Partnerships with influencers are now an integral part of countless brands’ marketing mix. Ten years ago, SPORT 2000 Bulgaria (Sport Depot) first started collaborating with carefully selected opinion leaders. These were mostly athletes at first. But today, the Bulgarian sports retailers’ organization works with a wide array of influencers, from fitness trainers and travel enthusiasts to actors and singers. In the following interview, Nikolay Tzonov, managing director of SPORT 2000 Bulgaria, talks about the importance of having a diverse range of brand ambassadors and explains why strategies must be adapted to each individual influencer.
Nikolay, you have been working with influencers for several years now—with great success. Why is this form of collaboration so important to you?
Social media builds bridges between peoples’ personal lives. If you see a product placement on the social network of someone you “know”—even if that person is a celebrity—you tend to trust the brand more than when you encounter it in the usual TV or magazines ads. After all, what you are seeing is a personal recommendation. Partnering with an influencer isn’t like waving a magic wand though, and you don’t capture the hearts of your target group overnight. It’s a slow, complex process that requires a lot of time and thought. What’s more, it’s difficult to measure success. In the age of Google Analytics and digital transparency, this can make many top managers skeptical.
In Bulgaria, SPORT 2000 works closely with professional athletes, trainers, singers, and actors. Why is it important to you to have this mixture of influencers?
Over the past few years, the line between sports and other parts of life has become fuzzier: people now wear trainers at work and gym wear in their free time. Athletes have become fashion icons, and actors film themselves working out. Exercise is no longer limited to a couple of hours a week; it’s become an important part of daily life. As a result, our marketing options are expanding, especially when it comes to partnerships with influencers. We deliberately collaborate with personalities from a wide range of fields because we want to show that fitness is for everyone. For example, we can better reach our younger target group when we collaborate with a famous singer or actor.
How does working with artists differ from working with athletes?
From a communications perspective, working with singers or actors is often easier, as these tend to have a lot of experience with social networks and know how best to share a message. Another advantage is that they generally have well-developed media channels and work with producers. This helps everything run more smoothly, but of course it’s also more expensive. Some athletes, by contrast, don’t have well-established Facebook and Instagram channels and lack professional support. On one hand, this limits the range of communication options, but on the other hand, it allows us to create more flexible terms for the collaboration. So, both have their advantages and disadvantages.
What’s important to you when selecting influencers?
We look for famous faces that have a positive image and an active presence in society. Through our work, we’re in contact with many athletes and sports organizations, which makes it easy to get in touch with new people.
Sometimes influencers contact us themselves and share their ideas with us. We’re always impressed by this proactive approach. A collaboration is always long-term, so when we’re trying to find the right partner, one thing is particularly important to us: People appreciate it when influencers are authentic and honest. We try to give our partners freedom, so our communications come “With a human touch,” as our motto puts it.
What form do your collaborations take?
In our influencer campaigns, we try to be authentic, lively, and positive. We try to depict our influencer partners—especially the athletes—as normal people rather than invincible heroes. This can be challenging. Take, for example, our Red Bull athlete Veso Ovcharov. He’s a paraglider whose breathtaking videos are very popular on YouTube.
Things are a bit calmer in winter sports. We work with Bulgaria’s best female snowboarder, Sani Zhekova. She feels really comfortable in front of the camera and films videos presenting products in our stores.
How have SPORT 2000 retailers responded to this kind of collaboration? Have you received feedback?
Our partners value our partnerships with influencers, as these are very visible and effective. In smaller towns in particular, we get a lot of attention when we work with a local athlete or star and he or she drops into the SPORT 2000 store.
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