When it comes to fashion and the sports industry, sneakerhead culture is well documented. The emergence of social media has opened new doors for shoe and apparel brands to market their products visually, and oftentimes, not done through brand channels. In the same way that shoe drops drive social engagement, Lids is looking to drive similar conversations among the headwear crowd.
Jeff Pearson, SVP of Marketing and E-commerce and the rest of the Lids team had a problem to solve. How do they connect deeper with the headwear culture? The answer was to turn directly to those already invested in the culture.
“Our decision to leverage ambassadors was an evolution more than a revolution. We need to drive our brand and our partner’s brands deeper into the headwear culture and building an ambassador program allowed us to build long-lasting relationships as opposed to one-off collaborations.”
While building those relationships, Pearson understood the importance of allowing those selected to maintain their own voice in creating content.
“The individuality that influencers have is tremendously powerful and they’re obviously very relatable to consumers, which is why they’re valuable. That is what ultimately made us realize that we need to work with them closely, on a macro scale, and really build long-term relationships so that our brand is authentic when it comes time to meeting our objectives.”
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Kevin Escalera, Social Media Specialist at Zimmerman, also saw an ambassador program as the next logical step moving beyond the typical influencer model. The key to that evolution was moving beyond a transaction and creating meaningful relationships.
“We knew we wanted to partner with a select few of our most successful influencers that we had previously worked with in order to foster lasting collaborations. The challenge with the influencer program was that because everything was one-off activations, we weren’t able to build relationships and a deeper connection to the brand. Developing long-term ambassador partnerships will allow us to do exactly that.”
Building those relationships is what sets up the freedom to allow ambassadors to create their own unique content, while also making it easy for the agency. Managing so many moving parts proves challenging, but mutual trust and understanding play a crucial role.
“Managing each of our ambassadors is definitely a day-to-day responsibility as our team is always in communication with each ambassador in regard to shipment of new products, feedback on their content, product news and any other questions that they might have,” Escalera offered. “Often times it isn’t just the ambassadors that we have to talk with but their managers, reps, and legal counsel. This is challenging but that’s where experience comes in and that’s priceless.”
In order to begin building a relationship with ambassadors, a class of ambassadors has to first be assembled, leading to the question, who and what would make up a successful ambassador?
“The goal is to have a dynamic range of individuals that come from all corners of the country, including employees from within our company. They have to be unique and above all be part of the headwear culture,” Pearson stated. “Ambassadors have to bring to the table their styles, content aesthetics, team/sports preferences, geographic diversity, and more. Our headwear culture that we eat, breathe, sleep, and love is as diverse as our ambassadors and that’s the bottom line…we can’t have a cookie-cutter approach to who we have as ambassadors. It really needs to be a fluid program that brings all sorts of passionate enthusiasts together.”
Tasked with putting together the first class of ambassadors, Escalera laid out their process for bringing a new ambassador into the fold.
“When an individual becomes an ambassador, we send them a Lids Welcome Kit which includes a set of Lids products and an ambassador creative brief. This brief serves as their guide and inspiration in terms of what Lids is looking for from a content perspective. Here’s where our agency’s personal touch comes in to play, however, and that’s because we’re dealing with actual people at the other end of the line. We want to work with them because we believe in them, in their voice, in their content, and what they represent. So, in essence, our creative brief allows them to maintain their creative freedom and autonomy for content creation in their own unique way. Once an ambassador has received and read through the creative brief, they are free to begin posting using Lids products without any approval necessary.”
While brands have an opportunity to benefit from the creativity of the Ambassadors, as with any healthy relationship, Lids wants to create value in their relationships. When asked about how Lids wants to provide a benefit to their Ambassadors, Pearson made it very clear that Lids saw this two-way relationship crucial to the success of the program.
“It’s not just about us (Lids) and that’s somewhere where we feel strongly differentiated in. The ambassadors, each of them, are important parts of the fabric that makes up our brand and culture which means we support them equally as they do us. We want to get them in front of our fans more often and plan to also include them on internal design panels where they can provide us their opinions on a new and upcoming product. It has to be a full circle program and we’re pleased with what we have going on. We use our ambassadors in any and all brand initiatives – whether that’s using them to showcase a new line of Lids exclusive products in coordination with our branded partners, drive conversation about social holidays, which are important to the brand (#NationalHatDay, Black Friday, etc.) or leveraging them for giveaways/sweepstakes. We share their content as often as possible.”
The desire to create a symbiotic relationship is echoed on the agency side. Escalera and Zimmerman view the ambassador program as a marathon, not a sprint.
“We really want our ambassadors to feel like they’re part of a team that is collectively helping to push the headwear culture forward. It’s been great to see that many of our ambassadors are now commenting on each other’s photos and using each other’s work as creative inspiration. We’re seeing their fan base come to life and engaging with the brand in ways we previously haven’t observed.”
In the end, what would make an ambassador program successful? While it may be hard to put a quantitative mark on success, Pearson and Lids do have a clear picture of what they determine success to be.
“Success for us is to continue building a community and stay at the forefront of the intersection of (sports) fan and fashion. By using our branded hashtag, #LidsLoyal, we’re receiving 40+ pieces of original content each month that we are leveraging on our social channels, which has resulted in more engagement and following for each of our social pages. In addition, which is what we’re keeping an eye out for, is the fact that fans are engaging with ambassadors on a granular and personal level by asking for more information regarding the hats being featured. It ultimately results in validation on an organic level and is never forced.”