Follow you, follow me: Nike’s experiments for the little people

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Nike turns its own brand on its head

For the past couple decades, there’s no question: Nike just did it.  From a brand perspective they built a powerhouse campaign that moved everybody and started from the top down, with superstars reminding us how hard it is to be your best.  Funny – consistently talking about taking action and trying hard gave the company an almost iron clad leadership position.

Now the game has changed, and Nike is well on its way to figuring out the new paradigm.  But here’s some irony for you…as the company is doing a lot to stay ahead of smaller competitors that could eat into market share, they are also writing a public playbook for those competitors to follow.

The change in branding philosophy reflects the new digital and social age perfectly.  The focus on stars telling us how to act is giving way to us telling them; empowering the audience is generating a new level of loyalty that can be tracked, yields customer data, and continuously engenders trust in the company.   Fortune Magazine chronicles the shift nicely, noting that “In place [of athletes] is a whole new repertoire of interactive elements that let Nike communicate directly with its consumers, whether it’s a performance-tracking wristband, a 30-story billboard in Johannesburg that posts fan headlines from Twitter, or a major commercial shot by an Oscar-nominated director that makes its debut not on primetime television but on Facebook.”

In essence, Nike is not just asking consumers to help promote the brand (a common social media goal), they are rewarding them by integrating their thoughts and personalities into the campaigns themselves.  In an era of seemingly continuous athlete scandals, consumers get the opportunity to tell the world how hard they work, and what it means to compete.

Consider that stroke of genius — Nike has essentially asked consumers to torpedo its own historic branding approach.  And who wouldn’t love that?

The risk is that in this environment, a leading marketing idea doesn’t stay unique for very long.  For the many thousands of companies scratching their heads over social media, this will hit them like a cartoon rocket booster.  Let the games begin.

Lead the way, Wile E.

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