Leveraging Aligned Creators to Grow a Clothing Brand

On a recent episode of our company podcast, My Social Life, Jacob Kelly sat down with Connor Alne. Connor is the former Head Coach for the Ottawa University (Kansas) Braves esports team and current Executive Director. In addition to his role with the Braves, Connor joined the Varsity esports Foundation as their Developmental Director. On top of that, he’s a content creator who goes by the name Coach Alne with over 300,000 followers on TikTok where he’s trying to educate 13-18 year olds that pursuing their passion for esports as a career is not only possible, but completely attainable.

Launching His Own Clothing Brand

During his year coaching the Braves esports team, Alne and the players on the team used to call each other “nerd” as a joke but also in an attempt to change the connotations of the word.

To Connor, the word “nerd” means someone who is being themselves, However, in Connor’s experience as kids grow up, they try to fit in rather than be themselves and those that are themselves get branded as a “nerd”. Connor wanted to launch a brand that not only reclaimed the word but also showed kids that’s okay to be themselves.

With that mind, he set out to design the logo and the clothing and he launched the brand on his birthday, March 2nd, 2020 and nerd. was born

Benefits of Creators Launching Their Own Products

Traditionally, influencers have made a lot of their money by being paid to promote other companies' posts.

Connor only has one current partnership with a brand that is not his own and that is with a company called GFuel. Other than that he does not do brand posts. He did some in the beginning but they started to feel inauthentic so he scaled back his partnerships to focus on his own brand and partner with companies he believes in.

There are a long list of reasons for creators to launch their own products including:

  • You don’t cap your earning potential. With a brand deal, you only make as much as the contract states. With your own company or product as it grows so do your earnings.
  • Built in audience and distribution: As a creator, you often have a large audience of fans who are willing to buy from you. You can save on marketing in the beginning by marketing to your existing audience.
  • Deepens your connection with your audience. Your product provides another touch point for your audience that doesn’t require them to be consuming your content.

The Perfect Product for his Audience

While the product is meant for nerds of all ages, the core demographic of nerd. is Gen Z. Connor’s TikTok audience happens to be 13-18 year olds who fall right in the middle of that generation. On top of that, his audience is primarily gamers and people that would identify as nerds. With that in mind, nerd. is the perfect product and brand for the audience he has created.

Learning From the Past

Connor’s esports journey started before his time with the Ottawa Braves. Back when he was a college student himself he launched a company called the National College Gaming Association (NCGA). The NCGA was a company that held esports events for colleges across the midwest United States.

When reflecting on his first business Connor said if he were to change anything it would be to have leveraged influencer marketing. His company used social media and paid ads but Connor admits that influencer marketing would have been a much better option for the business. That is a lesson he has carried with him today.

When it comes to marketing nerd., Connor says that influencer marketing is 100% of their strategy right now and that it’s the best way to be authentic with your marketing.

Find Aligned Influencers

One thing that Connor has put a big emphasis on is finding creators that are aligned to the mission and message of the brand. They don’t just purely look at how many followers or likes someone gets. They spend a considerable amount of time vetting the influencer and watch their content to make sure that they are someone that they want to represent their brand and message.

“Transparency and our message is what our brand is built off of. We can’t call ourselves nerd and encourage kids to be a nerd if someone that’s rocking our stuff is the type of kid that we don’t want to support. If it’s someone that is not going to represent us well we don’t want to work with them. I’m a lot more selective in that sense.”

Connor attributes a lot of the success of the brand thus far to that fact. This strategy has also intertwined influencer marketing into the company's narrative.

An interesting thing that nerd. does, is they list all of their influencers on their site under “Team nerd.” As a result of building the creators they partner with into the narrative of the brand, nerd’s fans anticipate the addition of new influencers to the team.

“Now when we’re adding influencers, we’re getting messages like they’re perfect for the brand’.”

A Lesson for Both Brands and Influencers

Connor provides a unique perspective on the world of influencer marketing as both an influencer  and an entrepreneur. After hearing his story we wanted to share some of our top takeaways when it comes to influencer marketing:

  • Creators have the ability to leverage the audience that brands are paying them for to create their own products. If brands are willing to pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to a creator to promote their product than that means the influencer is likely delivering results. Creators can tap into their audience and create a product that allows them to generate money on their own terms.
  • When partnering with influencers, a key to the success of your campaign is finding creators who are aligned with your purpose. The way Connor’s company nerd. has built out their influencer marketing is not a tactic that is unique to his business or industry. A company can replicate this model by finding aligned influencers with their own product. A great way to do so is by leveraging a tool like Surf for Brands that allows you to sort through your followers and the followers of over 1 billion accounts on Twitter and Instagram. Note: Connor did not use Surf for Brands, he manually sources all influencers on Team Nerd.
  • Influences don’t have to be adjacent to your brand. nerd. has made the influencers it partners with a part of the company and its narrative giving their fans more ways to connect with the brand and deepen their relationships with.

This is just one piece of Connor’s story. If you’d like to listen to his story in its entirety, listen to this week’s episode of My Social Life powered by Surf for Brands.