The recent ESPN documentary, "Sole Man," details how Nike redefined sports marketing and put the company on a path to dominance, by signing Michael Jordan and creating the Air Jordan line. When Nike signed Michael Jordan, the entire company's sales were $150 million. One year after launching, sales for the new Air Jordan line alone were over $100 million.
Sure, every company wants a marketing strategy that immediately delivers $100 million in new business. But let's be honest, the term "marketing" describes one of the most vague disciplines in the business world. While there are some great books and countless articles on the subject, few pieces of literature are practical enough to implement at the unique and various stages of your company.
Breaking it down for my primitive mind, I believe that "marketing" should create qualified leads for your sales efforts. At its core, marketing should direct potential customers to and through your sales funnel.
Looking closely at what Nike did with Michael Jordan and scores of athletes since, here are three practical ways that your company can improve its marketing efforts and drive sales.
Michael Jordan was the luminary whom Nike leveraged to market not only its new Air Jordan line but also the entire company. Believing he was the perfect promotional vehicle, Sonny Vaccaro, the former Nike executive who signed Jordan, said that they went "all in" on him and paid him every penny that they could. Though it was a significant risk at the time, Nike's association with Jordan catapulted the company to new heights.
All industries and markets have luminaries who can influence potential customers. Sometimes they are celebrities but they don't need to be. The perfect luminary could be a marquee client or even a powerful governing body. Also keep in mind local luminaries, like bloggers or aspiring trendsetters. Luminaries' usage provides social acceptance and boosts awareness of your company and products.
In Nike's case, the "Air Jordan" was the first signature shoe that had been created for an NBA basketball player. They were black and red, consistent with the colors of the team that had drafted Jordan: the Chicago Bulls. The shoes were immediately recognizable and even made a fashion statement.
In order to best market your products, they should be differentiated and unique. They should separate themselves from other product offerings. For instance, Christian Louboutin's coveted women's shoes always boast their iconic red soles. Similarly, pictures on the social network Instragram stand out because of the distinctive filters that are usually applied. Well-marketed (and designed) products are able to easily stand out from the crowd and incite demand.
The Air Jordans were technically advanced basketball shoes, but their true value to most customers was that they looked cool...really cool. This created a buzz among potential customers. In "Sole Man," former NBA All-Star, Chris Webber recants the first time he saw someone wearing Air Jordans, saying, "It was recess 1986. I was 13 years old. This kid who used to just be fresher than everybody else...had on these red and black Jordans. I just remember all us going 'oh,' just sitting looking at his Jordans."
When the value of your product is easy to identify, it creates purposeful word-of-mouth marketing. For example, people may ask, "May I send you the money I owe you through Venmo?" Pay special attention to the emotions that your product evokes and how it helps your customers express themselves. These succinct, powerful messages raise awareness for your product and deliver customers to your sales funnel.
Not only has Nike replicated this process with other athletes through the years so have its competitors, like Adidas and Under Armour. Companies like Beats By Dre have also utilized these principles. Regardless of your budget, these strategies can help market your product and company to thousands if not millions of people.