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NEW DELHI : Japanese sportswear brand Asics has been a late entrant into India. However, the company’s head of marketing, Saurabh Sharma, has been working on building brand awareness and a store network that now has 72 outlets in the country.

Sharma said Asics India is looking beyond tier-I cities to increase its presence and works with athletes across different sports to gain marketing momentum. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Has Asics’ late entry into India constrained it?

Marketing has been the driving force for the brand. If you look at us and the other brands that have spent almost 20-25 years in India, we are still big in terms of marketing spending. But the intention that we have had was that we wanted to be close to runners. So instead of spending a lot of money on advertising to drive the communication, we thought the first step would be to have a conversation and dialogue with Indian runners because shoes are our core strength. For this, we started sponsoring the Mumbai Marathon. This event is important for us because we call ourselves a scientific brand. So before starting our subsidiaries in India, we wanted to educate ourselves about the running community. The company’s first partnership with the event’s promoters, Procam International, began in 2009 as its ‘Sports 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 started only around 2015. But any brand would find this challenging if they started this late compared with other brands that have been around for 15-20 years in terms of brand awareness. I feel that what we have achieved in the last five years is very good and we are not far away from other brands. But at this point, awareness is something that we are seriously working on.

Are there more sports sponsorships or partnerships in the offing?

Yes, to increase our presence in south India, we started taking part in the World 10K event in Bengaluru, which is a big event with close to 26,000 participants. Apart from this, we have our Running Club, an inclusive running group led by experienced runners with weekly training programmes created by runners.

Are you also associating with celebrities and athletes to endorse your brand?

On the advertising front, we have Tiger Shroff as our brand ambassador to reach out to the younger audience for fitness which is the core of what we do. We also don’t shy away from other sports either. If we talked about the Olympics last year, although globally we were sponsoring it, in India too, we had our campaign where we signed contracts across various sports.

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

We are not immediately heavy on traditional media. In today’s world, if we see the marketing trends, they are moving towards digital platforms, digital screens in the atriums of shopping malls, that is where communication is happening. We are also taking our ads on YouTube and spending on advertising on OTT platforms like Sony Liv, which were the official partners of the Olympics broadcasting here.

We won’t shy away from traditional media because that is one media that gets a lot of eyeballs.

Are you expanding your store presence?

Until now, we were focusing on tier-I and metros, so we have got a lot of stores there. Now I think the progress is basically on tier-II and -III markets. With the research we are seeing, 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 post-pandemic, the shift has been sizable. From 20-25% of our sales online earlier, we now do about 35-40% of our sales online.

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