Episode 46 of the Influencer Marketing Lab podcast where Abha Gallewale, global social strategy manager at sportswear brand, ASICS talks about sports creators


The Influencer Marketing Lab podcast is sponsored by Tagger the data-driven influencer marketing platform and social listening tool.

Show notes

Welcome to episode 46 of the Influencer Marketing Lab - a weekly podcast tracking the growth spurts and growing pains of influencer marketing.

This podcast is sponsored by Tagger the data-driven influencer marketing platform and social listening tool.

This week I'm in conversation with Abha Gallewale, global social strategy manager at sportswear brand, ASICS.

In this episode we:

  • Discuss how ASICS puts athlete sponsorship contracts together which take into consideration content quality not just medals won
  • Consider the importance of ASICS's brand values guiding the sportswear firm
  • Explore measuring return on investment for the athletes’ work as brand influencers

This interview was recorded in May 2022.

Check out the Influencer Marketing Lab  for full show notes and related useful links

And I want to hear your feedback. Google Influencer Marketing Lab podcast and either drop me a line or leave a voicemail message directly from the landing page.

Abha Gallewale biography 

Abha Gallewale is a manager of global social strategy at ASICS. Here, she manages the social operations and content strategy across the brand's major categories (Performance Running, Sportstyle, and Tennis).

Abha also helps to enable ASICS commerce via social media and is working on overhauling its influencer strategy. Part of her job includes working with each of ASICS' regional marketing teams to ensure they are optimizing social media while adapting the strategy based on what works best for their consumers. Most recently, she led the brand's global social strategy for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in which ASICS was a sponsor. 

Prior to ASICS, Abha served as a Senior Digital Associate at Weber Shandwick, a global public relations agency. Before that, she was an Account Executive at Digitas, where she served clients such as Bank of America and Harley-Davidson.

She enjoys guest lecturing about marketing and social media at several universities in the US (Emory, Boston University, Emerson, and her own alma mater, Tufts University). 

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046 episode

Wed, 9/21 5:16PM • 32:56


athletes, brand, asics, consumers, influencer, influencer marketing, global, sponsor, strategy, tiger, sponsorship, posts, important, instagram, partner, mental health, podcast, campaign, running, shoes


Scott Guthrie, Abha Gallewale

Scott Guthrie  00:00

Welcome to kick off, tell me a little bit more about those studies.

Abha Gallewale  03:06

Yeah, sure. It's, it's through Harvard Business School Online, very lucky that Harvard has extended some of its curriculum to those of us that are not in its traditional MBA programme. But really great stuff to learn about, you know, leadership skills, strategy, execution, negotiation, and things like that to help become a better manager, hopefully, in the years forward.

Scott Guthrie  03:29

Well, Abha went straight into you telling us about your extra education and your masters. But I didn't say hello. So hello, and welcome to the podcast. I'm delighted that you've We finally managed to get some time because I know we've been doing in frozen for the last couple of months. So thank you very much for persevering and great to have you. So tell me, You are the global social strategy balance sheet. But what does that mean? Tell me Give me a flavour of what a day to day responsibilities?

Abha Gallewale  04:00

Yeah, sure, of course. And thank you so much for having me. It was great to meet you virtually a few months ago at a conference panel where we were both speaking so I'm really glad we were able to do this. So yeah, the first thing I'll say is no day as a global social strategy manager probably at any company is ever the same. So definitely keeps things interesting and never gets boring. That's, that's for sure.

But yeah, my day to day responsibilities, I know you just talked about them. So don't want to don't want to repeat too much. But you know, making sure that our content strategy is is is sound for all of our major global categories. So our brand accounts running sportstyle tennis and then again, like you said, really working closely with our regional marketing teams, really to make sure we're telling a consistent story.

So you know, making sure that we have a consistent brand guideline and strategy across all campaigns told, you know, across the world, but at the same In time, really making sure that they have the autonomy to tailor that narrative to their specific consumer audience. So, you know, for example, I was born in India grew up in the US, but it's certainly not my place to tell, let's say the Singapore team, what the Singaporean consumer is looking for when it comes to running shoes. So really making sure that they also have that flexibility, based off of the maturity of their market and what their demographics look like, and kind of going from there and building that sort of two way conversation.

And then, of course, lastly, you know, really working with, you know, people that work in partnerships when it comes to sportstyle, or within sports marketing, to really amplify, you know, our athlete and influencer stories that might be, let's say, a sneaker campaign where we're telling the story of an artist or something like that, or a designer, or it can come to really, you know, major competitions, let's say the world Athletics Championships that are happening later this year in Oregon in the US, you know, grand slams, since we sponsor so many incredible tennis athletes or things like the Tokyo Games. So, you know, we do have some really, really incredible athletes breaking records every day. And we want to make sure that we're sharing that with everyone and really showing our pride as their sponsors.

Scott Guthrie  06:12

I like the idea of this this kind of global framework, which is rigid enough, I suppose to get consistent responses, consistent answers, but also tapping into the regional specialisms. We were talking just before we started, but when I did my MBA 20 plus years ago, and that is awful contraction of words, which was Glocal in global, but actually thinking local, having an overarching strategy, but also tapping into the strengths and understanding what makes each different region special, but also different.

Abha Gallewale  06:40

Absolutely. Yeah. And I think, again, I definitely do not have an MBA and will not pretend as such, for sure. But I think one of the biggest learnings when you work at a global company is to make sure that you are tailoring all of your communications, whether it's external to consumers, or even internal to your teams of really tailoring it to how that specific whether it's culture or region communicates, because at the end of the day, there's no right answer or one way of doing things correctly. And you know, in order to get your point across, you need to make sure that you're you're tailoring it based off of that

Scott Guthrie  07:16

being ever closer to the consumer. Doing some research ahead of the show. I didn't realise that ASICs was an acronym for the Latin phrase anima sana in corporate centre, meaning a sound mind is a sound body. Is that just a tagline? Or is that important? Is that part of the your DNA? Or was it just a nice peg to hang a company on?

Abha Gallewale  07:39

No, no, absolutely, I'm, I'm very impressed that, you know, this, the acronym itself, most people don't even know that. So we need to tell a better brand story to share that piece more widely. But I will say I think it's very important. I definitely will not call out any of our competitors by name. But I do think that there are several in the space that really focus a lot on winning really being the best at all costs. And that sort of approach, which I think, you know, depending on the type of competitive athlete that you're targeting can be a really successful strategy. But I will say that our brand is, I think its differentiating factor is is the sense that, you know, it was founded in Japan, right after World War Two, our founder could could see, you know, Japan was in shambles in many ways in terms of its sort of postwar landscape.

And he could see that a lot of the kids that were growing up at the time, they needed something to look up to, and make sure that they felt that they had a future that was bright and positive. And so he you know, his goal was to really promote an active lifestyle to, to really enable them to use sport and that kind of play as a productive means to us as they grew up.

And so his goal was really to make sure that the company that he started would make sportswear athletic move, you know, movement, something that would feel really encouraging and supportive first and foremost, before it was about winning. Even today, we really aim to connect you know, physical exercise with mental health. This probably sounds shameless plug now, but you know, it is mental health awareness month in May I we couldn't have time this better. And we're really trying to do a lot locally and globally to help promote that.

So just for a few examples in the US, we're doing something called a Blue Gene mile, which one of our US elite athletes His name is Johnny Grigorik. His father also works at a sex and was an elite athlete in the Olympics himself. You know, Johnny really started a few years ago, this concept called the Blue Gene Mile, where he random a mile in wearing blue jeans. And his goal was to raise funds for mental health awareness in honour of his late brother who passed a few years ago, while the funds raised from that, that we as a brand have been partnering with go to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, mental illness in the US, and then you know, every region kind of adopts mental health differently.

But you know, for example, in Europe, we actually just announced I think it was last week or the week before that athlete contract. acts in Europe, there's going to be an addendum for all of them with a mental health programme so that the brand is their sponsor really committed to offering them a psychologist support network, whenever a new athlete is signed in Europe. So, you know, I think even internally as an employee, I feel very empowered each day.

We're all very much encouraged to whether it's taking a lunch hour to work out or you know, logging off a little bit early to go for a run, especially in the summer months, when when the good weather is so fleeting. And you know, it doesn't have to be a run, it can be, you know, working out going for a walk, taking a cardio class, whatever it is, but it's really aiming as a company to try and live that value both internally and externally.

Scott Guthrie  10:41

Yeah, and finding that balance. You mentioned, it's obviously mental health month this month. And the strapline is obviously has origins in Latin 2000 plus years old. But it's an eternal tagline.

There's never more prescient or never more and more today, then what I'm trying to say is it's an eternal tagline and mental health, especially when we're when we've been in lockdown for two years, or when we're increasingly turning to our phones to being distracted or entertained. It's a good reminder to keep balance, whether that is mental health, but also in physical health.

I want to turn now to talk about ASICs and how you're starting to leverage athletes as influences. I appreciate this, is that the stages for you and remains a work in progress, but perhaps you could share some initial thoughts about this?

Abha Gallewale  11:36

Yeah, definitely a work in progress. We still have a lot of work to do in this. But I think it's really something that I'm very fortunate to have some really incredible teammates in different regions to help spur this forward. Some really incredible colleagues in the US and Europe, in Japan, Australia, Brazil, you know, Latin America, as well that that are really focused on trying to amplify our athlete partnerships. So I think in the past, I think a lot of the more sort of traditional sports marketing way of thinking it tends it tended to be very metal focus.

So when people were working in sports marketing in the past, and almost serving as scouts in a sense of deciding who to sign as the next big athlete contract, I think it was really the the KPI to look at at the time was very much looking for athletes that are likely to win medals, you know, win, win a Grand Slam, whether it's one year from now, five years from now, whatever it is, but really looking at that. And, of course, you know, that is, of course, extremely important. And as a social media marketer, that's definitely not my expertise to know who's going to, you know, win the US Open five years from now.

But I think it's also much trickier to measure ROI from that exclusively. And I think, with the advent of digital content, and the ROI that we can track there and the data available to us, we really need to factor in the athletes potential and willingness to create and share content for us to really be you know, be willing to partner with us on their journey. And I say potential unwillingness because those are those are two different things, you know, yes, you should look at, you know, what are their followings on social and things like that, but the flip side to that is also, how much are they willing to incorporate their their sponsors into that there's some athletes that, you know, might have a million followers on Instagram, but are very strict, in when when negotiating contracts, that they won't do brand specific posts, for example. And so that that doesn't necessarily give you give you much of an advantage outside of, you know, if they do when they happen to be wearing shoes from our brands.

So I'm talking about really partnering, like being willing to do, let's say, an Instagram Live session, if we have a major product launch, and they've been involved in the design process or the prototyping process to provide feedback, you know, maybe they can do something with one of our product managers to talk about their experiences at a recent race. Maybe someone else, you know, especially the Gen Z athletes of the world that are so adept at using TikTok. You know, maybe it's just doing some banter with us on their videos, if we if we comment on their TikTok videos and do some back and forth clips or things like that, that can be a great opportunity as well.

So if we can see that people are asking questions about the types of shoes and the gear that they're wearing during these types of interactions. And we make sure that we as a brand are there to help answer those questions and capture that type of consideration and hopefully, hopefully make it a conversion. That's when we can really show ROI. So it's just important that we at least have that as a factor as we're now trying to consider athlete contracts in the future.

Scott Guthrie  14:34

You mentioned in your answer a couple of points. You mentioned partnerships. And you mentioned tactics around TikTok which kind of leads me on to the next question of do athletes take naturally to the role of influencer or do they look to you for guidance?

Abha Gallewale  14:51

Yeah, that's a great question. Of course, it completely differs athlete to athlete I was I recently had the opportunity to go to Spain for A big product launch of our latest, you know, innovative shoe, which is launching in a few months, or actually a few weeks, the metal speed Plus series. And so we basically invited I think, 80 to 90 athletes to come to Spain, run in a bunch of different distances, they could pick 5k 10k Or half marathon, and to see if they could beat their personal records that they had already set, if they could beat them, you know, showing that the shoe was helping speed them forward from we have a big camp, the choco camp in Kenya and eaten Kenya, where a bunch of athletes train full time, there's very limited, I think coverage in Kenya, for example, at that camp, even digital coverage of in terms of having a mobile signal. So for them, they're not going to be necessarily focusing on their social channels as a way of building their brands.

So for, for those as an example, when I say partnership, you know, I can interview them while I'm there. And even if they whether they want to speak in their own, the language that they're more comfortable with, that might not be English, or they are comfortable in English, you know, we can collect that, add some subtitles and use that to talk about, you know, ways that an elite Kenyan athlete trains, that that's still a partnership, compared to let's say, we had other athletes that were there that if we had a portrait photographer, he you know, they were giving them, they were giving him their phones and saying, Can you record, you know, a quick reel for me so that I can post it, you know, this today, after I, you know, beat my personal best record. So, it definitely depends, we've done I know, my counterpart in Europe has has done a whole workshop before the Olympics for, let's say, athletes in Europe that we're going to give them some guidelines of what they can and can't say, because that's also really important when it comes to global competitions. It's not even about their creativity, but it's also about the rules to make sure that they don't get us in trouble or themselves in trouble about, you know, how they position sponsorships, and things like that when it comes to the Olympics.

But other times, it might just be you know, we're providing them some ideas and content ideas, especially back when athletes had to quarantine during COVID, they're not really doing anything, they can't train if they're just sitting in a hotel room. So what better opportunity for them to record some content of ways that they're keeping their mental health up ways that they're getting through quarantine, maybe trying to stay fit in a hotel room, whatever that is, and kind of seeing what they come up with.

Scott Guthrie  17:25

So it's, I suppose its guidance around compliance. You mentioned brand safety, but also international compliance around the Olympics, what you can and can't say and what they can't say on an international level. There's also tactics you mentioned, I think, Instagram and rails you mentioned TikTok says something like that practical know how to use the tools. And also what sort of content plays well, as well, you know, you're talking about athletes in Kenya, and how they're trading versus in different parts of the world and lots of different ways that you're advising the athlete.

Abha Gallewale  17:57

Yeah, because I think it's it should never be a one size fits all approach with athletes, there might be some that you know, not everyone is going to be able to, to appear in a TikTok video, it might not feel natural to them. And we don't, we never want to force anything or make them feel uncomfortable either. So, you know, maybe one can be better for recording a podcast if they're not comfortable with being on screen, for example. And we can use that as a voiceover for a video that we might shoot with for a campaign or something like that.

And then others you know, they might be better for appearing in a campaign photoshoot, for example, but not necessarily a real. So it's really tailoring the approach based off of you know, not only again, how we're negotiating the contract of how many appearances we can get with them, but then also how we can both optimise and leverage their accomplishments to tell their story as well as tell our own brand story in the process.

Scott Guthrie  18:48

So again, it goes back to the words partnership and within the partnership relationship, and forgive me either, but it's so obvious, but we sometimes forget to say is about having a human relationship. It's working out what works best for mutual benefit, you're just giving some great examples about that.

 You talked a little bit earlier about some return on investment. How do you set about measuring that return on investment for your athletes?

Abha Gallewale  21:22

It definitely again, it depends on the tactics used, of course we can, let's say when we're we have a big, let's say brand event like we did in Spain, you can of course count how many athletes posted how many posts and the engagement that you got from the posts and how many we posted on our own channels.

That's probably the most common sense approach of measuring awareness and consideration, let's say but I think with the advent of social commerce, which I know you touched upon, when we were first doing introductions, I think that's gone a huge step further. For example, in the US, we have something called Instagram checkout that, you know, enables us consumers to not only on our own accounts, like they can go to the Asics account, see the products that are tagged on Instagram and checkout directly within the Instagram app without having to leave the app without having to go to the website, you can lose so many potential conversions with that sort of, you know, app to browser transition.

Sometimes the great part about that is you know, once you save your payment information and Instagram, once every brand that you go to for purchase, it's essentially like a two tap sort of ordering system. And it makes it really easy. So we have the ability not only to, for consumers to do that in the US. But in the US, we also have the ability to designate influencers, or athletes or any sort of partner to give access to our own catalogue to them in their posts.

So for example, whether it's an influencer or an athlete, if if that's the way that we decide the sponsorship or the contract, let's say they post head to toe look of themselves in a new collection that we're putting out, they can if they're US based, literally tag, the specific pieces that they're wearing in their post and consumers visiting their accounts can also check out directly within the app. So that in terms of data gives us so much more to work with when it comes to we can look at okay, how many people tapped on the product tag, how many people added it to cart how many people actually ended up purchasing?

What was the average order size, the same types of things you might be able to get from, you know, a Google Analytics, you're also now able to get some of that when you're looking on social social commerce analytics. So I think that'll make things even more powerful in the future. No TikTok is on its way to doing the same in limited markets. So you know, looking at that, and then the separate piece is really looking at community management as well.

So if we are seeing a bunch of consumers, commenting on our athlete posts, whether it's on our channels featuring athletes or their channels, we can look at what the sentiment looks like if a bunch of people are asking, you know, where did you get that shoe, and we're there to respond on behalf of the athlete or on behalf of the brand. That's something where hopefully, we can show that that's true consideration going on there. Versus Of course, we also take the good and the bad, so I won't name names, but we've definitely had times where, let's say, people aren't happy with the specific kit that a tennis athlete has for an upcoming Grand Slam. 

And so sometimes you see that sentiment where they say, you know, you have this amazing athlete and you need to give her more trendy clothes to wear for example, and we should take that as well, to help sort of make sure that the consumers see that we're taking their feedback and passing that on to our design teams for you know for consideration of what the consumer is looking for. So it can really give us insights on both ways.

Scott Guthrie  24:48

Last year, the the National Collegiate Athletic Association or the n C A, they make changes affecting university or college athletes. How have those changes affected the way you work with athletes or your selection process? Or do you have a change out of your selection process?

Abha Gallewale  25:09

To start off with, I am not the most qualified person to answer that only because I'm not in charge of athletes sponsorships in the US, I work on the global team. So to firstly summarise the NCAA changes, it's giving college athletes the opportunity to benefit from the usage of their name, their image, or their likeness in some capacity. So in the US, we have within the NCAA, we have three different divisions, you know, Division One, Division Two division three tiered teams and universities. So all of them have adopted sort of this uniform interim policy suspending the NCAA name, image and likeness rules for incoming and current student athletes in all sports. So I can't speak for the US team since I work in global and we typically I think, as far as I'm aware, at the moment sponsor college teams as far as, as far as I understand. So, for example, like a full university volleyball team will sponsor or a full, you know, university running team or something like that track and field type of team.

So I'm not aware of how it has impacted potential individual athletes sponsorships, but I know it'll definitely impact our ability to partner with, with college athletes for one off things such as, let's say, again, I'll bring up TikTok as a great example. And so many college athletes are very active there.

So instead of thinking about it from a traditional sponsorship, or contract contractual perspective, it's really thinking now of how do we take advantage of the athletes that we can already see that are running and wearing our shoes. It might sometimes not be, you know, an athlete, that is that has a university sponsor, the team sponsored by ASICs. TikTok is so different compared to other social channels in terms of its algorithm and, and the virality of videos of, you know, sometimes one person's video just goes viral, even if they don't have 1000s of followers. So someone might be talking about your brand.

And all of a sudden, the for whatever reason, if people find the content entertaining, or it's something controversial, or whatever the reason all of a sudden, it's in everybody's sort of for you feeds for us, when it comes to these changes, it's really even more important to capitalise on those opportunities. If we see that someone's tagging us or replying to one of our videos with a video of their own, and they're in college, you know, that could include surprising and delighting that type of person, if they're a fan, and we want to give them an opportunity to engage with us, you know, it might be commenting and you know, DMing them to see how we can either send them a pair of shoes for their next big race or partnering with them in some capacity that can be more of like a seating type of mentality where there's no obligation from them to do anything.

But really see what they might have to say in that organic interaction. Sometimes it might be feedback that the way that the shoes fit isn't isn't satisfactory to them. And really making sure that we say, okay, we hear you, maybe this type of other shoe is is more better suited for the type of running style that you have or pronation style that you have, and really helping them out and showing that we as a brand are hearing and understanding where they're coming from. And that way, even if they aren't, you know, full on sponsored athletes or to be sponsored athletes on our roster, we've shown that, you know, we want to empower them to help reach their goals.

And I think both for from, from their perspective and from consumers watching those interactions that really feels authentic and genuine. And I think consumers do notice that these days. And those are just as powerful, even if it's not, you know, specific to a traditional sponsorship.

Scott Guthrie  28:38

And again, it goes back to the power of listening and understanding your audience, whether it's athletes or whether it's other consumers. I bet you're incredibly busy as a manager in global social strategy. You're incredibly busy with your lettering, and you're incredibly busy with your study. But how do you keep up to speed with the rapid changes within influencer marketing? What are your go to sources for inspiration or information?

Abha Gallewale  29:09

Yeah, I mean, I again, shameless plug here, but I feel like listening to podcasts like this one really help all of us keep up to date.

Scott Guthrie  29:16

Nothing shameless about that. Say it loud. I

Abha Gallewale  29:22

 Yeah. I think it's really important for us to listen to what other marketers and other brands are doing to get inspiration because I think I will, I can only speak for myself. But I think sometimes we get so much into the tunnel vision of looking for what our competitors are doing. Sometimes there's a lot to be learned from people outside of your industry, it might be a different, a completely different vertical or even, you know, b2b marketer or something like that and really making sure that we're taking those learnings and applying them to our own initiatives.

And I think the other piece is really having good trusted partners. I think we've been fortunate we found some really good agency partners that that we feel are really leaders in this space one that I can name off the top of my head is a company called influential that we're currently working with, you know, I know that they are partners with meta sometimes I've watched webinars that they've done with meta that show that they're obviously considered authorities in this space and really leaning on them to make sure that they're telling us you know, this is what these are the types of negotiation rules and not rules and regulations, but even sort of contingencies and conditions that you know, you as a brand should be working with to to not only make your ask relevant to the, to the influencers in question, but also asking of the influencers to make sure that we kind of optimise those types of partnerships.

And then same with ROI and making sure that the partners that we work with have the most robust analytics capabilities in place so that we can eventually take the reports that they give us and surface them up to our own leadership to show the power of influencer marketing. I think leaning heavily on trusted agency partners is big. Because they will always know more than you will, because they're in that you know, breathing it in, day in and day out and force finding webinars, podcasts, conferences and things like that to learn from others in the field.

Scott Guthrie  31:11

Thanks for the name shout out, but much, much appreciated. Where can listeners turn to for more information about you and your firm?

Abha Gallewale  31:20

Obviously, shoot again, go to asics.com. And in whatever country you're based in and you'll you'll be led to the E commerce site. I hope that that listeners also have local running stores or tennis shoe stores or things like that, hopefully that carry us and yeah, of course find us on Instagram TikTok. We just launched our TikTok channel about a month ago so it's still learning and growing but would appreciate any followers that care to follow us.

Scott Guthrie  31:46

I'll be sure to include those links in the show notes accompanying this podcast episode. Just google the influencer marketing lab for further details. Arba Galala global social strategy manager ASICs Corporation thank you for your time. And thank you for your for your so many insights.

Abha Gallewale  32:06

Thank you so much again for having me. This has been great and I'm excited to subscribe and listen to future episodes as well.

Scott Guthrie  32:12

You've gone beyond thank you so much. 

Scott Guthrie is a professional adviser within the influencer marketing industry. He is an event speaker, university guest lecturer, media commentator on influencer marketing and active blogger. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to achieve meaningful results from influencer marketing. That tells you something about him but it's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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