How running brands like Adidas activate influencers and profile runners

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Influencers with their blogs and Instagram accounts are becoming increasingly important in the communication of sports brands. But what does this look like in the running industry? Do social stars have the potential to displace professional athletes and testimonials as advertising media? The most important running brands give an insight into their marketing strategy.

Egal, ob Influencer oder Testimonial Authentizität ist die Grundvoraussetzung für eine gute Kampagne
What are the big running trends 2018? Running brands are providing insight into their marketing strategies

Influencer marketing is the marketing tool of recent years, also in the sports and running industry. The Asics FrontRunners manage without stars, Brooks is helped by Florian Neuschwandner, a showcase runner who is prominent at best in running circles, running influencers like Flooorrriii (108,000 Instagram followers) and Go Girl Run (running blog with its own running podcast) dominate the scene. Cooperations with running brands are the logical consequence.

On the other hand, the example of Puma and Usain Bolt shows how much a profile runner can be worth to a brand. The image of the sprinter kissing his Puma shoe after winning a race is one that will be remembered - and not just after the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

In the fourth part of our running series, we wanted to know from Adidas, Brooks Running, Salming, Salomon and La Sportiva how the brands position themselves in this field between influencers and top athletes.

Influencers are mouthpieces for runners and brands

Adidas press spokesman Oliver Brüggen says: "For us as a brand, influencer marketing is the online and offline exchange and collaboration with creatives from a wide range of cultural backgrounds." For Adidas, that means, for example, at the launch of its new Solar Boost running shoe in Berlin, the brand is bringing in pros like Philipp Pflieger, bloggers like Laura and Isabell from Run Munich Run and the passionate runner and presenter Kai Pflaume.

Florian Neuschwander: Influencers and Profile Runners.

Brooks Running also enjoys working with influencers. Lara Hasagic, Marketing Manager DACH, explains, "Cooperations with influencers are important, because in running, too, the exchange among runners increasingly takes place in social networks." However, Brooks Running also supports one of the most famous ultra runners of recent years, Florian Neuschwander. "Flow" became known in Germany primarily through his victories in the "Wings for Life World Run." He is a rather unconventional runner who was the first German to win the Transrockies Run (193 km and 6000 meters of altitude in 6 days) in 2016.

The fact that he flirts with placing more value on his personal lifestyle - including currywurst - than on training plans naturally makes him even more attractive to Brooks as an advertising figure. His #runwiththeflow community now includes around 47,000 Instagram and 45,000 Facebook fans. Time and again, he organizes runs with his followers and not only writes about his everyday life on social networks, but also in his own column in the German Runner's World.

Brooks is currently using Neuschwander on the Run Happy Tour 2018, which will run through 14 German cities from late May to mid-June 2018. Neuschwander is thus both an influencer and a professional runner.

Three requirements for influencers in the running segment

When running brands cooperate with certain influencers in running depends on various factors. Salming equips blogger Jana with products and cooperates with Instagrammer Dani. Jan Kratchovil, Head of Marketing at Salming, summarizes the qualities a good influencer must have: "First, sympathy for and compatibility with the brand. Does the influencer's identity fit with our identity? Secondly, marketing expertise in terms of image aesthetics, addressing target groups, communication, etc. If an influencer can't present himself, he won't succeed with our products either. Thirdly, reach and community. Ultimately, the people who follow him or her are the asset that the influencer brings to the table. But the composition of the community, its activity, heterogeneity or homogeneity, also plays an important role. So it's not just about quantity, but also quality."

"Blend of outreach, authenticity and fun with the sport."

Julia Schehl, Brand Manager Germany at Salomon, describes what makes a good influencer from her point of view: "It's certainly a mixture of reach, authenticity, and fun with sports. It doesn't have to be top performance. What's important is a passion for running and a willingness to get out there and develop the sport for and with us." Philipp Reiter brings all of that with him. The 26-year-old student is a trail runner and ski mountaineer and is sponsored by Salomon, among others. He regularly keeps his 34,000 Instagram subscribers up to date on his adventures in the mountains. Whether he is listed as an "influencer" or testimonial by Salomon remains an open question.

Athletes, testimonials and influencers? The definitions are blurring.

Asics launched the FrontRunner back in 2010. In this global project, the Japanese running brand works with around 700 runners from around 15 countries every year. Asics equips the FrontRunners with their own collection and running shoes, provides free access to Asics events, and creates its own marketing campaigns around the group. Novice runners, running influencers, running bloggers, professional marathoners, triathletes and ultrarunners - the community is a colorful mix and the lines between athletes, testimonials and influencers are blurred. The select circle for 2018 includes Dennis and Susi from the running blog Runskills, as well as professional triathlete and Ironman winner Jan Frodeno and the reigning German half marathon champion Franzi Reng.

Profile runner vs. social media professional

There is a clear differentiation at LaSportiva. Michael Carli, product designer, explains the distinction between athlete and influencer: "In principle, we work with two different groups of people: The athletes who run and possibly win the races (skyraces, ultramarathons and vertical series) and the Instagrammers / bloggers who are more influential through the online channels. The goals are different: in the first case it's about performances and the credibility of our product, in the second case we focus on the reach of each post."

Professional runners remain strong advertising faces

So despite the developments of the influencer wave, which has also left its mark on the running scene, professional runners remain important advertising faces for running brands. In spring 2018, Nike presented a commercial with its testimonial, 2017 New York City Marathon winner Shalane Flanagan, who can probably illustrate the importance of her running shoes like few other athletes or running influencers.

And even though German track and field athlete and Nike athlete Gesa Felicitas Krause now has 80,000 Instagram followers, you can clearly tell when scrolling through her pictures: This woman is an athlete with all her passion; her photos are accessories, but not the content of her daily training routine. That's what makes her authentic. And in the end, that may be what makes the difference between convincing communication partners and less successful ones - whether from professional sports or not.

And even though German track and field athlete and Nike face Gesa Felicitas Krause now has 80,000 Instagram followers, you can tell from scrolling through her pictures: This woman is a true and full-hearted professional athlete. Her photos are sideline but not part of her daily training routine. That makes her authentic. And this may ultimately be the difference between convincing cooperation partners and less successful ones.

Running series 2018: The most exciting developments in running

In our series of interviews with the running brands Adidas, Puma, Saucony, Brooks Running, Salomon, Icebug and LaSportiva, running experts explain the most important developments in running in 2018.