Brand Insight in association withLBB's Brand Insight Features

Decathlon’s New Identity: From Sports Retailer to Global Sports Brand

Branding and Marketing Agency
London, UK
Wolff Olins’ creative director, Steffan Cummins, tells LBB’s Zoe Antonov about how this new age for Decathlon unifies the brand’s presence across all of its markets and takes customers through the ‘wonders of sport’
Decathlon, the world’s third biggest sports company, has recently undertaken a global rebrand spanning strategy, design, internal culture and brand experience. Encompassing every Decathlon touchpoint, it’s aimed at migrating the brand’s identity from simply ‘a retailer’ to a louder voice in sporting culture.

This major change comes as a response to the dynamic change of consumer trends within the sports category. The question at the centre of the rebrand’s strategic approach was simply ‘What role does sport play in our lives?’. 

After involving 12,000 participants across six key markets - US, France, UK, Germany, Japan and China - as well as engaging with 70 people’s online ‘sports diaries’ (more on those later), the answer for Decathlon was just as simple: wonder. Enjoying sport was the vein running through the experience of both professional athletes and curious first-time triers. So, the brand decided to strip away the exclusivity and perfectionism in movement, leaving way for accessibility and adventure.

Two years in the making, this revamp revitalises Decathlon’s visual identity, its product portfolio and omnichannel experience. During the process, the Wolff Olins team streamlined an impressive portfolio of 85 brands into a unified and refreshed Decathlon brand.

Naturally, a new brand icon was introduced too, known as ‘L’Orbit’, expressing the Decathlon’s new purpose: ‘to move people through the wonders of sport’.

Defying Decathlon’s space in the sports category, and challenging the category itself, Wolff Olins creative director Steffan Cummins tells LBB’s Zoe Antonov more about this brave new step forward.

LBB> What spurred the rebrand in the beginning two years ago, and what was the vision for it back then?

Steffan> We’ve often referred to Decathlon as ‘Sport’s best untold story’. Despite being the third biggest sport brand in the world, Decathlon’s awareness varied dramatically across different markets and it simply wasn’t getting the credit it deserved for everything it does for sport, beyond being a retailer. 

The arrival of Barbara Martin Coppola as the new CEO in early 2022 was the main driver for the change. With her clear vision to shift Decathlon from a retailer to a global sports brand, Barbara put emphasis on elements like circularity and customer experience. Collaborating closely with her team, we crafted a new North Star for Decathlon: to move people through the wonders of sport. This North Star, focusing on customer experience, sustainability, product innovation, and digital advancement, became the guiding force behind the rebrand and the subsequent upgrade to the overall customer experience that would follow.

LBB> What are some valuable insights that led to the rebrand, and where is the sports sphere headed now? How does the new era of Decathlon reflect that? 

Steffan> The sports landscape is continually evolving, with people seeking diverse ways to stay active and increasingly venturing beyond traditional sports. However, the prevailing sports branding narrative often emphasises grit, glory, perfection, and performance, which - although aspirational - can feel exclusive and discouraging to many.

Our key insight stemmed from recognising this disconnect between the portrayal of sports by big brands and the actual experiences of the everyday sports lovers. Through our research, we discovered stories of joy, freedom and fun, emphasising that enjoyment was the main motivation for most, regardless of practise level.

LBB> How would you say the sports sphere has changed compared to the '00s, and how has the culture around doing sports shifted? 

Steffan> In the ‘00s, sports brands predominantly celebrated excellence and performance, often projecting an elitist image based on the assumption that consumers want to live the lives of athletes. Today, sport has seen a significant shift, becoming more mainstream and intertwined with entertainment, fashion, gaming and experience. In a way, that means sport feels more accessible now than ever, because it's all around us. 

Our research indicates a strong desire among people to engage in sports on their own terms, in a way that connects with their individual preferences and lifestyles. We believe that by reaching beyond the common tropes of sport, we can invite more people in.

LBB> Tell me a bit about the data behind these insights and how it was collected. Which markets did you look at most closely?

Steffan> We ran quantitative research involving over 12,000 respondents across six key markets - US, France, UK, Germany, Japan and China - as well as daily online sport diaries with 70 people across the same markets. This approach meant we were able to capture a diverse range of perspectives, taking into account variations in existing sport cultures, industry size and of course, Decathlon’s strategic priorities. It involved individuals across all practise levels, from beginners to pro athletes, with the aim of understanding their motivations and behavioural patterns. 

The results revealed a clear theme: health and enjoyment are the primary motivations for engaging in sports. Less than 30% gave performance as their main motivation for sport. This disconnect between real motivations and the prevailing narrative we see in sport puts further emphasis on the need to push beyond the tropes and invite more people in. 

LBB> When you moved Decathlon away from perfectionism and towards urging audiences to "make sports theirs" and do it on their terms, was there a worry that you might push away the professional sports communities? 

Steffan> The notion that professional sport communities aren’t interested in enjoyment was disproved by research. It's evident that while their relationship with sport might be differ to beginners, the fundamental principle remains the same: whatever your level, when you stop enjoying it, you stop playing it.

Our aim was never to position play against performance, but to emphasise that they can harmoniously coexist. By shifting away from the portrayal of perfection, we introduced the concept of ‘the wonders of sport’, which explores aspects of what people enjoy about sport - from freedom and feeling good to play, and even occasionally pain.

LBB> Was this idea rooted in a desire for a 180 degree change, or was it a desire to push the envelope of what Decathlon was already doing?

Steffan> The idea wasn’t rooted in a specific desire for 180 degree change, but rather stemming from a recognition that in order to grow and have a more meaningful influence on sport culture, Decathlon needed to shift perceptions from being a retailer to a global sports brand. 

The previous brand of Decathlon was received inconsistently across different markets, so there was a clear need to address the fragmented and inconsistent customer experience. We saw this as imperative if we were to position Decathlon as a more significant player in sport culture.

Our approach was to keep and amplify the aspects of Decathlon that customers already loved, remove anything not working in favour of the strategy, and provide a new set of tools necessary to make these shifts; one of which being the new logo.

LBB> How did Decathlon's internal culture change with the rebranding?

Steffan> We recognised that we would need to approach this transition of internal culture strategically, especially considering the emotional attachment people have to the brand. One aspect of this effort that we are particularly proud of is the development of a custom-built digital platform for the 100,000 plus global workforce. It involved a comprehensive programme of content designed to educate and engage employees about the renewed brand.

Rather than focusing that content on the new brand alone, our emphasis was on aligning everyone with the new North Star and encouraging them to embody the brand in their work; whether that’s in-store staff who might tell personal sport stories to customers, or the image team who are encouraged to capture stories of sport in a new way.

LBB> What led to the creation of the new visual identity for Decathlon and what are some recognisable features you would like to tell us about?

Steffan> The driving force behind the new identity was the new North Star, which set a new direction for the brand and clear strategic objectives. It's really this new narrative and the need to shift perceptions from retailer to global sports brand that led us to develop key elements such as the new logo; L’Orbit. 

L’Orbit has become a central unifying element across almost everything; from layouts that echo the tilted axis of L’Orbi, to motion behaviours that apply the orbital behaviour, to how we move from one thing to another. This cohesive core element enables the brand to stretch across a wide range of sport categories - from basketball to frisbee, running to sailing, horse riding to fishing - and have the ability to immerse customers into a variety of sport universes. 

LBB> How long did it take you to create the L'Orbit, and what insights informed its conception?

Steffan> In the minds of our customers and society at large, Decathlon was primarily known as a sports retailer. The Decathlon wordmark, while it has served the brand well through 40 years of successful business, is deeply associated with its retail stores, and our research told us that people are more likely to wear or use Decathlon-branded products if it featured a desirable symbol. 

We worked in close collaboration with Decathlon’s design, brand team and CEO to develop the new logo. It has been designed to unite its heritage with its future; inspired by the angle of the iconic C/A ligature in the wordmark, combined with movement and circularity. All of these are important themes that will come together to unite Decathlon for its future as a sports brand.

LBB> How did the omnichannel experience change and what informed these changes?

Steffan> Coming back to the fact that Decathlon’s experience was previously fragmented and inconsistent, a huge part of our job was to build a brand that can show up cohesively on all touch-points, from on-screen to in-store. We crafted a unifying DNA and a strong suite of core assets, such as the blue and the bespoke typeface; helping to ensure that every moment feels ‘Decathlon’ without having to plaster ‘graphics’ everywhere. 

LBB> What was the most challenging part of the rebrand? And what was the most rewarding?

Steffan> A huge part of our work that underpinned the big shifts we set out to make was simplifying Decathlon’s vast portfolio of 70+ brands. These brands would often be the lead icons and imagery seen on products, so as a result of this, it was less known that Decathlon made all these products; ultimately they were draining equity, love and affinity from the core Decathlon brand. 

Simplifying its portfolio from 70+ brands to just 10 sport categories with a lead ‘label’ meant we were able to maintain and benefit from the credibility earned by the sub-brands in their respective sports, and in turn, transfer all that attribution back to the Decathlon brand. As you can imagine, the number of people involved in a 70+ brand portfolio, especially with emotional connections to the brands, made the process tough and at times emotional. 

The outcome solidifies Decathlon in a position of strength: it's now one multi-specialist global sport brand.

LBB> What does the next year look like for Decathlon as a brand?

Steffan> Well, this is when the work really starts. We’ve launched the renewed brand, set a clear direction and developed the tools to make it all happen, but now the experience needs to live up to it. They will be renewing their collections; meaning we will increasingly see the new branding feature proudly on new products, and more and more people will get to know the L’Orbit. 

Beyond product though, there’s a real drive to upgrade the customer experience. You may have seen the newly launched website, developed in partnership with the wonderful Work&Co. This is the first of many examples of how Decathlon is planning to improve the way people shop both online and in-store, and making services more accessible so customers can keep getting the most out of their products as they use them. 

We’re excited to see the impact our work will have on every activation as we continue to see more of it out in the real world.

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