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The Ferrari of Publisher Platforms: A new era of data & automation for Sneaker Freaker

The first and only international footwear magazine

2021.04.27 - Fashion - Ahmed Meer

Founded in 2002, the Sneaker Freaker street culture magazine is the first and only international footwear magazine. What started as a DIY-style fanzine has expanded into one of the most revered global sources of sneaker news, and if it’s not featured in its print pages, on their social channels, or on the sneakerfreaker.com website, it ain’t worth knowing.


Nightjar partnered with Sneaker Freaker to undertake the biggest digital overhaul in the brand’s 18 year history. Loved by sneakerheads all over the world, and with a huge global database, Sneaker Freaker is highly regarded as the source of sneaker truth and rebuilding the site from its bones up was a daunting, yet thrilling, challenge.

Sneaker Freaker's vision
The Sneaker Freaker vision

Research / UX Process

We spent several months researching our competitors and interviewing stakeholders to really understand user needs. How do sneakerheads consume content? How do they get their daily fix? Or their hourly fix? What features would they come to rely on?

With a key audience also being the Sneaker Freaker content team, we underwent a comprehensive technical scoping phase to select the best CMS to empower the authors. We are always tech agnostic before we diagnose exactly what our partner’s needs may be.

After unpacking key insights, we pulled together an exhaustive list of features for the brand new site — the challenge? Prioritise those that are key for our users and going to hit those ambitious Sneaker Freaker business and marketing goals.

Our primary goals for the new platform were:

  • A website highly geared toward content — Sneaker Freaker is first and foremost a publisher, not a retailer
  • We want our users to see the most content, immerse themselves in features, keep up to-date, and be entertained
  • Give brands a platform they want to be featured on
  • Launch user accounts and increase newsletter subscriptions

Armed with our key objectives, as well as our new sneaker knowledge, we formulated the idea of the ‘Sneaker-feed’ — creating a content-rich site which sneakerheads are able to filter by only what’s relevant to them using a ‘For You’ tab — fave brands, latest releases, in-depth feature articles.

We started with wireframes of the ideal future state and we used these to scope out our product roadmap. At Nightjar we always start BIG and blue sky to push the boundaries and imagine a world without limits. From here, we prioritise those that are going to be most impactful and place the rest in the backlog.

We created an interactive prototype of these prioritised features and tested mobile and desktop with real users — making sure our key actions of setting up a profile, navigating to feature articles, purchasing through affiliate links as well as finding the latest releases were easily achieved.

We then conducted an exhaustive technical specification taking into account moving to a new headless CMS and undertook an SEO audit with our partners at Sparro to kick off the mammoth task of migrating 18 years’ worth of data from the old site to the new instance. It was crucial nothing was missed.

Design

Sneaker Freaker has its heritage firmly in print magazine editions, but today plays on a global publishing stage, with a website that serves up millions of sessions per month to sneakerheads from Australia to the United States, from Japan to the UK, from the Philippines to Germany. And let’s not forget our friends in Turkmenistan and Tonga! It was imperative from the outset that the design could wow across continents.

Several design concepts were explored which played on the ‘Sneaker-feed’ idea.

Concept / Art Direction workshops

The favoured design drew direct inspiration from sneaker culture, and was a total departure from the previous site. Influenced by the ‘cult’ status of the magazine itself, the ‘Cult’ design concept utilised bold type, future-focused interaction, large imagery, and sneaker-relevant innovative design to deliver an engaging mobile-first publication experience that retained and reflected Sneaker Freaker’s editorial heritage.

We always treat our design phase as collaboratively as possible — so several workshop sessions with the Sneaker Freaker team took us through the mayhem and back again — as we pushed the concept to its limit — and then landed in the sweet spot — with a design that delivers on brand, on our UX strategy and will ultimately deliver financial results.

Personalisation

Personalising the sneaker feed for our sneakerheads was a crucial element to the new build, and was a key consideration as we evaluated and shortlisted our CMS and CRM options. Nightjar are platform agnostic, and take each build case by case. For Sneaker Freaker and their content team, newcomer Sanity CMS, coupled with Vero CRM, were the ones for them.

Personalisation

The new site takes user profile data to algorithmically generate a ‘For You’ feed, serving up personal sneaker preferences on the user’s own, unique homepage. We took into account not only the information the user tells us up-front during the on-boarding process, but also every sneaker they save across the site further improves their unique feed, ensuring it remains relevant over time. This is made possible through the headless, API-driven Sanity CMS — allowing us to access a private and secure user data store all within the one environment. We then sync our user data store with the Vero CRM which is our source of truth and where we segment our user base. From here, not only do we have the power to specifically tailor all content on the site, but it also powers Sneaker Freaker’s weekly email digests. No two emails or homepages are the same — the future is here today!

We engineered automated newsletters for sneakerheads inside Vero that are connected to Sanity for content, delivering the most popular articles of the day by connecting to the Google Analytics API, and exponentially increasing efficiencies for the content team who can send pre-populated emails at the touch of a button. Soon users will have their own ‘For You’ email based on their sneaker preferences.

EDM API
Website data and Google analytics API merge to create automated personalised EDMs.

Integrated e-Comm

We wanted to make sure the Sneaker Freaker merch store played a more integrated role in the new site, rather than feeling like an afterthought. Using the Shopify platform, the new store looks slick and consistent, and users can also save Sneaker Freaker mag issues and gear to their profile, alongside their favourite articles and upcoming drops from the sneaker releases calendar.

Affiliate links integrated with ‘Releases’ show sneaker heads where to get the latest drops.

The City Guides section, growing in importance for Sneaker Freaker as they increase their global dominance, serves as an on-ground wayfinding tool for those planning a trip to sneaker meccas around the world. Favourite stores can be saved to the user’s profile to view later, and relevant articles appear once a city is selected.

Dynamic Placements

As a publisher site, ad placements are a fact of life, creating the ability for brand partners and affiliates to engage with the Sneaker Freaker audience as well as generate leads. We integrated dynamic ad placements on SneakerFreaker.com, allowing the flexibility to place these modules anywhere on site within the CMS. This allows writers to tailor when they should serve up an ad in the content they create. We’re currently working with the team to create bespoke ad placements which harmonise with the content and really elevate the featured brands.

Keeping sneakerheads engaged

As an editorial house, there’s a focus on the in-depth, immersive feature articles Sneaker Freaker is famous for. We took this to the next level with the VERSUS feature articles, the format of which is a two-way conversational battle between two Sneakerheads. Users have the ability to ‘flame’ each comeback with realtime WebGL fire shooting across the page. A live vote allows users with accounts to then place their bets on who took the win.

These engaging feature articles live beside our bread-and-butter content, still keeping the flowing feed of everyday sneaker news and upcoming releases easy to access on the site — as sneakerheads know, recency is currency in the sneaker game.

The ‘Cult’ design idea also utilised a strong colour palette — so we engineered the back-end to automate the perfect background colour for every article, pulled directly from the image of the sneaker itself, to ensure an ever-changing homepage. We also allow the author to choose the typography to further enhance editorial feature articles.
Results

A project of this breadth and complexity takes a serious level of grit, determination and single-minded focus from everyone in the team. It requires a great deal of dedicated energy to keep them momentum up, with a relentless drive to hit the goals we set from the beginning of the engagement. This approach is the very fabric of the Nightjar DNA and allows everyone to contribute in building something beyond the wildest of imaginations — particularly from a technical engineering perspective.

Upon launch, over 30,000 pieces of content were seamlessly migrated over, and zero downtime as we flipped the switch. We take ‘getting results’ seriously and ensure the intended ROI is achieved through ongoing optimisation. We continued to work side by side the Sneaker Freaker content team to ensure they’re utilising this beast of a website to its fullest capability — the new Sneaker Freaker site Nightjar has delivered is a publisher site on steroids, with the flexibility of the Sanity CMS able to be engineered to suit the team’s every need — saving time, energy, and money.

We’re so proud of the final result — a site as entertaining as the mag itself, powered by a heavy-weight back end fuelled by data, which gives the content team unprecedented control and flexibility while maintaining a site with next-level design.

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