We’re looking to grow in small towns: Sharma from Asics

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NEW DELHI : Japanese sportswear brand Asics is a latecomer to India. However, the company’s head of marketing, Saurabh Sharma, has been working to boost brand awareness and a store network that now has 72 outlets nationwide.

Sharma said Asics India was looking beyond Tier I cities to grow its presence and working with athletes from different sports to gain marketing momentum. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Has the late entry of Asics into India forced him?

Marketing has been the driving force behind the brand. If you look at us and other brands that have spent almost 20-25 years in India, we are still big in terms of marketing spend. But the intention we had was to be close to the runners. So, instead of spending a lot of money on advertising to boost communication, we thought the first step would be to have a conversation and dialogue with Indian runners, because shoes are our main strength. For this, we started sponsoring the Mumbai Marathon. This event is important to us because we call ourselves a scientific brand. So, before starting our subsidiaries in India, we wanted to learn about the running community. The company’s first partnership with event promoters, Procam International, began in 2009 as a ‘sporting goods partner’.

Is brand awareness an issue for you compared to older brands?

It is, to be honest, since we are the new entrants and only started around 2015. But any brand would find it difficult if they started that late compared to other brands that have been around for 15-20 years in terms of notoriety. I think what we have achieved over the last five years is very good and we are not far behind other brands. But at this point, awareness is something we are seriously working on.

Are other sports sponsors or partnerships in sight?

Yes, to increase our presence in South India, we started participating in the World 10K event in Bengaluru, which is a big event with almost 26,000 participants. Apart from that we have our Running Club, an inclusive running group led by experienced runners with weekly training programs created by runners.

Do you also associate celebrities and athletes to support your brand?

On the advertising front, we have Tiger Shroff as our brand ambassador to reach young audiences for fitness, which is central to what we do. We are not afraid of other sports either. If we talked about the Olympics last year, although we sponsored them globally, in India too we had our campaign where we signed contracts in various sports.

All the other brands also have a lot of athletes, but we’re basically focusing on someone who is very performance-oriented. Ravindra Jadeja, for example, is one such athlete. There is a campaign with him. We also bet on Bajrang Punia and Manika Batra. When we hire these athletes, we create a lot of content with them, showcase their journey to Indian consumers along with the brand message and use many mediums to promote it.

We are not immediately heavy on traditional media. In today’s world, if we see the marketing trends, they’re moving towards digital platforms, digital screens in shopping mall atriums, that’s where the communication happens. We also take our ads from YouTube and spend on ads on OTT platforms like Sony Liv, who were the official broadcast partners of the Olympics here.

We will not hesitate to use traditional media, because it is a medium that attracts a lot of attention.

Are you developing your store presence?

So far we’ve been focusing on Tier I and the subways, so we have a lot of stores there. Now, I think the progress is mostly in Tier II and -III markets. With the searches we see, many people are buying from these areas.

How much does online contribute to total sales?

Before the pandemic, we were focused on offline retail, and after the pandemic, the change has been dramatic. From 20-25% of our sales online before, we now make about 35-40% of our sales online.

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