How Gymshark Built a Thriving Fitness Brand Through Influencer Storytelling
By Lauren Orsini · March 18, 2020
For a startup looking to stand out in the crowd, the competitive health and fitness industry might be one of the most difficult places to begin.
But in the age of digital video, the right piece of viral content can even out the playing field.
Take Gymshark, a scrappy new fitness company that became the fastest-growing retailer in the United Kingdom in 2016. Launched in 2012 when founder Ben Francis was just 19, it has grown into a multimillion-dollar fitness brand.
Just browse the fitness tag on Instagram to see Gymshark’s $38 Flex leggings — one of its many affordably-priced products that found a cult following among millennials.
Gymshark leverages a unique influencer model, using first-person accounts from respected athletes and its own followers to create disruption through community.
Every time Gymshark posts a video to its Instagram, more than 4M followers tune in to check it out. It’s not luck that makes this company go viral again and again; it’s a native understanding of digital storytelling through influencer marketing.
To develop an effective social strategy that doesn’t rely on luck, content creators need to always be writing and finessing the story their brand tells to its audience.
In a Tubular Labs webinar, Calum Watson, Head of Sponsorship at Gymshark, shared tips and insights about how the company has leveraged digital video to become the industry’s scrappiest success story.
Here’s what you can learn from the company’s influencer-based content strategy.
Trusting Your Influencers Is Key
Watson said that digital video was vital to Gymshark’s growth even from the very beginning. Starting out in 2012 with just a few products, founder Ben Francis was already sending clothes to fitness YouTubers in hopes they would wear and review Gymshark products.
Francis “spent every penny” to get a booth at UK fitness expo BodyPower and to hire fitness YouTubers to show up. This is where Gymshark had its “Eureka moment.” Francis realized that people who hadn’t heard of the brand came up to ask the YouTubers for photos.
“That’s the importance of digital video,” Watson said. “Niche YouTubers are more than just guys in front of a camera on the internet. They have communities. (Francis) was just one of many people who gave up their time every week to watch their videos on YouTube.”
Today, the company sponsors 18 different social media influencers, which the brand calls “Gymshark athletes.” These athletes include high profile bodybuilders Lex Griffin and Nikki Blackketter, who receive free Gymshark apparel in exchange for posting about the products as brand ambassadors.
Watson says that with these sponsorships, the most important thing for Gymshark to do is to trust that athletes know best how to appeal to their audiences.
“We pride ourselves on our relationships with our athletes,” said Watson. “We don’t just give them an image and a caption to use. It’s a two-way conversation.”
Let Fans Join the Story
Gymshark’s influencers have a combined following of over 7.6 million, and each of those followers is encouraged to become part of the Gymshark narrative, too. It’s not only influencer media, but also user-generated content, that populates the fitness brand’s social video.
On January 1, Gymshark started a viral movement just in time for New Year’s Resolutions. It kicked off the hashtag #Gymshark66, which encourages followers to work out for 66 days in a row, with a video that featured ordinary people overcoming their workout insecurities.
Netting 11.1M views, it encouraged millions to join the #Gymshark66 challenge. According to Tubular data, content including this hashtag brought in 34.6M views across social platforms in the past 90 days.
“The goal is to spread that positive message about Gymshark trying to help people,” said Watson.
Each week, the brand creates a workout video for its audience to follow along with. When followers post their own videos, Gymshark will often share those too, making users feel acknowledged while encouraging even more people to join in.
Fitness challenges build Gymshark’s narrative as the face of a movement, not just a clothing brand.
“Creative storytelling was a way to stand out of the crowd,” Watson said. “People buy into Gymshark because they want to be part of the community. Investing in the creative side helps us evoke emotion and help people find a connection with the brand.”
Learn from Valuable Metrics
Gymshark grew nearly 200% between 2013 and 2016, but the company isn’t slowing down, continuing to analyze and refine its video marketing techniques at every turn. One of the tools it relies on to measure its success is Tubular Labs.
“We use Tubular to see engagement for our athletes and influencers,” Watson said. “Looking at views, engagement, shares, and comments through Tubular helps us understand certain audiences and the content they consume.”
For example, Watson discovered through Tubular data that Gymshark athlete Zac Perna has a very young audience. Watson shared the data with Perna and gave him ideas for a teen bodybuilding series.
As a direct result, Watson said Perna’s series “gained 70,000 subscribers and earned 5.5M views over the course of several days.”
“It’s easy to see what’s trending on social platforms through Tubular and start conversations. Having the data there to help validate decisions is really important.”