So I want to take a moment to appreciate some great aspects of Nike's marketing strategy. Though it's a consumer brand, I think it demonstrates a number of lessons we in B2B marketing can learn from.
I can already hear the weary sighs.
Big whoop. They ran a "disruptive" campaign. Generating a little controversy isn't anything new - and all press is good press right?
But this is the tip of Nike's glacial marketing approach, which is daring, ruthless and, most importantly, underpinned by a deep and genuine understanding of it's audience and market.
Firstly, I should add a disclaimer; my thoughts here have been very much influenced by a discussion on a superb podcast - Vox's The Weeds; where they outline that controversy in Nike's marketing approach is nothing new.
Nor is running a campaign that will potentially exclude a large swathe of its potential audience. The Nothing Beats a Londoner ads were not exactly controversial, but were unlikely to endear themselves to a Glaswegian, and their efficacy was regarded sceptically by some.
But Nike's whole marketing modus operandi is a calculated focus on where the money is; targeting 12 cities (from London to New York to Tokyo) known for their proximity to fashion trends. Campaigns are city specific and unashamedly so.
And they accomplished something pretty remarkable - they've made an old, morally dubious, market dominating brand (that basically personifies the definition of "establishment sports clothing brand")... well, cool.
So what's special about this approach, and what can we learn?
Did Nike flip a coin and wonder which half of America to outrage, and which to draw admiration from? Nope. Video analysis shows a pretty clear separation between Boomers/Gen X-ers and Millenials/Gen Z-ers. Similarly, those Cities they're targeting weren't plucked out of thin air. By knowing who they want to target, they've provided fresh, personalised, relevant advertising on a level that would be impossible without setting up a clear focus.
What about us? Understand who your audience is and how to reach them. Be it Intent Data, Purchase Signals or a constructed Account List - honing down on your audience can drive efficiency and a greater ability to personalise your message.
Leveraging the Bigger Picture
Personally, I completely support Kaepernick's protest and think that the payout from Nike's selection was well deserved after some pretty crappy treatment from the NFL. But what the heck has all this got to do with trainers with a little tick on them? These ads are tapping into a number of issues racking America at the moment: Politics, Diversity, Equality. Getting worked up about trainers is tough. Getting worked up about Trump though?
What about us? We're here to solve business issues, but business issues arise from larger industry issues or even regional or worldwide developments. Demonstrating you understand the big picture can more fluidly lead you to a discussion about the nitty gritty and help the audience find enthusiasm and a desire for action.
Taking Unrisky Risks Pays Off
On the surface, Nike played a risky game. Any campaign that results in people literally burning your product shows you've taken a gamble. But this is a gamble that has demonstrably paid off. I struggle to understand the logic behind teaching a company a lesson by burning stuff you've already bought but if you take a look at the types of people burning the shoe, you'll quickly realise that Nike's "risk" is alienating some folks who probably weren't running out to cop a pair of AF1's.
What about us? Being a bolshie brand probably doesn't sound appealing, but (shameless self-promotion incoming) being genuine and honest is massively respected by our audience, and in this industry it's unlikely we will be saying anything preposterously controversial, so why not be bold with our message? If what you're saying is well thought out and insightful, chances are your audience will agree with you, and will respect you more for not beating around the bush.
Have a +$1.46bn budget. And hire a famous celebrity.
Well this would be nice too I guess.
Anyway, for further reading on Nike's marketing strategy that delves more into the specifics of its very calculated risk, check out this article from Vox. And to see how this approach is working for Nike? Well I guess the numbers speak for themselves...
The controversy surrounding Nike's latest campaign featuring ex–NFL player Colin Kaepernick has powered Nike sales to to grow by 31%. According to San Francisco–based Edison Trends, post an initial decrease in sales, Nike’s NKE, -0.12% online sales actually grew 31% from the Sunday of Labor Day weekend through Tuesday, as compared with a 17% gain recorded for the same period of 2017.