Sports brands have been using influencers at a macro level since sport was first televised, offering professional athletes huge sums of money to publicly wear their wears. While the sports marketing industry as a whole has largely moved away from big ticket style sponsorship, sports brands have continues to pave the way in their innovative use of influencers.
The reason for this, as our influencer marketing survey uncovered is that only 1 in 5 consumers are likely to buy a product when someone with more than a million followers recommends it. In contrast, 78% of consumers who buy products based on the recommendation of someone they feel they know and trust - like their favourite micro-influencer.
Using influencers also has the added benefits of both being able to tap into newer, more varied markets by spreading the budget across smaller influencers rather than a few big ticket sponsors.
From growing their businesses to unlocking extra product development insight, here are my top three sports brands that are winning at innovative influencer marketing:
Lululemon - Finding novel ways to work with influencers
Unlike some of the major players in sportswear, Lululemon have never spent big budgets on social celebrities. Instead, they built their brand entirely by focusing on engaging local influencers and yoga instructors and gifting them products for photoshoots.
In doing this, not only do they remain incredibly authentic, by choosing an influencer with a genuine affinity to their brand. They have created a loyal community, which in addition to giving product feedback, also partner with Lululemon on social impact programs.
More recently, they ran the #TheSweatLife campaign which achieved enormous success through engaging the micro-influencers amongst their already existing customer base. The result was a viral, low cost and authentic campaign which put the brand in the face of a wider audience.
It works best when you find influencers who post related content on their feed. Working with influencers in the sports industry usually means their audience are into sports too.
Adidas - Micro influencer strategy combined with tech
While Adidas can be counted as one of the pioneers in celebrity endorsements, recently they have very publicly turned their attention to micro-influencers for their influencer marketing strategy.
“These influencers may not have the reach that comes with the brand’s top talent, yet smaller influencers do have resonance” - Marc Makowski (Director, adidas)
The brand has invested heavily in tapping into micro-influencers for content creation, product development and driving sales. In 2017, Adidas powered a micro-influencer sports marketing strategy with technology to tap into a younger urban audience in the form of the Glitch - an app for small scale influencers to share content and product development ideas.
In total 260 influencers were engaged, and with no additional ad budget spent they were able to not only increase sales of their football boots, but also trend on Twitter and the app store.
Speaking at the Campaign Future Fit conference, Stephen Cleary social media manager at adidas Football Global, explained that when it comes to influencer marketing "authentic voices deliver longevity."
Under Armour - macro influencer strategy
Under Armour is the (relatively) new kid on the block that has given the likes of Adidas and Nike a run for their money - pardon the pun!
One of the most striking the secrets to their success lies in their influencer strategy. According to a survey by Sprout Social is the number of their posts that feature celebrities or sports figures - a whopping 75%. By using mainstream sports brands, they naturally establish themselves as a mature, sports clothing brand to work with.
When it comes to influencer marketing, Under Armour consistently pull out the big guns - paid sponsorship campaigns with the likes of Anthony Joshua. They maximise this leverage by re-purposing this same content on their own Instagram pages.
Sports marketers from all over should take note of this strategy. Although they're a newer player compared to other sports brands, they use their budget to work with influencers who have celebrity status. This way, they're able to appeal to a wider demographic of people who likely fit in with your target market.
Asics influencer marketing strategy
Asics sports marketers use a range of influencer types to put together their sports influencer marketing strategy.
Sports marketing relies on showing people what the ideal looks like. When you can convince someone that by doing your sport, attending your sports events, enjoying your sports entertainment or wearing your fitness clothes, you have a chance to improve your business, but most importantly, improve your audiences' and customers' lives.
Influencer marketing in the sports industry relies on sports apparel companies like Asics to work with influencers to further the reach. Without huge budgets, you need to rely on working with brand ambassadors who share the same views and visions your sports brand does.
Setting up influencer programs and encouraging your influencers to use the same hashtags creates a sense of consistency for your influencer marketing efforts. Your target audience come to recognize when an influencer has partnered with your brand. The more they're faced with your brand, the likelihood of it becoming a household name increases.
Although in this campaign, Asics worked with an Olympian, you don't need to only work with mainstream sports stars. To make your budget spread wider, why not consider partnering with amateur athletes or entire sports teams too. These people are new in their sports careers and would appreciate the recognition they'd receive from working with a large brand.
I'm Head of Marketing at ZINE where I am helping peers and customers who want to revolutionise their influencer marketing strategy. I love food, fitness and Min Pins.