Just recently, sport apparel brand Gymshark hit a $1.3 billion valuation after landing an investment deal with US fund manager General Atlantic, its first ever external funding. The UK company was started in 2012 by then 19-year-old Ben Francis, famously operating from his mum’s garage in the early days. It started out as a supplements company but soon pivoted to clothing focusing on gym vests and shirts, sewn by Francis and a group of friends after his grandmother taught them how to use a sewing machine.
At first, they were making stuff they really wanted to wear themselves during workouts, addressing a perceived lack of sports apparel that looked good, felt great and performed well. Soon, their products started to catch on and demand surged explosively, proving they were on to something big.
Since then, sales have increased every year and today the company offers a wide selection of sports apparel with millions of followers on social media. It also holds the title of being the second British company to achieve unicorn status without any prior investment.
So how did they do it? First of all, their products are great and fulfil an actual need which wasn’t addressed by the market at the time. Second, they perfectly executed a marketing strategy that checked all the boxes of a modern millennial brand, focusing on meaningful engagement and prioritising customer needs, all while leveraging the power of social media.
Let’s break it down into 3 main components: influencers, social channels, and customer involvement.
Partnering with influencers on social media was an essential part of Gymshark’s marketing strategy from the beginning. While today leveraging the power of social media influencers is nothing new, back in 2012 when Gymshark started out only a few brands were doing influencer marketing properly.
As Francis explained, the idea to use influencers didn’t come from a marketing playbook, it just felt right. The team at Gymshark were genuine fans of the fitness influencers they reached out to and they simply wanted those people to experience the Gymshark products. The influencers loved the products they received and shared it with their followers as an authentic part of their own content. This quickly spread brand awareness in a targeted fashion appealing to a niche market segment.
Today, Gymshark has a large network of influencers such as Steve Cook, Matt Ogus, Whitney Simmons and Nikki Blackketter that represent the brand and reach the right people. But Gymshark has never gone for influencers that simply had the most followers. They hand-pick the right influencers that are in line with the brand’s values and vision to ensure credibility at all times.
The brand’s tagline is “Be Visionary”, which is about being a person that changes the world, breaks free from convention, and inspires others to do more. It takes months to find fitness influencers that match that brand messaging and are truly dedicated to inspiring others and achieving a vision that is bigger than themselves. But the approach has certainly paid off in terms of building Gymshark’s brand value and forging meaningful connections with their customers.
Social media should be part of any digital marketing strategy today. We all know this. But applying the same approach and distributing the same content across all social media channels is not ideal as it glosses over the fact each channel is used differently by different people. Gymshark is all over Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest and Twitter, but that doesn’t mean their content is the exact same on each and every channel.
On TikTok, Gymshark partnered with influencers to launch the Gymshark66 Challenge requiring followers to set a personal goal and upload a picture on day 1 and day 66. YouTube is packed with helpful tutorials and inspirational videos. Pinterest is filled with boards to inspire interesting looks. Instagram is one of the main channels for telling the story of each fitness influencer, and how it aligns with the brand’s own values. Each channel has a slightly different content format, recognising people engage with content differently depending on the platform.
It will be interesting to see Gymshark take this tailored approach further as it expands into the US and Asia markets boosted by the recent investment. Localisation is key in entering new markets, which applies to messaging, style, content format and channels. For example, simply posting the same content with Chinese captions on WeChat won’t be enough to break into the Chinese market. It will require more customisation based on a deeper understanding of the target market and local consumer behaviour and expectations.
Lastly, what’s played a huge role in making Gymshark successful is its genuine appreciation of customers and inviting them to be a part of the brand in a meaningful way. They go further than just asking for feedback on social media (which they do) and then incorporating it to improve the products (which they also do).
They frequently post user-generated content say for work-out sessions that others can then replicate. It welcomes more people to join the brand, making it more relatable than if it would only post images that promote perfection.
When you buy a Gymshark product for the first time, they send you the usual “thank you” email, and they always end it by welcoming you to the Gymshark family. This tells customers they are now part of a group of like-minded people that are striving towards the same goals. And from the feedback they get at their packed events, people do really feel like they are part of the same tribe.
The Gymshark family is real. It has a culture and a vision that goes beyond clothing and across borders. Every pop-up store event they do in new markets, from Toronto to Amsterdam, draws similar people who all share similar beliefs and attitudes towards life.
There are many different ways to tell the story of Gymshark, for us it’s a great example of what the future of branding looks like. The brand has a clear purpose which provides it with cardinal directions across everything it does and says. They attract the right influencers simply by looking for like-minded individuals, this keeps their messaging authentic and in line with the company’s vision for itself and its customers. The entire experience is then folded into a narrative where the customers are the heroes of story as it plays out over social media channels.
If you haven’t yet defined your brand’s core purpose and mission, or you feel the need to refine it, now is the time to invest in your brand development. Consumer expectations shift all the time, and you need the internal compass to guide your brand to adapt to the changes while staying true to the roots of your brand.