest in sports.
Sneakers have evolved from an athletic shoe to a status symbol: Adidas Stan Smiths can be found in the crowds at Fashion Week. The chic sneaker has reached such high levels of demand that people have written guides detailing the steps to take to launch a sneaker startup. By using social media analysis, we are able to look at which sneaker brands are leading the charge and unearth the reasons why.