Elfried Samba, is the former Head of Social Media at Gymshark and was responsible for growing the brand exponentially around the world.
Also a confirmed speaker for World Football Summit, he has now moved on to creating his own creative design stop-shop and is looking to share some of the lessons he has learned during his career with the rest of the football industry. Among many other things we cover:
- His career at Gymshark and what football clubs can learn from marketing a D2C brand on social media
- Why web3 is the perfect lever to monetize “community-building” efforts
- Why creativity is the ultimate competitive advantage
Web3 is the ROI of community-building efforts in Web 2
WFS: Well, first things first, hats off to an amazing job in Gymshark. It has been truly remarkable what you have been able to accomplish. Just curious, why was it the right time to leave Gymshark?
Elfried: Thank you so much, it was the best 7 years of my life! We built something special. A true symbol of what can be achieved when dreamers that execute unite.
I recently entered my 30s and felt that I needed a new challenge. The world is entering a completely different space with new technology, social dynamics, and challenges.
I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to learn and push myself to grow.
Embedding your community into your communications strategy is imperative
WFS: The brand from 1.5 million to 20 million followers in just 7 years. What were the pillars behind Gymshark’s success in social media?
But perhaps more importantly, how can your experience in Gymshark be of value to the football industry?
Elfried: Firstly, Gymshark is successful on social because it is highly community-centric. It keeps its community at the heart of everything it does which is very difficult as you grow as a brand. This emulates the connection between Football clubs/players and their fans. Truly embedding your community (fans in this case) into your communications strategy is imperative.
Secondly, the brand focuses on “impact over effort” and doesn’t put perfection on a pedestal. Too many brands fixate on high production however, most modern audiences want to consume content that is raw and unpolished. Look at the recent Arsenal “All or Nothing” documentary. A fly-on-the-wall experience humanised the club and built a closer connection between the manager, players, and fans.
It has an evolve-or-die mentality. Gymshark always has an eye on what is coming next. It aims to evolve at the speed of human culture and therefore remains one step ahead of business culture.
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WFS: You put out tons of valuable content through workouts, which helped you build “brand.” But how did you manage to link that with the “performance” side of the equation? I am asking because this can be a very relatable case for football brands…
Elfried: In short, the most loved and engaging brands have competitive advantages. Purchase decisions are becoming less about the product itself, but more about what it represents and who the seller is. It is wise for brands to control their own narrative. Also, social media is word of mouth at scale, so the more shares and interactions you get the more people are aware of and trust your service.
Football teams/players literally base and grow their business through fandom. If you can connect with your fans at a human level they will return the favor when you have something of value to offer.
WFS: How did you expand the Gymshark brand into new markets, which is a challenge that football clubs also face?
Elfried: I am a firm believer that social media has removed geographical barriers. A 16-year-old in the US probably has more in common with another 16-year-old in Japan than they both do with a 30-year-old in their respective countries.
The goal should always be to ensure that you keep as many of your fans under one roof for as long as possible until there is a genuine connection blocker in the form of language, values, and interest. Only then is it appropriate to introduce additional sub-category interest-led pages
Creativity is a vanity skill if it doesn’t impact people’s lives
WFS: Two key pillars behind your success are “creativity” & “community. What does “being creative” mean? What does it take?
Elfried: Creativity, put simply, is the art of zigging when everyone else is zagging. However, it is a vanity skill if it doesn’t have an impact on people’s lives.
It requires a sound understanding of the playground dynamics that exist, the ability to solve problems laterally, and the empathy to connect with people at a deeper level.
WFS: Why do you believe creativity is a key source of competitive advantage?
Elfried: It’s hard to stand out in a very saturated market. Creative thinking can help you be THE option, not AN option.
Having a “transaction-only” relationship with fans will prevent success in a Web 3 world
WFS: As I mentioned before, one of the most remarkable things you accomplished is that sense of “community.” And, it seems community-led growth and being able to market to a community is like pursuing the “best-kept secret.” What can the industry learn from your experience?
Elfried: The community will go from being a nice to have to a necessity in the business world.
In the example of tokenisation, brands with highly engaged and invested communities will thrive because “Owning part of their brand” will actually mean something to people.
However, organisations that simply have a transaction relationship with their customers will find it more difficult in the Web 3 world.
WFS: What lessons have you learned from marketing to a community that can be applied in a web3 environment?
Elfried: Keeping the community at the heart of everything you do is imperative.
First, they were talked to, then they were able to join in the conversation, and now they will be able to own a piece of the brand. Therefore, understanding them, involving them, and keeping them engaged will be equally as important in the Web 3 environment. Those that achieve this and come up with a more immersive experience than the competition will win.
WFS: Is web3 technology (Blockchain, NFTs, etc.) the key to unlocking the secrets of “monetizing” from sports fans?
Elfried: 100 Percent. Web 3 is the ROI of community building efforts in Web 2.
If you built your fan base in the Social Era, you will have a competitive advantage in the new era.
(This line of thinking is similar to what Kike Levy, from Meta, explained during Football Innovation Forum 2022. The framework consists of creating an audience, learning how to generate revenue from it, and then exploring innovation opportunities)
WFS: Are there any common misconceptions that you see around web3 & community?
Elfried: The main one os that it won’t completely change the way that we live and see the world.
Web 3 will fundamentally impact how we live our lives (Work, play, learn, consumer, interact, and more). I believe the real shift will start when people stop fixating on the technology itself and start focusing on what it unlocks.
WFS: Are there any sports organizations that you believe stand out in either “creativity” or “community” that football clubs can learn from?
Elfried: The UFC is the perfect example of a sports organization that has fully taken creativity and community onboard. Not only have they amassed a large global following and are one of the fasted growing sports on the planet, but it was also the first sport that was back during the pandemic.
A nod to the community they were able to amass and the creative thinking ability to navigate during unprecedented times.
WFS: If I am not mistaken, you make a reference to a quote from Albert Einstein that says, “I am not generally smart, I am passionately curious.” Why is that true to you? Are there any other quotes or frameworks that guide your thinking?
Elfried: Yes, plenty.
- Being “the only” is a superpower not a weakness
- Be so good they can’t ignore you
- If you want to go far, go together
- Happiness is a present experience
WFS: I believe Gymshark was very much “catapulted” during a physical fitness event in Birmingham (but please feel free to correct me on this one ). What value do you believe in-person events like World Football Summit bring to the table?
Elfried: Personal connection is very important. Zoom is great, but nothing beats the connection of meeting people IRL. I believe conferences such as the World Football Summit make the Football community feel like one big family. It is important to come together, collaborate and find new unique ways to keep pushing the game forward.
WFS: What are your expectations for World Football Summit?
Elfried: I am just hoping to run into some pretty cool people and offer some value!
This interview is featured in the latest edition of WFS Digest, our insider’s guide to the latest and most relevant thoughts and practices from within the football industry. You can subscribe to WFS Digest HERE.