NBA Players Have More Influence Than Moms For Beyond Meat
BY ADAM GROSSMAN
Beyond Meat has been one of the most positive initial public offerings (IPO) this year, and the plant-based protein company’s novel relationship with several NBA players has been a critical component of the story. More specifically, these partnerships are a case study for how star and non-star athletes can serve as successful influencers for non-endemic brands to their sport.
An IPO occurs when public investors can purchase stock in a company that had been privately owned issues for the first time. Prior to an IPO, companies typically meet with large investors and equity analysts primarily to determine the value of the company and set the IPO stock price. Beyond Meat’s stock price was set at $25.00 or at “the top of the range determined by analysts” on May 28th. Its stock price on October 1st was $146.42.
Anyone that had an equity stake in the company prior to or at the IPO clearly has had positive outcome to date (to put it mildly). This includes current and former NBA players such as JJ Redick, Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, Victor Oladipo, DeAndre Jordan, JaVale McGee, Harrison Barnes and John Salley. However, it was not a slam dunk that NBA players would serve as Beyond Meat influencers or brand ambassadors.
While Founder and CEO Ethan Brown thought that athletes should be an essential part of Beyond Meat’s marketing campaign, many of the marketing experts he consulted disagreed. They thought targeting moms made more sense for the company as “they did the shopping.” Brown disagreed and then hired famed marketing consultant Jeff Manning, the creator of “Got Milk?”, to specifically work with athletes in a similar context as the famous milk campaign.
Yet, Manning was originally skeptical that pairing Beyond Meat and athletes made sense. Reddick became the proof-of-concept (PoC) to test the strategy. One of the questions about working with athletes is are they a good fit for non-endemic products. Plant-based protein consumption is not considered essential to a basketball player’s performance in contrast to products like shoes, sports apparel, or equipment. So why should Beyond Meat want to partner with Reddick?
To start with, it is clearly helpful when athletes use the products the products they endorse. Reddick had grown up primarily in a vegetarian household and began “watching his diet more carefully” in his late 20s. Reddick had tried products such as Boca Burger, VegeBurger, and Gardenburger in the past, and “he was not a fan.” He was, however, looking for healthier eating options that he enjoyed eating to prolong his career. Reddick now consumes Beyond Meat because he states he both likes the benefits and taste of the product. This made Reddick an organic spokesman for an organic product.
This proved to be a seminal moment in executing this part of Brown’s marketing vision. More specifically, Brown’s goal was to convert multiple NBA players into ambassadors because of their recognizability as tastemakers. As Reddick states, “[The NBA is] at the forefront of a lot of things—training, fashion, food, diet. A lot of things that have happened in a macro way with society [are reflected in] these micro changes in the NBA.”
While he is not the most famous player, Reddick played a significant role as an influencer to the influencers. He talked to other players about why he liked Beyond Meat for both health and taste reasons. Reddick’s organic endorsement of the product became a catalyst for other NBA players to try Beyond Meat’s products and work with the company. This helped Beyond Meat secure a roster of all-star and non all-star caliber players that would use and evangelize the product to millions of potential customers.
It is great that Reddick could influence other players but the question becomes are these players going to reach the right audience as brand ambassadors. We used Block Six Analytics’ (B6A) Audience Inference Platform to analyze social media conversation from both healthy foods and multiple NBA players’ accounts with a range of follower sizes to determine audience fit from both a demographic and psychographic perspective.
From a demographic perspective, NBA players’ followers have similar profiles to heathy foods’ followers from an age, income, and education perspective. From a psychographic perspective, we found that food & beverage is often a common topic in conversation about NBA players with “plantbased” a frequent keyword in the analysis. While targeting moms could still make sense for Beyond Meat, targeting NBA players’ followers should be a better strategy to maximize audience fit.
Increases in stock prices are just one indicator of a company’s overall health, and Beyond Meat has dealt with challenges (along with significant sales growth) both before and after its IPO. In addition, the company’s relationship with NBA players is not the only reason for its success. Beyond Meat does show, however, that both star and non-star athletes can play an important role an influencer strategy even for non-endemic products when they are good fit for a company’s target audience.