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How Nike Builds Communities with Socially-Driven Product Development

Through the droves of highly targeted ads, conceptualized social media campaigns, and hard-thought TV commercials that companies use to transmit their messages, social proof stands out as the most effective way to gain a following today.

Maybe it’s because millennials have become disenchanted with the media or maybe those paid messages have simply become white noise, but the reality is that an endorsement by an influencer, or even an everyday customer on social media, can be even more impactful than traditional advertising.

One athletic juggernaut that’s always understood this is Nike, a brand that’s more than a name – it’s a lifestyle. That connotation isn’t just limited to athletes. Take a look at the 55.2 million Instagram posts bearing the Nike hashtag and you’ll see babies, fashionistas, celebrities, and goal-worthy shots that make you think maybe you need a new pair of kicks, or some running shorts, or a jacket.

Nike has built its name on exclusive products, aspirational ambassadors, and an inclusive message. The brand makes you desire its products by positioning them as tools of people who achieve mightily, then it makes you want them even more by setting release dates for new models and creating limited editions.

Take, for example, the Nike Air Max 1 iD, an iridescent version of the popular Air Max and Nike’s way of hopping on the unicorn bandwagon, so you know you’ll be seeing them on your news feed touted by everyone from highlighter-obsessed beauty bloggers to actual athletes. They take three weeks to deliver because they’re custom made. Did that get you excited, even just a little bit?

Ok, maybe this will do it: June 1, Nike will release its Air VaporMax Day to Night collection, which features three colorways in shades specifically designed to coordinate with the color of the sky at dusk, midday, or dawn. For runners who like to document their daily runs via Insta, these are a holy grail, created to help facilitate the creation of lifestyle content.

Beyond designing sneakers in hues you didn’t even know existed, Nike has a way of endorsing true athleticism by working with the world’s best basketball players and runners to break barriers. Michael Jordan stands out as an obvious example, but, more recently, Nike spearheaded the Breaking 2 project. It selected three elite runners from Africa and set out to make the sub two-hour marathon a thing, potentially breaking world records.

The runners will make their way through the specially designed course wearing the Zoom Vaporfly Elite, weighing just 200 grams and made with a curved carbon insert. The insole is key, as it’s proclaimed to require four percent less energy from runners, compared to their previous best shoe. The runners will also don new socks, shorts, and singlets that boost aerodynamics and ventilation, basically the sartorial (and legal) equivalent of doping.

One doesn’t need to be an elite runner or have access to these uniquely engineered shoes to be impressed by them. It’s just one more example of how Nike establishes its products as tools to achieving greatness, making the two synonymous in the minds of consumers. Even if you’re just putting on your Nike sweatpants to get a burger, you feel kind of athletic doing it.

Further, it’s an inclusive brand – a difficult thing to achieve while maintaining an air of exclusivity. Nike makes shoes and clothing that are popular among many cultures and people of all shapes and sizes, and it does so by creating a wide range of products. You might have to wait three weeks for those unicorn kicks, but you don’t need to be a supermodel to wear them. There is a powerful authenticity in this type of brand experience, which helps drive the creation of so much visual, social content.

Most recently, Nike released a line of clothing for plus-sized women. It now offers exercise gear in sizes from XS to 3X and its Pro Bra Collection accommodates up to an E cup size. No, Nike isn’t the first company to make plus-sized athletic clothes, but the availability of these sizes from a mainstream brand means that women of many sizes can now get in on the trends. It’s a positive thing for consumers, and it further expands Nike’s demographic.

While it’s taken decades for Nike to reach its current status, its formula for success is something any brand can follow:


+ Make highly photogenic products

+ Give an audience something to aspire to by using influencers

+ Be inclusive and inspire all customers to become evangelical


Using Nike’s keys to success, you, too, can do it.




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