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Gymshark and Flow Share Their Secrets for Brand Discoverability

Gymshark and Flow Share Their Secrets for Brand Discoverability, sitting.

This talk was originally presented at Commerce+ in 2019 in New York. In this series, we’ve pulled together relevant talks from our past events in Sydney, London, and New York City.

What is Commerce+

For the last two years, Shopify Plus has hosted Commerce+, a global thought leadership conference that brought together industry leaders to share their knowledge and best practices in the ever-evolving world of commerce.

During this talk, Hana Abaza, Director of Marketing at Shopify Plus, Noel Mack, Chief Brand Officer of Gymshark, and Krissie Millan, Chief Marketing Officer of Flow Hydration discuss how they’ve managed to attract new customers by exploring different social channels. 

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Abaza: I really want to start off though with you telling us a little bit about yourselves and your brands. Maybe Noel, we can start with you.

Mack: I’m Noel, CBO at Gymshark, which means chief brand officer, so all things brand direction and creative PR, influencer marketing, social media, that kind of stuff. We separate traditional performance marketing and the qualitative side of marketing. Gymshark is a gym clothing brand basically. We started seven years ago. After three years, we were officially the fastest-growing company in the U.K..

Millan: I’m Krissie Millan and I’m the chief marketing officer at Flow. Flow Water is a natural alkaline spring water. It’s a company based out of Toronto and now more present in the U.S., and essentially it’s a premium water brand within a very crowded bottled water category. Within my role, I oversee ecommerce, digital, marketing promos, marketing, retail marketing, brand creative, and PR.

Abaza: I wanted to start off high level. And I think what’s really interesting about these two brands is they both have really unique challenges, but from completely different vantage points. So Krissie, maybe we’ll start with you. How do you think about marketing water? 

Millan: As I mentioned already, the category itself is already pretty crowded. And for all intents and purposes, water is a commodity. So we really needed to understand what our brand attributes are [to answer the question,] “Why do we have this product?”. We have three brand pillars. 

  1. It’s a natural product. All of the minerals and alkalinity that you see in the product are all naturally occurring.
  2. We don’t put anything in the water, and because of the source of our water, it provides its natural taste. We’ve done a lot of consumer testing, and it is the best tasting water in the world. So yay for marketing on that. 
  3. Because of our eco-friendly packaging, sustainability is also a big part of our brand pillar. 

So understanding what our product attributes really helps us to differentiate ourselves within a crowded space.

Abaza: So Gymshark, you went into a very crowded space. Athletic apparel in general. There’s a lot of companies, there’s a lot of yoga brands, there’s a lot of gym brands. And I’m pretty sure people told you that you were crazy for doing it. So I’m curious how you think about approaching an industry that’s incredibly saturated, that’s incredibly crowded, and how do you do it in a way that’s authentic to the Gymshark voice?

Mack: Back when I was about 19-20 years old, you had this new generation of kids, especially in the U.K. and the U.S.. They were going to the gym and getting into shape and they really cared about lifting and how much protein they should drink, but they weren’t what the rest of the world thought gym goers looked like. 

The rest of the world sort of saw gym-goers as Venice beach, the huge dudes, bald heads, wearing the big drop arm stuff with the baggy things. So you had that. And then over here, you had Nike making sportswear. But there was this middle ground there of these young guys going to the gym with a T-shirt on.

You probably wouldn’t be able to tell they were gym-goers. They take it off, they’re in really good shape and all that kind of stuff. So I think we were the first brand that stood up and represented that cohort. So we got into that. And then there was identifying the niche and just having a fierce understanding of the consumer. We knew they wanted that. And then because we were the same age as the target market, we knew where they were hanging out online. We sent clothing to a person who had YouTube subscribers long before the term influencer had been coined and long before anybody had said the words influencer marketing before. 

Abaza: Your brand is known for a lot of the influencer stuff that you do. What are some of the channels, either online or offline, that either of you have experimented with and have taken off or potentially experimented with and just completely flopped and you’ll never do it again?

Millan: For us, because it’s a consumer good, a lot of our distribution is still within the physical retailer space, [like] groceries. We started out within the natural channel space, [and] now [we’re] going mainstream. So groceries you could say is the last frontier out there in terms of really trying to innovate itself and becoming more attuned towards digital or an omnichannel view. So for us, it was a twofold approach of really just understanding how we can drive direct to consumer within a space that is again a consumer good. So we’ve doubled down on the digital marketing, performance marketing channels that we have, building out our website. And on the retail side, [we’re] really trying to figure out how to build an omnichannel approach because our consumer is not really differentiating whether it’s offline or online.

Abaza: Has there been anything surprising as you’ve been actually going through this testing?

Millan: Yeah. We’ve been so used to driving high ticket items. Understanding how to get the volume and the mass of people that we want to attract to our brand. So it’s become more surgical in how we look at our channels and really understanding what the programs are that would work.

Abaza: What about Gymshark? What are the sort of offline or online channels that you guys have been playing around with?

Mack: You mentioned experimenting so I can give you a live example. And it’s one that kind of surprises me a lot—TikTok. So the people always say to us, “Oh, influencer marketing is so expensive these days, and everyone wishes they got in earlier on it like we did.” Same thing with social media. Instagram. “Ah, you can’t get along on Instagram anymore. You’ve got to pay your way in now because of Facebook and yada yada yada, and the blimey algorithm.” TikTok right now is Instagram back in the day.

TikTok right now is influencer marketing back in the day. So, I’m seeing huge brands now. Nike has 150,000 followers on TikTok, and Gymshark’s got 1.2 million followers on there before most people have really started to take it seriously. So again, I think that’s one of our strengths: We know where our consumers are hanging out online.

Abaza: So I’m curious. (To the crowd) Has anyone in the room experimented with TikTok? 

Millan: It makes me feel really old sometimes when we’re just testing it out. Even for us, with our consumer base, I mean we try it and you just have to identify who your consumers are to who’s going to resonate with that. And even internally within the marketing team, some of my marketing team members are like, “We’re not touching that.” But in reality, you have to understand where your consumers are.

Mack: People see social media and 16×9 videos or your vertical videos as all the same thing. It’s so not. Do you ever get those LinkedIn messages like, “Hey, I’m from such-and-such-a video agency. Have you ever thought about video for your business?” Yeah, obviously. The fact people just go out and shoot their campaign on a 16×9 camera, they may just chop it up for an Instagram story, for the feed, and then for TikTok. It is so badly the wrong way to do it. The Gymshark tone of voice on TikTok is way different to the tone of voice on an Instagram story or in the feed or to a paid post.

You have to drill down deeper and figure out what works on the platform. People move 50% faster through [Instagram] stories than they do through the feed. So when I see other brands posting stuff with a super long drawn out intro to build into the thing as though it’s a YouTube video, I’m like “What are you doing?” Because people are just gonna skip straight past it. 

I’m always asking our teams, “Is that thumb-stopping content?” “Would I stop on that and watch it?” That has to happen in the first two seconds. 

Abaza: I think “thumb-stopping content” is the quote of the day. How do both of you think about measuring success for your teams? Because with a lot of marketing initiatives, you’re trying to accomplish a lot. There’s the engagement piece, the brand piece, the purchase piece, and all of the KPIs associated. With that order value, conversion, etc. What are the key things that your teams look at in terms of measuring success?

Millan: For us, we are at a space or at a stage in our growth where we are just like this. We are at an extreme growth path and trajectory. And so for us, obviously it’s acquiring customers. So revenue and sales are always going to be a key metric. But for us, it’s also about awareness. So as I mentioned, we started out within the natural channel and we’re making really good strides within that space. And going into mainstream, it’s a different ball game. So you really have to understand how you can reach as many consumers as you want and make them aware of your brand and who you are and what you represent.

Abaza: Beyond the net promoter score (NPS), are there any other signals you look at that tell you this person loves your brand?

Millan: We love hearing from our consumers. So whether it’s through reviews or through social and through just understanding sentiment analysis around our brand. And frankly, because we’ve also worked with some tier A celebrities or even personalities, just really seeing how much they actually are our own customers and subscribers. Just also it’s kind of humbling to see that because then they just talk about you without necessarily having to pay them. 

Abaza: Love that. What about Gymshark from a KPIs and measurement perspective? What are the things that your team is focused on in terms of measuring?

Mack: Ben, our founder, is the CMO. So he’s more performance marketing. He’s CPA. His guys are watching the auction, looking for efficiencies, figuring out where best to spend and all that kind of stuff. And I’m over on the side, the stuff that you want to have to justify with the board or whoever it is, when you say it’s going to cost X, and they say, “What am I going to get back from it?” And you go, yeah. So I’m at the top of the funnel, Ben’s firmly at the bottom.

Abaza: I mean Gymshark is sort of taking a bit of a similar approach. How are you looking at global expansion?

Mack: We have a lot of regional Shopify stores, so we challenged ourselves a little while back to say, are we moving into new geos because we think we can do a good job of it or are we doing it because it’s an easy way to drive more revenue? To localize for those stores. So as of August 1, 2019, we rolled out this initiative with the rest of the company to say for the next two years we will only concentrate on the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and Germany.

Abaza: I’m going to squeeze one last quick question in and that’s if your entire marketing spend was axed between September and January, what is the one project you would keep doing?

Millan: For me, it’s really building on the fundamentals of our business. I really believe that. Because again, we’re in such a high growth phase. So one project I would say is building retention programs.

Mack: I feel like I’d try and do something stupid that would go viral. I’d go out there to the world and say, Shopify has just axed my whole marketing budget between now and January. And so I’m going to use the last bit of whatever it was, the one project I have, to blow my entire marketing spend on a party or an event for our 1%, our most loyal customers, and look after them. And hopefully the story will go viral.

Abaza: As long as I’m invited to the party.

Special thanks to our friends at Shopify Plus for their insights on this topic.
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