Go to any yoga, gym, or spin class in North America, or walk down the streets of a hip neighborhood, and you will likely see someone wearing lululemon's yoga pants, jogging shorts, or sports bra. Despite the luxury price tags (iconic yoga pants cost USD 98!).
People rave about the quality, feel, and fit of the brand's athleisure range so much that they tell the people to buy or buy themselves without extra incentives.
Lululemon Athletica is a Canadian yoga wear company that has built a loyal fan base, an almost cult-like following in one of the most saturated industries — retail apparel — despite being in a competitive market with established players like Adidas and Nike.
It started from scratch in 1998, made $6.2B in revenue in 2021 & is ahead of schedule to achieve 2023 goals. From 2019 to 2021, lululemon gained more market share globally than any brand in the adult activewear category. The company plans to double its 2021 revenue of $6.25 billion to $12.5 billion by 2026.
Long story short, they’re doing something right and you, as an emerging DTC brand, must learn from them.
Creating great products and brand building has helped and will continue to affect growth but what also contributes to the success is engaging brand ambassadors at different levels. This created word-of-mouth, social proof, and credibility, which helped them get meteoric growth without spending millions on advertising and heavy sales push. lululemon's ambassador program is a centerpiece in their marketing strategy, and that's why it's worth taking notes from. In this post, we focus on how they've structured the program and what kind of relationship they build with ambassadors that makes the programs so successful.
How is lululemon's ambassador program structured
lululemon has two ways of connecting with trendsetters & influencers — Ambassador Program and lululemon collective.
The Ambassador program is to connect with people who are inspiring others with their training & are active in their communities.
It is further divided into two categories: Global, and Store Ambassadors. Each category's focus is on different parts of marketing — brand building, brand awareness, and customer engagement.
Global ambassadors are the international athletes, yogis, trainers, and creators who are inspiring and creating an impact in the world with their training. These ambassadors train and/or compete in lululemon’s products and are not paid to do so. Instead they are supported with products and anything else they request to improve their training - e.g. yoga classes, training accommodation, and support at events. From the looks of their Twitter profile, it's possible that they are also required to put it in their bio to validate the affiliation and raise brand awareness.
lululemon currently has 47 global ambassadors across different sports categories such as surfing, tennis, boxing, etc. The goal of teaming up with role models and trendsetters is to humanize the brand, create credibility, and tap into the popularity of the athlete to create brand awareness.
Store ambassadors include athletes, yoga teachers, creatives, and even entrepreneurs who are passionate about fitness and health. Store ambassadors are to help them connect with local communities around the world and provide insightful feedback so they can innovate and grow.
Simply having a huge following or aesthetically pleasing posts is not enough to become an ambassador. A lot of people want to get into the restricted club, but Lululemon requires you to have more than that. Look for ambassadors that share your values and ethos. Don't just work with anyone with a following!
Stores choose local ambassadors for their locations who are leaders in their respective communities.
Whenever they consider someone for an ambassador program, they ask them, 'will you be our ambassador' in a creative way. We've seen pictures of cakes and banners.
The company reimburses its employees for workout expenses (gym, studio membership), so they always seem to know who’s who in the area. That's how some of the best local trainers, instructors, and coaches are invited to become Ambassadors.
They currently have 500+ local ambassadors in different countries wherever lululemon has a presence.
Local ambassadors are expected to use lululemon’s gear in their workouts, give them critical feedback, and collaborate on product collections. They teach classes and host events — online, in stores, and in their community.
lululemon Collective is their affiliate influencer program and doesn't involve any product gifting or discounting. It is for customers who are active but not necessarily pro athletes and is a great way to turn existing (influential) customers into advertising tools.
As part of a collective, creators earn a commission on what people purchase through your unique links. Apart from monetary benefits, they get access to an exclusive Facebook community full of resources. It’s a win-win for both parties, and at SARAL, we strongly advocate for the same.
One has to apply to be part of it. There's a dedicated page where any creator can go and apply by sharing basic information and a little bit about themselves. Once accepted, lululemon sends them brand guidelines and teaches them how to generate their unique links without back and forth with the team. The creators can choose how often and what they want to post about.
Anyone who is a micro-influencer or mega-influencer, shares authentic content, and believes in performance-driven marketing is invited to apply. They've set a minimum follower count of 3K to be eligible for the collective. Observe that they subtly tell that they don't want to partner with people just for 'exposure', and sales are a metric to judge the success of any collaborations.
When asked in an interview if lululemon will sponsor big teams in exchange for advertisement, here's what CEO Laurent Potdevin said — "The goal is to foster more flexible and authentic relationships. We're very focused on our grassroots model. We think it's incredibly powerful. We love it. So don't expect to see us endorse big teams around the world anytime soon."
This shows that the brand is not buying into the idea of spending extravagantly on sponsoring big brands that would give them a boost once or twice when the games are played and then fizzle out. They want to go for a sustainable model that is a win-win for everyone. (source)
How lululemon treats its ambassadors
Many of the brand’s store ambassadors are instructors or studio owners within local communities, so when physical spaces were shut down during covid lockdown, they came forward to support the ambassadors financially with a $2M relief fund.
This is a paltry amount for the brand in exchange for ensuring that the relationships they've invested in for a long time don't get lost. It also shows that lululemon doesn't see ambassadors as people with just transactional relationships or someone they ask to do a bunch of tasks. Their focus is on building a strong relationship with them and supporting them in their training and passion whenever they can.
Aside from the high-level support, they cheer ambassadors — whether global or local — on their social media quite often.
The company helps ambassadors promote their workshops, fitness studios, and anything that aligns with the brand.
Apart from social media promotion from lululemon, Some of the other perks that an ambassador gets are:
- Free lululemon merchandise
- Store discounts
- Discounts for friends/family,
- Extended discounts during holidays
- Free and discount fitness classes
- Business coaching and personal development courses
The onboarding of every ambassador is also quite special. Introduction into the program begins with a meeting focused on goal setting. lululemon Educators come in and assist you in creating your own goals and life plans. In 2020-21, with many travel restrictions, the onboarding happened virtually, and some gifts were sent to ambassadors.
The company also hosts a 3-day summit where ambassadors, store managers from each location, and some key community leaders from the Vancouver Head Office come together to explore everything lululemon stands for. Ambassadors learn more about new products and events people can be a part of. The aim is to educate ambassadors on what it means to be part of lululemon, the brand’s objectives, and goals for the next 5 years.
Takeaways for your brand:
We can see that lululemon runs a successful ambassador program. So what are some nuggets of wisdom you can takeaway from this:
- Creators on social media may be the only solution to get profitable results. If you don't have an ambassador program in place and rely on advertisements or think that running one-off sponsored posts with creators will get you quick, easy results, then re-consider it. If you build a successful brand ambassador program, you can free up cash and resources to invest into building a community that gets much more consistent and better results.
- Partner with people who are the right fit for your brand not just in terms of audience but also values, and passion. Your ambassadors should walk their talk, and represent the brand through their values and lifestyle. This will lead to more organic and authentic awareness about your brand.
- Invest into building long-term relationships, beyond one-time transactions. If you can go beyond that, look for people who not only fit your brand but you feel that the company can also grow the ambassadors' personal brand. This is the secret to a win-win and long term partnership.
- Make ambassadors feel special by sending personal notes, cakes, banners, and creating special perks for them. They now represent your brand, treat them like that. You can especially afford to do this when you keep your program exclusive and don't just accept anybody.
- Spend time in aligning your ambassadors with your company's goals, objectives, values, mission and culture so that everyone's message resonates and amplifies.
At SARAL, we believe in learning from the best influencer marketing programs, and getting that knowledge to you so you can grow your business without being at the mercy of expensive paid advertising or un-successful influencer marketing strategies. If you liked this post, you will love our deep dive into the influencer marketing and ambassador programs of brands like Notion and Athletic Greens.
Know more brands we should study for you? Opt in to receive our Influence Marketing Letter and let us know your suggestions!