Björn Hamacher, ASICS’ vice president marketing EMEA, has been with the company since 2016, with a remit to create stronger ties between the brand and its worldwide consumer base.
Before joining the Japanese sports company in 2016, Hamacher spent 10 years with Coca-Cola, most recently as senior brand manager for Fanta in the North West Europe and Nordics region, headquartered in Copenhagen.
A key part of his engagament-building brief has been expanding and improving the brand’s existing ambassador and influencer programme: ASICS FrontRunner. Started in 2010, it now nurtures communities of passionate runners in more than 30 countries, with FrontRunner members competing in a host of races and events, as well as sharing their knowledge and passion for the sport through their social channels.
We spoke to Hamacher to find out why it works so well and to discuss the power of storytelling for sports clothing brands.
CMO.com: Can you tell us about any significant changes you made when you started with ASICS?
Hamacher: From the beginning it was important to me that we do fewer things but do them better. I wanted more consistency of voice across all of our activities and to create greater impact with everything we did. A good example of these changes in action is our approach to big events such as the Frankfurt Marathon, for which we staged a customer event supported by a combination of PR outreach and our ASICS FrontRunner community.
I was also keen to shift our media mix towards digital; it was still quite classically oriented at the time. And I increased the use of FrontRunner members as brand ambassadors. With regard to trade marketing, I worked to identify customers who wanted to collaborate on interesting projects, such as pop-up spaces.
CMO.com: Are there any narratives or campaigns that you’ve particularly enjoyed working on or that performed especially well?
Hamacher: I particularly enjoyed the campaign we ran with Austrian actor Elyas M’Barek. It was an unusual move for our company, and I was pleased to gain the support of a personality who is so well-known among our younger target audience.
Elyas identified with our values and enjoyed connecting with the brand and the people behind it. That resonated with customers because they saw that we were doing something specifically for the German market with an authentic “star” to whom they could relate.
CMO.com: How do you use content to build and maintain relationships with ASICS customers?
Hamacher: This is an industry that lives on emotions, whether those are felt individually or in a group setting. Coupled with our own DNA and brand philosophy, we can deliver a broad spectrum of content to excite and engage consumers.
This ranges from our fitness and running apps offering individual training solutions, to One ASICS, our customer programme with exclusive benefits, and our running clubs and communities.
We also see huge storytelling potential in our global I Move Me campaign. It’s a modern interpretation of our corporate ethos: “Anima Sana In Corpore Sano.” Translated it means “a sound mind in a sound body,” and motivates us to lead an active and happy life. The campaign allows us to tell an endless number of exciting and authentic stories both from professional athletes and normal people like you and me.
CMO.com: Can you tell us how the FrontRunner campaign works and what makes it so successful?
Hamacher: ASICS FrontRunner is an ambassador and influencer programme based on the theories of community marketing to strengthen the team and the project. We’ve hand-picked 700 members from 35 countries, with 24 community managers supporting them.
The campaign has proven to be very popular with our audience and we’re able to select participants from around 50,000 applications. When we select people, we’re looking for the most inspiring stories, the best coaches, the strongest runners, and the most creative content producers.
We’re also very careful to select the right employees to work with our ambassadors and influencers. The whole process is based on relationships and requires a major time investment on our part, so we need to ensure our people are equipped to build those ties.
CMO.com: What makes for a successful influencer marketing programme?
Hamacher: ASICS focuses on creative solutions, authentic stories, and long-term relationships to make these campaigns work. We don’t use our ambassador and influencer channels as just another advertising medium to periodically promote product launches. We work with them on a long-term, strategic basis. We want to become part of our ambassadors’ lives and them to become a part of our brand.
This is how we grow together over time. It’s a give-and-take relationship based on mutual respect, shared ideas, and ideals.
CMO.com: What makes working in marketing for ASICS so special?
Hamacher: The Japanese philosophy of Kaizen—constant, continuous improvement—is reflected in everything we do, and the company has been responsible for numerous technological advances down the years.
Our origins, philosophy, and passion for innovation offers us so many rich narrative streams to use. We are on a mission to get people moving to achieve a healthy mind in a healthy body. The combination of our philosophy and our mission creates a powerful message.
CMO.com: Which digital marketing trends do you think will be important for you and your team in the near future?
Hamacher: Direct messaging services like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger will definitely play an important role in ambassador and community marketing. We’re working on strategies to integrate this into our media mix in the future.
From a platform point of view, Pinterest should be the main focus for fashion, sports, and lifestyle brands. It offers excellent commercialization opportunities, combined with accessible application programming interfaces, which facilitate actionable analytics and visually driven content integration.
I think language assistants will make a big impact in the future, too. We’re in the process of trying to identify an appropriate pilot. Perhaps a guide for customers to find their perfect shoe could be a good place to start.