6 Lessons Your Small Business Can Learn from Nike

Nike is projecting $50 billion in sales by 2020. But some of its growth strategy can be borrowed for free.

Nike shoes, and now apparel, have been around for more than half a century. Nike has stayed relevant by continuously trying different marketing strategies, taking advantage of the latest channels, and telling inspiring stories, fictional and real.

Even with modest resources, entrepreneurs can gain lasting industry recognition by following its lead. Just look at some of Nike’s more attainable tactics:

1. Inspire Any business can promote itself through emotional messages. Giselle Sendra, the digital marketing director for Robomow, a battery-operated lawnmower company in Vero Beach, Florida, says her team has discussed how to follow Nike’s example—what she calls marketing “by not marketing at all.” Noting that Nike’s ads generally inspire rather than sell gear, Sendra says Robomow recently shifted its focus off the equipment and onto its impact on the environment. “It’s about bringing the brand to life by promoting others rather than ourselves,” she says.

2. Be Relatable

One widely viewed Nike ad from 2012, “The Jogger,” had broad appeal because it showed a regular person with an imperfect body. Find ways to highlight common struggles of your customers. Even subtle messages can create a sense of being understood and build brand loyalty.

3. Use Humor Never underestimate the power of laughter. “Possibilities,” another popular ad, spurs the viewer to action by posing myriad scenarios—some possible, but others ridiculed even by the narrator himself. The ad seems to make fun of its own commercial, and a little self-awareness can go a long way.

4. Think Ahead Have you kept up with the latest developments in your industry? Nike wants its e-commerce business to be seven times its current size by 2020 by focusing on its digital side, Fortunereported. It also plans to focus on the growing trend of women’s apparel. You don’t need Nike’s budget to take a similar long-term approach.

5. Form Partnerships Nike partners with many organizations globally and locally to spread their messages. Part of Sendra’s campaign is to create new partnerships with environmental organizations so they will help get her company’s message out on climate change.

6. Foster Engagement Nike’s “Greatness” campaign was accompanied by an online motivational hub of social channels through which athletes could share their progress and success. Why not create a space for your audience to express itself, in person or online? Today’s consumers connect over their experiences with products more than in the past. They will associate your brand with the feeling they get from being part of a community with shared interests.

The same goes for media engagement. Stephanie Lantz, a partner in StarGet Business and Marketing Strategies, a Philadelphia-based marketing strategy firm, says small businesses should be engaging with media professionals through mixed media. She points to a “concierge” program that Nike once created to help keep editors fit on their way to fashion week in Europe. That led influencers to post pictures on social media such as Instagram, says Lantz, which got the attention of others in the media. “This created an experience that writers would associate with the brand,” she says.

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