Nike has been around for a long time (Since 1964, starting as Blue Ribbon Sports). Over the years, the company has transformed from a small-scale shoe manufacturer into a global footwear powerhouse with around 238 million followers on Instagram and 46.71 billion U.S. dollars in global revenue. Was it luck? Not so much. This post highlights five things about Nike’s sales and marketing strategy that have remained consistent over the years, translating into a lucrative business. 

There’s nothing special about Nike’s sales and marketing strategy; it’s the brand’s ability to consistently use the same old tools. This reminds me of a quote by Dwanye Johnson, “Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.” Nike knows the power of consistency, and here’s how the brand has leveraged that power. 

Marketing begins with customer research 

When Bill Bowmen was just a field coach, he didn’t know that his curiosity and obsession with the athlete’s footwear would one day become Nike. Anyone who knows Nike’s history knows it all began with the coach’s unrelenting fixation with optimizing the runner’s shoes. Even when he wasn’t thinking about starting Blue Ribbon sports, he was already thinking about his customers. What do they need? How could optimizing the current design help them? 

His obsession paid off in the 1960s Olympics, where Otis Davis won the Olympic gold wearing the shoe Bowmen customized. From day 1, Nike has focused on delivering value to the customer by understanding their needs. And it hasn’t changed. For example, according to WBR insights, Nike collects customer data through the Nike SNEAKERS app, Nike app, and Nike Training Club. The customer data collected allows Nike to understand customer needs and preferences and deliver a valuable product that the customers cannot refuse. 

When you know your customer (i.e., their style choices, most commonly bought designs, sizes, and other preferences), it is easy to create a marketable product. Nike’s marketing strategy has always encompassed customer data, and it has paid off and continues to pay off. 

Generate demand for your products 

Back in the 1960s, Bowerman created the jogging craze for the masses, establishing physical fitness as a regimen. He is credited for helping people embrace jogging as a lifestyle choice. He wrote books and articles and published a 3-page joggers manual (a physical fitness program for all ages). Bowerman wanted jogging to be for everybody because it would help keep people healthy while creating a widespread demand for running shoes. Bowerman may not have thought of it as a marketing strategy but either way he was generating demand for his company’s products. 

Nike continues to generate demand through influencer marketing, emotional messaging (we’ll get into below), and ads that remind customers why they need Nike products.

Invest in technology and production to exceed expectations 

After you know your customers and have generated enough demand for a product. It’s time to invest in technology and innovation to fulfill that demand. Nike is a hard-core innovator in footwear and ensures that its customers know about its  innovations. This is another way to generate interest and demand; Nike entices customers with technology-driven footwear designs that promise to elevate fitness. See the example below. Notice how Nike is promoting the technology and the benefit.

image @Nike instagram

Create a niche within a niche 

Nike has several categories, including golf, soccer, running, Jordan, basketball, baseball, and tennis, to mention a few. From its early days, the brand has prioritized creating shoes for different niches within footwear. With different categories and niches, Nike’s marketing message is: one shoe design isn’t for every sport or activity. And to be successful at sports, you need the right shoes. This does two things: first, it targets a niche that did not receive any attention from other footwear brands; and second, helps Nike expand its audience reach, which over time translates to more profit. An example of a niche within a niche is Nike basketball segments: Nike Force (endorsements with David Robinson and Charles Barkley); and Flight (with Scottie Pippen).

Be loud and controversial about your products 

Being controversial doesn’t always have to mean a negative thing. Sometimes, you can end up with controversy while speaking up for the right thing. Nike is always on board with controversial social issues. In an interview with HBR, Phill Knight addressed Nike’s involvement with such issues saying, “We like the publicity that pits us against the establishment as long as we know that we are on the right side of the issue.”

Nike does more than just hire athletes and make glossy ads; it participates in social conversations and sells touching stories that can emotionally engage its audience. Sometimes, it comes with substantial risk, but Nike loves the liability of an emotional ad. Phil Knight put it this way in his HBR interview: “Take a chance and learn from it.”

With controversies, Nike is establishing itself as a hero of the people who are treated unfairly. This motivates Nike’s existing and future customers to put their trust in the brand. They want to buy from the brand that champions equality and freedom. And this leads us to emotional messaging.

Create constant emotional messaging 

Demand generation is Nike’s core asset. By employing influencer marketing, the brand continues to create a buzz for its footwear. Nike focuses on celebrity athlete endorsements more than any other footwear brand, which has helped the brand keep the demand alive. Nike thrives on the message that success is not possible without the right tools. For athletes, the right shoe is the key to success; it is the right tool.

The following post is an example of using athlete endorsement paired with emotional messaging to motivate customers. 

image @Nike instagram
Image @ Nike

Apart from connecting with its audience through emotions, Nike also likes to maintain consistent communication with its customers. The brand offers exclusive styles for members, free shipping, and a chance to customize shoes. This further strengthens Nike’s overall sales and marketing strategy. And, it proves that the heart of sales and marketing lies in taking care of your customer. 

Image @ Nike

Key takeaway

Nike invests heavily in generating demand through emotional messaging and athlete endorsements. Over the years, Nike has established itself as a footwear brand that brings you more than shoes; Nike gives its audience the motivation to be their best, while promising to provide the tools (the shoes) to build success. I love this aspect of Nike’s sales and marketing strategy, but I don’t think the controversy would play very well for small business owners. In fact, it could be downright damaging. 

Small business owners and start-ups cannot afford to pay celebrities or athletes millions of dollars, nor do they have the budget to make expensive ads. But here are a few things you can take from Nike’s marketing efforts:

  1. Invest in customer research. Don’t create a product and reach out to customers; find customers first. Figure out if there’s an unfulfilled demand that you can tap into. Don’t do what others are doing; carve your own niche if you must. Talk to potential customers, do focus groups, and surveys to learn more about if your product will work. 
  2. Sell your product’s benefits, not the product itself. For example, highlight the functionality and how it can help your customers achieve something. 
  3. Use social media to connect with your customers. Again, don’t just sell your products; talk to your customers. 

And most importantly, just keep doing what you do. Nike could not have come this far if it weren’t for consistency, even with millions of dollars in the advertisements. Be consistent. Greatness will follow.

Did you find this post helpful? 

I did a post about how Zappos became a billion-dollar brand. Check it out and tell me in the comments what you think.


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