Why would a company and brand like Nike make the potentially risky decision to feature Colin Kaepernick in its new ad campaign? And why would brands take a political stance in the face of almost certain potential backslash and brand harm in the first place?
The answer is actually quite simple: Brands do it because the traditional brand-building model isn’t working well enough anymore.
The old model was about brand image: The new model is about intelligence.
The old model was about creating an insight—some deep truth about consumers—connecting it to the brand, turning it into a message and then delivering it through advertising to consumers. I call it the spray-and-pray model. Nike perfected that model over 45 years with the help of its longtime agency partner, Wieden + Kennedy.
But that model isn’t working as well anymore.
The new model is about data, analytics and technology—using intelligence to strike a national conversation and staging the brand in it. As an agency staffer quipped: “We have gone from Mad Men to Math Men (and Women).”
In order to make the new model work, marketers need to tap into something relevant and of importance in the lives of consumers and culture. They can’t just shout from the rooftop about the benefits of their products or brands anymore.
The new model changes the way brands connect with consumers and how they interact with them. Here are four dimensions of this new model:
Have a direct connection with consumers
All brands need to develop direct relationships with consumers, even if it is only for part of the overall business. The benefits are irrefutable: more accurate and relevant information in real-time, more ability to personalize content and communications, instantaneous feedback and, above all, more sales.
Nike was late to the game of going direct, but it changed course in 2017. A year later, it reported growth of 12 percent in its direct business, while its traditional wholesale business only grew 2 percent.
Make consumers proactive contributors to value creation
The first instinct of young consumers is to share. And sharing creates value for others, since today’s consumer trusts strangers even more than brands. Content by users outperforms brand content by a huge factor, sometimes by a factor of several-hundred times.
An example of this is the Colin Kaepernick video ad, which got 80 million views on Twitter. As a result, Nike gained 170,000 new followers on Instagram. A post featuring Kaepernick also became the second-most-liked post in Nike’s history.
Build interaction fields around the consumer
An interaction field is a set of communications, engagements and information exchanges between and among multiple people, participants and stakeholders.
When carefully composed, an interaction field creates a gravitational pull toward the brand. It puts the power of social media and conversation in the hands of consumers.
Nike pulled in both sides of the so-called aisle of the political spectrum, and then other celebrity athletes like LeBron James chimed in. It forced everyone to take a stance whether they run in Nike shoes or not. It pulled in the National Football League, players and fans. It drew conversations and opinions from numerous social activist groups, the entire spectrum of the Resistance movement and powerful advocacy and union groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Black Police Association.
Nike tapped into a major issue and drew in everyone—proponents and opponents. Even President Donald Trump saw an opportunity, hoping to win voters perhaps.
Create a powerful composition to deliver connected commerce
Nike understands that likes and conversations are not enough. It knows that it takes a carefully composed mixture of conversations through influencer marketing, connections, collaborations and communications through content that led to action and sales.
Nike just did it. It was reported that the advertising value of the campaign was estimated about $163 million after only four days. Its online sales jumped 31 percent in the first four days after the campaign debuted. And the campaign helped push Nike’s market value up by $6 billion.
In other words, if the old model of branding was built on reach and frequency creating an image around a brand, the new model is built on data—all sorts of data, including social media, but definitely data provided freely and frequently by consumers. And if data is king, then frequent and meaningful interaction is King Kong.
If the traditional model of branding created an unconvincing veneer of brand love and image, the new model is about delivering real value to consumers, even if it is just helping them take a stance about an issue of importance to them.
This value to consumers grows exponentially in a world where everything connects and social media can make or break a conversation and even fuel an entire movement.
Is the old model of branding dead?
Brands still must define what they stand for and aspire to create. As Alexander Hamilton, in the Hamilton musical, says to Aaron Burr: “if you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?” But Aaron Burr also says: “Let me give you some free advice. Talk less, smile more. Fools who run their mouths wind up dead.”
That, in a nutshell, describes the old and new brand building models. Understand what you stand for but don’t communicate and message to consumers. Let the consumers do the talking and use intelligence or data, technology and analytics to facilitate the conversations, engagements and communications.
Erich Joachimsthaler is founder and CEO of strategic marketing consulting firm Vivaldi and author of two books on brands, innovation and growth.