I run because... Nike has incredible branding
This Sunday evening I was surprised to find myself half a mile from home down a neighboring running trial, moving far faster than I had in months. The path was no surprise - it's a favorite route - but everything else about this situation was shocking.
First, I had spent the better part of Sunday driving from DC to Rhode Island and had been half-heartedly attempting to nap to recover: a run had definitely not been in the cards. Second, I had been in a running slump for months. Sure, I'd get in a quick mile or two a couple days a week, but since April have had trouble finding motivation. And third, with a running slump comes slow speeds. Yet, here I was moving at my race pace.
What had suddenly motivated me to get out, try harder, and to do so despite having the road trip equivalent of jet lag?
Nike. Nike's incredible branding, to be exact.
Not long after arriving at home, I got a push notification from Nike+ Running. It was a reminder that Sunday was Nike's "Fastest Day Ever" and challenged me to get out and run my fastest mile yet. I, being the ever-competitive former athlete that I am, had no choice. I had to run. And I had to run fast.
Here lies the incredible power. With one push notification, I laced up my Nike sneakers, turned on my Nike+ Running app, and set out to run my Nike fastest mile. In that moment, I was Nike's perfect and ideal target audience.
This happens more often than not - their recent "Take on TJ" campaign immediately resonated as I thought back to high school sports and the team stars that were always just a little faster, stronger, or sharper. Nike Training Club became my go-to workout in the depths of New England winter. I've even Instagrammed with a - *gasp* - branded hashtag.
Even more significantly, Nike was the reason I started running. I vividly remember signing up for the Nike Women's Half Marathon, having considered myself a sprinter up until that point. I immediately thought "what have I done to myself?" and then, prompted by followup emails and CTAs to post my training pictures, felt obligated to struggle through a sluggish 0.78 mile run. Now, almost two years, 750 miles, and four half marathons later, I owe all credit to the active apparel behemoth.
Technically, I am the perfect audience for Nike. I'm a young, former athlete who is generally fit/healthy (but could always be more-so), has some disposable income, cares about having reliable workout gear, and thrives in goal-oriented environments. I can count on one hand the times I've run without the Nike app in the past few years. I hunted down the same pair of my favorite sneakers at a random Sports Authority in Warwick, RI when I wore out my old ones. I treat myself to a new sports t-shirt before or after each race. I even take selfies at every mile during half marathons (which yields hilarious results and I will one day post.) And I never hesitate to recommend Nike apps to friends - new, experience, and non-runners alike.
But am I truly the perfect customer? Sure, I only run in Nike Flex Experience sneakers. But that's because I first bought a discounted pair at an outlet. I never pay more than $60 for a pair and I run them into the ground before repurchasing. I did shell out an obscene amount of money to run the Nike Women's Half in DC, but I've run far more non-branded races. I couldn't tell you Nike's newest product and might even mix up a dri-fit shirt for an Under Armour. When I buy a new shirt for each race, it tends to be from Target. (Now, my Target brand loyalty deserves a whole 'nother blog post.)
In this age of participation, brands are driven to not only post on social media, but to engage with their followers. They want to create brand loyalty by making conversations out of posts, relationships out of iPhone apps. To this point, Nike excels. They traverse the online and offline social world seamlessly - at the Nike race village before the DC Women's Half Marathon, I was presented with no less than a dozen opportunities to engage with Nike on social media. The most obvious being a larger-than-life branded "We Run DC" sign, which I did indeed take a picture in front of and upload to social. Though, to be honest, there was an enormous line to pose in front of it so when there was a lull in the line I ran up, my dad snapped a pic and we ran away. But the point is: there was a huge line to take a picture in front of a branded sign!
Nike understands their followers and knows just how to engage them. But engaging is not purchasing. I can only loosely be considered a Nike customer, though I am a brand loyalist. Before social media, a brand loyalist could only exist as a customer. Now, though, they create a Venn diagram with overlapping yet separate spheres.
I'd be curious to see how directly Nike sales are effected by social media and brand loyalty. There will always be the immeasurable effects: say you read this blog post and were inspired to buy a Nike shirt - you would become a customer due to the recommendation of a brand loyalist (me). But Nike would never know this for certain. Especially since you have undoubtedly seen other Nike ads, shoes, shirts, stores, apps, etc. at previous points in your life. The ROI of one campaign is negligible compared to the vast brand recognition built up over years. But imagine if we actually could track the effectiveness of brand loyalty on purchases. Would we find that the vast majority are customers? Or are there whole worlds of brand freeloaders who were attracted to the projection of the brand, yet aren't willing to shell out $185 for a jacket they could get at Target for $25? With more and more user data becoming available and trackable, I suspect we're not too many years away from knowing.
In the mean time, I'll keep running for the validation of my free Nike app, while wearing old t-shirts and Target branded shorts.
But hey! Don't go just yet -- I'm in the running to speak about the connection between creativity + running at South by Southwest. Help me out by giving my panel a quick vote by Friday, September 4th! (Signing up for an account is quick and harmless, I promise.)