This article is part of our ‘Marketing Strategies’ series, an in-depth look at how some of the world’s most successful companies promote their brand and their products.
An effective marketing strategy can be a significant key to the success of any business. With the complexities involved in composing a competitive marketing approach, however, many organisations struggle to devise and execute a well-rounded strategy that adequately appeals to their target audiences.
Athletic apparel giant Nike is not only the global leader in its market – boasting a 27% market share at last count – but also an internationally recognised brand renowned for its innovating marketing strategy. Its compelling marketing campaigns have undoubtedly contributed to its impressive growth over time, resulting in worldwide revenues of $39.1bn in 2019.
So, what can entrepreneurs and business owners learn from Nike's marketing strategy? Read on as we deep-dive into the advertising approach of this iconic brand.
Nike's Marketing Approach
The US multinational focuses its marketing strategy on empowering audiences through sport, promoting emotive messages of strength, equality and diversity. Thus, Nike's campaigns evoke emotional responses from viewers, succeeding in attracting consumer attention, forming bonds between the brand and its buyers, and therefore influencing loyalty.
The brand employs influential professional athletes to support the promotion of its products, leveraging their popularity to reach millions of viewers, and using their perceived authority in the field of sports to positively impact sales.
Throughout its marketing campaigns and activities, Nike maintains an emphasis on its iconic branding. Its 'swoosh' logo and "Just Do It" slogan of 31 years have become synonymous with the uplifting messages its campaigns convey, contributing to the brand's soaring value of $36.8bn in 2019 – officially the 14th most valuable brand globally.
Nike's target market is composed of men, women, and young adults interested in sports and fashion. The gender divide is clear: 28.4% of female consumers in the US rate Nike as their favourite sporting brand in 2018, compared to 23.9% of males.
These consumers are typically of average-to-high income status, with 55% of US high-income consumers reporting that they owned Nike products in 2018. This trend is even more apparent among Nike's younger consumers, with 60% of teenagers from upper-income US households preferring Nike for sporting apparel in 2018 – 5% more than those of average income families.
The company consistently conducts primary market research to determine these demographics. Data sources include its digital channels, sales reports, and shopper surveys. This information is used to decide how Nike can remain the preferred sporting apparel brand as both consumers' behaviour and market trends change.
The brand uses an interesting mix of marketing media to appeal to buyers, including expertly crafted content, prominent sponsorships, digital campaign delivery, and tailored product lines. This is funded by an estimated advertising expenditure of $3.75bn, far surpassing the $681m invested by close competitor Adidas in 2019.
Here are some of the company's trademark strategies:
Nike's campaigns have become famous the world over, motivating generations of youths and adults alike to "Just Do It" and overcome their respective obstacles. This objective is reflected in the company's innovative mission statement, which is "to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. (*If you have a body, you are an athlete)".
The brand typically uses short bursts of powerful vocabulary throughout its ads, focusing on emotive and often controversial words such as 'believing', 'sacrificing', 'slavery', 'dream', and 'greatness'. The critical messages within these ads are curated so as to appeal to consumers' aspirations and emotional needs.
Its imagery, meanwhile, focuses intensely on the human subject used in each campaign and is typically portrayed in black and white. This approach minimises the opportunities for viewers to become distracted by other visual elements and increases their focus on the adverts' primary messaging. It's also a statement regarding the brand's commitment to supporting racial equality in sport.
You don't have to be a global market leader to benefit from emotional marketing, either. Younger businesses can reinvent their marketing content with sentimental elements to elicit valuable feelings of trust, affinity and desire from their consumers.
Nike partners with famous athletes who are of interest to the brand's target market, as well as wider groups of sports fans. They include major figures across popular professional sports, such as Serena Williams, Cristiano Ronaldo, and LeBron James.
Sponsored athletes are paid to feature in Nike's major campaigns, wear Nike apparel during their participation in global sporting events, and promote their collaboration with the brand across their social media accounts.
This influencer marketing is successful in capturing the attention of Nike's consumers, deepening the effect of the brand's motivational marketing communications and influencing buyer decisions.
In addition to athletes, the company collaborates with celebrities in the fields of fashion and music, to further broaden their audience, extend their pool of consumers, and continue driving sales growth year-on-year.
The company uses several digital channels to distribute its marketing material, including its websites, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. This cross-platform presence ensures that campaign content is viewed by relevant audiences, representing the brand's understanding of the major media consumed by its shoppers.
Nike demonstrates expert management of market segmentation through its use of separate social media accounts for various apparel categories. For example, the brand maintains different Instagram pages for basketball, football, general sportswear, and – importantly – women, all in addition to its central profile.
The company's digital marketing complements its investment in traditional broadcast marketing, allowing offline methods to raise mass awareness, while its online efforts target specific consumer groups. Nike's YouTube account, for instance, now boasts over 200m views, supplementing the estimated 146.8m TV ad impressions gained through the company's televised campaigns during the first half of 2019. While its airtime cost the brand some $12m, its accompanying digital marketing comes at a far smaller cost.
Nike's exemplary use of tailored online marketing in conjunction with offline mass awareness efforts can teach entrepreneurs the value of balancing their investment in varied advertising channels. This approach can more effectively meet marketing objectives and more efficiently use available advertising budgets.
Nike's digital tactics extend to offering a variety of unique services and mobile apps that target positive customer experience. Among these is Nike By You, which allows users to personalise the design of selected Nike trainer models.
This digital service enables the brand to appeal to its millennial and Generation Z consumers' need to express their individuality, and profit from their preference for product customisation. It is yet another method by which the market-leader aims to secure access to future revenues throughout the development of the global sports footwear market, which is currently evaluated at $86.9bn and growing.
Small businesses can benefit from adopting this outlook by carefully examining the current trends within their market as well as monitoring predictions for its future development, as well as leveraging digital tactics to secure new opportunities that arise as a result of these.
Though Nike makes great efforts to create innovative marketing campaigns, a key to its success has been the consistency in its primary branding and its dedication to athlete sponsorships. These two elements have vastly contributed to Nike becoming one of the most recognisable brands globally, a status that the company profits from in considerable measure.
The brand re-invests significant sums in its influencer marketing approach, although it tailors its campaign delivery across online and offline advertising platforms, adjusting the selection of delivery techniques based upon the visibility these offer to target shoppers.
Nike closely monitors both market intelligence and consumer demographics, taking marketing decisions based on the results of this analysis. Female consumers' preference for the brand, for example, has led the company to tailor its marketing content to appeal to them, increasingly focusing on distributing messages of empowering and supporting women in sports. This coincides with the brand's recognition that the market of women's sporting apparel and footwear is one and a half times larger than men's, according to Nike CFO and EVP Andy Campion.
Its successful 2019 Dream Crazier marketing campaign is a prime example of this.
Nike launched its Dream Crazier marketing campaign in February 2019. It centred around a 90-second video, narrated by tennis player Serena Williams, celebrating female empowerment and participation in sports.
The video challenged stereotyping and gender bias in sports, condemning the inequality that female athletes face. Featuring several prominent female athletes who have broken boundaries in sports, the campaign's tagline read, "if they think your dreams are crazy, show them what crazy dreams can do. #JustDoIt".
The campaign's television ads were well received in the US. Indeed, although Nike ran various other TV campaigns during the first half of 2019, Dream Crazier garnered the best response among these, with viewers choosing to interrupt the advert 35% less than the noted industry average.
The campaign utilised Nike's typical athlete endorsement model, with Williams not only featuring in the campaign's imagery but also sharing it to her online audience. It gained an incredible response from Williams' following, which prompted other professional sportsmen and women to share the inspirational content across their own channels in support of empowering women in sports.
This was a significant activity in Nike's marketing plan aimed at connecting more closely with its female audience, recognising the significance of this segment. The approach was confirmed by Nike Chairman, CEO and President Mark Parker, saying at the time that "we think 2019 is going to be a true tipping point for women in sport, with more participation, more coverage, and overall, more energy."
As part of a highly competitive global market, Nike diligently monitors the buying behaviour of its consumers and keeps track of trends and changes in the sporting apparel and footwear industry to influence its marketing strategy. The company's valuable brand identity, combined with its emotional marketing approach, has affected consumers to form strong bonds with the company and remain loyal to the brand. Nike's marketing successes offer lessons for budding businesses and entrepreneurs alike, demonstrating the benefits of prudent market research, careful content curation, and combining online and offline marketing mediums to secure the best return on investment of advertising expenditure.
In the meantime, if you still want to learn more about how the world's biggest brands sell their products and engage with audiences, then why not take a look at our breakdown of Red Bull's marketing strategy, too?
Was this article helpful? What aspect of Nike's marketing strategy will you implement in your own company's? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!