Whether it’s Gigi Hadid for Reebok, Kanye West for adidas, or Rihanna for Puma, when you think about any of the world’s biggest sports brands, there is one thing that they all have in common — a celebrity spokesperson.
For today’s athletic apparel companies, leveraging the influence of a celebrity is an integral part of its brand building. From boosting credibility to creating emotional connections, when it comes to marketing, a celebrity endorsement can be worth its weight in gold. For Puma, its high-profile collaboration with Rihanna has been a driving force behind its increase in profitability. The popstar boosted sales by almost 8% (approximately $848 million) soon after the company named her as its brand ambassador, back in 2014. For a rumoured payout of just over $1 million, the return has been pretty impressive.
But, while traditional endorsement deals such as these continue to grab the headlines in the sportswear category, for yoga apparel brand Lululemon, their strategy has taken a different tack.
Instead, the Canadian company has chosen to nurture a community of driven athletes and inspirational individuals to harness the brand’s passion, in order to inspire new and existing customers and boost sales.
Known as the ‘Ambassador Program’, the intention is to “celebrate and promote local leaders who reflect our culture and share our passion and dedication for elevating the health and fitness of our communities,” explains Lindsay Claydon, Director of Brand and Community, Europe.
The group, which is made up of local yoga instructors, social influencers, and elite athletes, lead complimentary in-store classes including yoga and running groups, participate in global events, and interact with stores and customers on a regular basis. In addition, elite ambassadors contribute to the brand’s design process, test its products and provide feedback, to create the best product possible for yogis and athletes.
“Stores choose local ambassadors for their locations who are leaders in their respective community and reflect our culture and passion for the fitness and health community,” says Claydon. This creates more authentic and engaging relationships and supports the brand in building connections with consumers it may not have reached previously.
Essentially, the ambassador program acts as a living, breathing advertisement for lululemon, which in return helps the ambassadors to build their own personal brands.
“Apart from getting to product test and live and breathe in lululemon’s latest product, we provide them (ambassadors) with tools to help identify their career, personal and health goals. Once identified, we work in partnership to help them achieve anything from growing their personal training business to raising funds for their charity. Each ambassador experience will look different, as the experience is curated in partnership between the store and ambassador,” Claydon tells Welltodo.
It’s a relationship that is akin to the ethos that runs through everything the lululemon brand is built on; self optimisation.
“It’s so much more than apparel, it’s about people,” explained Potdevin on CNBC’s ‘Mad Money’ last year. “It’s an investment in people, giving them their best life, personal development and creating incredible product that allows them to live their life,” he added.
In line with its experiential retail concepts, Sweatlife festivals and hyper-local lululemon lab in New York, the ambassador program capitalises on the spending potential of its highly engaged community by investing in its people both internally and externally.
It helps to create a sense of family and true value for its customers while representing the intersection and collection of people, pursuits and ideas, which are a central tenet of the company’s overall marketing strategy. More importantly, it provides a vehicle in which the business can market the ‘brand lifestyle’ more organically.
Claydon argues that the band of 1,100 strong ambassadors have a reach that transcends their own communities, and collectively they have the potential to cause change on a global scale. But, what does being an ambassador really encompass?
Amy Hopkinson, Digital Editor at Women’s Health Magazine became an ambassador earlier this year. For the wellness expert and influencer, the role enables her to share the message that there’s more to being healthy than going to the gym. At the same time, “working with the lululemon team helps me to connect with more women who inspire my work and cultivate the conversation for the next generation,” she reveals.
Currently, her ambassador duties include hosting a series of in-store monthly talks at the brand’s flagship store on Regent St, London. However, she says there’s more to come.
“Despite the number of people flooding through central London, it can often feel quite soulless.
Too many people with not enough time to connect. I hope that over the next two years I’ll be able to change even just a small part of this by helping lululemon create a healthy, social space in their lovely new store,” she tells Welltodo.
Representing lululemon by talking about the brand and their values is something that Hopkinson’s fellow ambassador Kevin McGuire, a London-based Psycle instructor and personal trainer admits, is something he already does all of the time.
Like Hopkinson, he is excited to help create community events that spread awareness about the brand and excite the local community, while wearing the product and talking about why he loves it so much.
But more so, being a lululemon ambassador gives him access to incredible support for his own goals, both personally and professionally, he admits.
“Every day I get to meet new people that I can connect with in different ways, get inspired by and learn from,” he explains. And for lululemon that sense of inspiration and passion fosters itself as a marketing tool that money can’t buy.