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SDD & ME #_8: OANA LEONTE


In conversation with Oana Leonte, Marketing Director for Accessories at Puma and host of the Unmtchd Podcast.



Oana is a seasoned brand & marketing executive with 20+ years of experience across consumer products , licensing and brand partnerships for top entertainment , sports and fashion companies like Walt Disney, Warner Bros., Paramount, Springfield and PUMA. She is a passionate speaker on the power of brand authenticity, the holistic brand thinking and marketers as the soul of the brand. Her work is driven by a simple mission: to inspire marketers to find their voice, own their story and build better brands for the future.


SDD: Throughout your extensive career to date how have you seen the landscape of retail evolve, and what trends do you anticipate shaping the future of the industry?


OL: My first professional touchpoint with the retail world was at my first job at Walt Disney, in Spain, where I worked with the biggest retailers in the market to implement Disney’s franchises and movies through consumer products. So, on one side I could see the one-dimensional approach of those retailers that simply displayed products and occasional activations for consumers to look at and buy from. On the other side, I observed how different the consumer experience in the Disney Stores was, where young and older consumers alike were connecting with the brands in a completely different way, in a much more personal way.

 

That experience completely shaped how I look at marketing and brand building and I believe that the future of the industry, especially when we look at luxury and lifestyle brands, will be around how deep and effective these brands can create consumer experiences around, that generates not only consumers, but also brand advocates.


Puma Speedcat Pop-Up, Seongsu-dong Korea.


 

SDD: With the rise of digital experiences, how do you envision the role of physical brand activations in engaging and connecting with audiences in real life? What strategies have you found most effective in bridging the gap between online and offline experiences?


OL: Gen Z consumers offer the biggest paradox that we, as marketers, need to solve for – they search for products mainly online, in a very non-linear journey, yet they still crave for IRL experiences that generate a feeling of community, connection and understanding of their most personal needs. See, as humans, we don’t change as much on the deepest level – we want human connection, and we want to be understood. Hence the best brand experiences will be able to create just that, seamlessly from online to offline, web 3, AR and whatever will come next. In the end, the consumer has to be able to experience the brand in the same way across any platform they’re on and be able to connect equally each time.


 

SDD: Given your wealth of experience, could you share examples of successful brand activations that not only captivated consumers but also provided educational and inspirational value? How can brands strike a balance between entertainment and meaningful content in their IRL initiatives?


OL: Going back to my Disney years – I remember how rich the marketing plan for that movie launch was. Of course, it was a long saga ahead of us at that time (talking about 2003 feels like a lifetime ago!), but it was impressive how well though through it was. From the merchandise launches (which is always a huge part of any movie launch at Disney), to events in store, consumer experiences at the Disney amusement parks, to having the one and only Johnny Depp appear at the parks and surprise visitors, to him going to schools and hospitals and connecting with young children directly, you could see how that entire plan sparked the imagination of consumers everywhere.

 

And in my recent career, as our team launched a headwear capsule collection called Hometown Heroes in 2022, inspired by the street collectives and subcultures in the most creative neighbourhoods of cities like New York or London, we connected with local artists that expressed more than just a love for the product we did, they talked about their own experiences as creatives and how those shaped their identities as artists and entrepreneurs. And as we connected product with people, you could feel the sense of community that was being built by sharing those experiences that united us all. It was amazing to see that happen in real life!


Puma Hometown Heroes Collection


 

SDD: The concept of connected consumer activations is gaining prominence. How can brands leverage technology and innovation to enhance the physical retail experience, creating a seamless and interconnected journey for consumers across all touchpoints?


OL: As mentioned before, the consumer journey must feel seamless across all touchpoints. Not all consumers will follow the brand across all platforms, so we need to ensure that at whatever the individual journey is, the outcome is the one we are looking for.


 

SDD: In your view, what are the key challenges and opportunities for brands looking to create memorable and impactful brand experiences? How can they navigate these challenges to leave a lasting impression on consumers?


OL: The main challenge is always the same: how to cut through and really engage with consumers in such an incredibly saturated marketplace. Yet, small brands – especially founder led – manage to find ways to do just that, by being incredibly personal, and growing a very engaged community around them. Looking at examples like Tala, or Gymshark, and even influencer led brands like Skims or Rhode, you can easily see how those brands find innovative ways to connect and engage their audiences. The real challenge and opportunity at the same time, especially for bigger brands, is to achieve the same effect with much more complex structures and way more internal layers to go through. It’s not easy, but I believe is possible, by implementing layered strategies that enable the brand to be more personal, more in tune with consumer needs and more aligned with the cultural expression of their core audience at each point in time.


Tala, Skims, Gymshark and Rhode Activations.


 

SDD: As the Marketing Director at PUMA what strategies has the brand employed to stay ahead in the competitive marketplace? How does the brand ensure it remains relevant to consumers and continuously evolves its brand presence?


OL: At PUMA we have a strong heritage and 75 years of amazing brand moments that still hold true today. We operate with a forever faster mentality – in product, marketing, partnerships and customer interactions – which allows us to always stay ahead of the game. From collab'ing with Rihanna (again, yaaaay!!) and A$AP Rocky, to incredible motorsport long standing partnerships and football teams we sponsor, our brand has grown stronger in our performance rooted positioning. And I am sure that we will continue to push culture forward in the years to come.


Fenty x Puma Anfu Road Pop-Up


 

SDD: With your background in brand partnerships, how do you see collaborations influencing the future of physical spaces? Can you share examples of successful brand partnerships that have elevated the experience for consumers and set new benchmarks in the industry?


OL: Brand partnerships are one of the most powerful tactics a brand can use to position itself in a certain space. It’s a brilliant way to enhance the awareness into new categories and connect with an entirely new consumer base that was not before connected with the brand.

 

One of the most brilliant example I can think of was Red Bull® and GoPro®, a brand partnership that has defined the meaning of co-marketing excellence.

 

At a quick glance, it may not seem like Red Bull and GoPro have much in common in terms of products; the former specializes in energy drinks, while the latter manufactures action cameras. Unlikely as it seems, these two brands actually share the same vision and even formed a global partnership around it: to inspire the world to live a bigger life.


GoPro and Red Bull


 

SDD: With your wealth of experience, what advice would you give to emerging marketers and brand strategists looking to navigate the evolving world of connected consumer experiences in the years to come?


OL: I always stick to my basics: curiosity, empathy, creativity. The world keeps changing, now at a much quicker pace than before, and huge opportunities unfold ahead of us alongside the technological advance we are experiencing. We can’t possibly keep up with everything, nor will a focus on hard skills be a smart way to go moving forward, as AI will take over a lot of our most technical skills. Yet the human experience still remains anchored into our identities, our values and the power of our imaginations.

 

So I would encourage everyone to never stop exploring, and to continuously reinvent themselves for a world that we can’t yet even imagine. It’s extremely exciting times we’re living in, and the level of personal and business opportunity is huge.




Oana is the Marketing Director for Accessories at Puma and host of the Unmtchd Podcast.

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