What Sports Teams Can Learn From Nike

You’ve probably noticed, but Nike has been giving us all a masterclass in advertising lately. From their latest ad for the USWNT to their show them what crazy dreams can do, spot after spot they have nailed it.

The strong work recently comes as no surprise. Nike is a brand that was built by marketing. More than just the products they sell, Nike represents the power of sports as a vehicle to inspire human potential. There are very few brands who have built such a platform.

Here’s the thing. Nike doesn’t “just do it” when it comes to marketing and advertising. They get it. They get what it means to define your brand, understand your consumer, sell on emotion and play the long-game not the short-game. There is so much to be admired. Sports teams, it’s time to take notice.

Yes, I know. Sports franchises will never have the budget of Nike. Still, though, there are fundamental marketing philosophies that teams would benefit from adopting. And they don’t require a billion-dollar marketing budget. Here are three of them that stand out to me:  

Define your brand beyond the product.

Nike is defined by more than their tangible products. They are defined by their mission, their values and what their brand represents to the consumer. Instead of selling shoes, Nike sells the idea that if you have a body, you are an athlete. Their mission is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.

Throughout the years Nike has consistently created ads that celebrate athletes of all levels. Whether they’re featuring Serena Williams or representing the average consumer, every ad is about people finding their greatness.

What teams can take away:

Too often sports franchises focus solely on the product they put on the field. Marketing and content is centered around the team, the scores and big moments. While that’s obviously a major piece of the puzzle, team performance alone will not take a franchise and turn it into a brand.

Sports are a platform to bring people, communities and cities together. More than the scores, they connect people us, serve as a vehicle for hope and a distraction from the daily grind. It’s the emotional connection people have with teams that needs to be tapped into.

Every sports team needs to take the time to define their why. Every team has scores. Every team has ups and downs. What does your brand stand for? Why do fans gravitate to your team? What’s the emotional connection? What’s the unique story you have to tell? It’s the emotional connection beyond the field that separates teams.

Defining what a team offers beyond the score takes a franchise or program and turns it into a brand. It’s those defining characteristics that draw people in and keep them there through the highs and lows year after year. This type of thinking is key for teams. Take that page from Nike.

Keep it simple & consistent.

Since landing on their sharp positioning and “Just Do It” slogan back in the late 80’s, Nike has kept their message simple and consistent. They don’t have a new tagline every year. They haven’t created a million variations of their logo. They’ve built incredible brand equity by finding the thing that works and staying consistent.

Nike’s brand positioning has stood the test of time. Why? Because it’s multi-dimensional and broad-reaching enough to evolve with the narrative of Nike over the years. It’s about a long game, not the flavor of the day.

What teams can take away:

Once teams have defined their brand, they need to land on their messaging and positioning. Sharp messaging and a consistent rallying point (slogan) have the ability to provide more purpose and focus to a team’s content and creative. They help tie a bow around the story. They can rally a community.

The key is to find messaging that is simple and  has more depth than “just a tagline”.  Taglines must be rooted in insight, strategy and a concept that is multifaceted and can evolve. And, that concept needs to be brought to life across multiple channels and executions – like Nike does.

Great brands aren’t built overnight. They’re built by a sharp POV and consistency – and a simple concept people can easily get. Teams need to find their brand platform that is evergreen, broad-reaching and malleable enough to drive the narrative year after year.

Remember, we as marketers get tired of our work and messaging long before the consumer does. Find your thing and stick to it. Consistency matters.

Make your consumer the hero & muse.

Early on, Nike made the decision to broaden their reach.  The market share for active people vs high performers was much larger so their brand needed to be more inclusive of anyone looking to get active.

The perspective that “if you have a body you are an athlete” broadened the scope of how they approach certain campaigns. Yes, they still feature elite athletes and superstars, but they also appeal to the average person. Take a look at these spots from over the years:

Nike has a way of making creative that speaks to the consumer, not above them. When you watch one of their ads is easy to feel part of the story. Their ads aren’t meant to just lift up the superstars or people in them; they’re meant to lift up and inspire anyone who comes across their spots.

What teams can take away:

Too often in sports it feels like we’re talking to ourselves. Score after score, highlight after highlight. When you work in the industry, it’s easy to forget the magic consumers feel for teams. When we forget the connection well beyond the field, the brand (and creative) losses its magic.

Sports teams could benefit from putting their consumer at the heart of everything they do. It’s our jobs to understand why people gravitate to sports and how we can inspire and celebrate that well beyond the scores. The passion people feel for teams and the game should serve as inspiration for how teams talk about their brand and the experience of gameday.

Make your fans the hero and muse of your creative and magic will unfold. It’s their emotions – and why they gravitate towards your franchise – that are the key to unlocking something really special. Stop talking to them, and instead, bring them into the story and part of the journey.

Below are a few examples of teams that have put their consumer at the center of their creative — but we need more of it and more consistently:

Obviously Nike’s marketing budget is far and beyond what most organization’s will ever see, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find inspiration in how they approach their work. At the end of the day the best thing any team can do is make an investment in their brand and the relationship with their fans. It’s about a long play, not just short gains.

Standards, Consistency & Focus Matter: A Lessons From The Lakers

The Lakers have one of the strongest social media presences in the NBA. Sure, they have a large audience that comes with their powerhouse brand, but their digital team does not rest on their laurels. The Lakers consistently produce best-in-class content from their beautiful crispy GIFS to their Instagram Stories on game day. And while there is a lot to take away from their approach, there is one big lesson: consistency and brand standards matter.

The Lakers are committed to putting their best foot forward all the time in digital. It’s apparent they have defined their brand standards and don’t cut corners. And as a result, they have one of the strongest visual identities and social presences in sports.

Scroll through their accounts and you’ll see. The Lakers take the way their brand comes to life very seriously (as they should). Photos are carefully curated. Watermarks are always applied. They are a team that dots their “Is” and cross their “Ts”. Below is a small sample of some of their content:

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Yes, it takes the Lakers a second more time to add the watermark. Yes, sometimes they hold a highlight to package it for a carousel recap later on Instagram. And yes, their work is always strong and consistent.

But, why does their approach matter?

First, their work is instantly recognizable.
Today, so much of a team’s brand comes to life through their visual identity. Consumption happens in a split second. Consumers scroll, tap and move through their social feeds without giving things a second glance. As they scroll, content needs to stand out.

It should be clear which team, brand or league the content is from with or without a logo. And that’s where a strong graphics package that reflects the brand comes into play. When teams put in the work to define their brand standards and their visual identity – and actually see it through in execution like the Lakers – the result is work that instantly connects with fans.

Second, they package with purpose.
We’ve fallen into a content trap in sports. There’s this idea that more is better and that we have to cover “everything”. This mindset has resulted in more stuff and less quality. And, that’s not a win for a team, league of the fans.

The teams that win in social media today have purpose and focus. They understand that they can’t be everything to everyone and instead focus on what matters most (as they have defined). Focus allows teams to put their best foot forward. It’s impossible to do it all. Once you understand that, you can produce work that matters, engages fans and is right for the brand.

The Lakers are a good example of a team that does not post just to post. While yes, the Lakers still push out a good amount of volume, they don’t overproduce (especially by sports standards) and they certainly don’t let any sort of volume take away from the quality of work. Their approach to Instagram is a great example of this.

In the past 30 days, the Lakers have averaged 3.39 post on Instagram in-feed a day (the league average is 6). Yet, the Lakers boast a 3.2% engagement rate with an audience of more than 6M … the highest engagement rate in the league.  

The Lakers understand that Instagram is all about quality over quantity. They don’t fight the algorithm, and instead, let it work to their advantage. They use Stories to cover the more real-time moments and save their in-feed posts for big moments, packaged recaps and evergreen pieces. The approach is paying off.

On the flip side, the Lakers’ approach to Twitter is completely different to fit the platform. Their volume is high (25 posts in the past 30 days) and their content is packaged completely differently, with a lot more variety. It’s clear they have a distinct platform approach for each channel. 

More than ever, how we curate content and package is as key as the content itself. There’s no such thing as a strong social presence without a strong creative arm today. But, we can no longer just post and pray. We have to be thoughtful, deliberate and strategic about our work. We have to define our purpose then plan, program and package like the Lakers do.

And finally, they always put their best foot forward.
Social is the front door to brands today. Everything that goes up on a channel should be the best reflection of the brand, period. While it’s easy to post and get things up, it doesn’t mean we should cut corners and dilute the quality of the work. When looking at the Lakers feed it’s clear they take pride in their brand and work. All teams and leagues should strive for the same quality of work. 

In social it’s easy to get caught up in doing it now versus doing it right. There’s often a mentality that fast is best. And a result, corners are cut and the totality of everything is not thought through. In the end, this only hurts and dilutes the quality of our work. The Lakers’ digital presence is a great reminder that consistency and brand standards matter. And, their social numbers speak for themselves.

Instead of being fast, the focus should be on doing it the best and with speed. Of course timeliness matter in social, but not at the sake of quality. Work that is timely, engages fans and reflects the brand is the ultimate win. It’s okay to take the extra time to get the work right. It’s okay to pause, stop and think about your publishing approach even in the middle of chaos. It’s okay to forgo the right now for a little later if it means putting something stronger forward.

Take the little bit of extra time to do it right. Take pride in everything you push out. It all reflects the brand. And, it matters.

Success In Social Is Not Black & White

Success in social is not black and white. In fact, it’s complicated. Beyond the engagement numbers, the follower growth and the memes that sometimes go “viral” is a much larger picture.

It’s easy in this industry to get bogged down in the public-facing data. To focus on the engagement, the fan sentiment and what the industry holds as a gold standard. But success is greater than the numbers, especially the vanity ones.

Social media today is the front door to most teams, leagues and brands for fans. It’s a connection to what a team stands for, well beyond the scores. The nature of the platforms (conversational, nimble, always on) makes social one of the strongest branding tools.

Success is also about how well you tell the brand story. It’s about representing your brand and bringing it to life in the right light. It’s about executing on the organizational goals. It’s about communicating the messages and values that are a priority.

Here’s the thing. Fan content is going to perform differently than on-the-field content, so we can’t compare. Player reaction GIFS are meant to evoke a different emotion than branded graphics. Value-driven messaging is different than a pure, fun engagement play.

We have to be careful about what we let dictate our decisions. It’s not always about comparing your performance to another team. It’s not always about fan sentiment (because the haters are always louder). It’s not always about beating your engagement average from the last week. And, even more, it’s not always about winning the internet. 

Different content serves a different purpose. Different teams have different goals and initiatives. Things aren’t always apples to apples. And because of that, we can’t compare them. 

Success is complicated, multifaceted and ever-evolving. At the end of the day, the work is about much more than one or two tweets. It’s about the totality of everything. Take the time to understand what matters to the organization. Define the north star and invest your energy there. Keep the outside noise away where it makes sense.

We can’t get so bogged down in the data and enemy of comparison that we forget about the bigger picture. Sometimes, it’s important to remind ourselves of that.

3 Lessons From Nike’s Serena Williams Ads

Nike is back in its finest form with its latest ads for Serena Williams. They’re playing the ad game that helped us fall in love with their brand. The one that’s focused on the power of authenticity, values and strong emotion. Take a look at their recent work:

Good ads, like the ones above, are an art. They don’t sell; they move people to stop, pay attention, share and (hopefully) convert. Good ads entertain and connect on more emotional. And, there’s no doubt these pieces from Nike do just that. 

While we might not all have the same budgets, staff size and agency support that Nike has, we can certainly take a page from how they approach their work. Below are three lessons learned from their recent work in support of Serena:

We don’t have to overproduce.

In today’s creative landscape, it’s easy to overproduce, overthink and overcomplicate. But there’s a beautiful trend that proves itself over and over again: Simple wins.

A great example of this is Nike’s superhero post. It would have been easy to muddle that message; to try to be grandiose in the creative production (after all, it’s an important moment). But Nike understood the time and the place – and they understood that the message itself was more powerful than any grandiose spot. So, they kept it simple with a strong image and copy. And, they nailed it.

It’s important to think about how creative production impacts the message.  Too often we complicate this already cluttered world with more words to read, more minutes to watch and more pieces to consume. We overcomplicate instead of oversimplify, and in the end, lose our consumer.

As you determine the right creative execution for every concept, keep in mind the time, the place, the context and the message you have to deliver. Sometimes, as Nike proves, simple is best.

Cum să descoperi problema scârțâitului discurilor de frânare? Sau daca scârțâie discul de frână vezi aici.

Emotions matter.

The idea of emotion in marketing has always been a personal point of interest for me. Years ago I interviewed at Nike (before my time at UA), and when I stepped onto campus I got a little teary-eyed. Not because I was a sneakerhead, but because as a marketer this was the brand that had paved the way in making an emotional connection with consumers. Nike bought into the idea of entertaining and storytelling above selling. And, I felt a personal connection.

A quote in a FastCo article said it best:

Popular brands had multifaceted personalities. They could make you laugh, or cheer, or lean forward and take notes. They’d stopped hammering away at a share of mind, and were expanding to achieve a share of emotion.

Enough with the personal and embarrassing anecdotes though. My point is that as marketers — and especially as marketers in sport — emotion is the most powerful tool we have. Period. 

We’re in the business of understanding people. Our job is to evoke something in people. Make them laugh, cry, cheer or even question. Emotion makes content relatable for the consumer and connects fans at a deeper level.  It’s the most valuable tool we have. Leverage it.

Sport is full of powerful stories. And these stories have the ability to transcend generations, cultures and backgrounds. Whether you work for a team, league or brand like Nike, it should be a priority to unearth these powerful moments for fans. This is how we connect with our fans beyond the scores, win or lose. And, that connection matters.

Brands need a human touch.

Consumers today aren’t buying based on products alone. They are buying based on a brand they believe in and want to identify with. And because of this, more than ever, brands need a human touch.

Brands need to define their values and actually live by them. This means having a pulse on the world and understanding the context for how messages might be perceived. This means evolving, adapting, rising to the challenges and leveraging platforms for good.

Nike’s recent ads around Serena lean into a level of empathy.  By supporting Serena — not only as the greatest athlete of all time but also as a mother, as a woman and as an individual – Nike demonstrates their values well beyond the court. Nike doesn’t sell us on their products. They sell us on a belief in the human potential. And yes, it’s powerful.

Consumers today have choices. They aren’t sold on product alone. What separates brands now are values, connection and a belief in the mission. Like Nike, we have to give people a reason to buy into the brand. 

Note: It’s important to keep in mind that brands can’t take a stand if it’s not core to who they are. Consumers will see through it and it will only do more harm. Before jumping in a conversation, taking a stance or putting out a message, make sure it’s truly core to the brand. If a brand is going to talk to the talk, it must truly walk the walk.

I’m inspired and encouraged to see Nike getting back to the basics of what has made it such a powerful brand: Telling a story and telling it well. In a world where words like brands and advertising have such a negative connotation today, it’s a great reminder that strong brands have always had values and connected more deeply with people. Good advertising isn’t dead, we just need to get back to the basics of a strong brand foundation. 

Nike’s recent work is a great reminder that brands must be emotional over transactional. The intention and delivery of the message matters. But even more today, it’s not just about the message but also the action. Authenticity and emotion are everything. 

While there are many other takeaways from Nike for us all, these three things stuck out to me. Here’s to being inspired by one of the world’s best brands in marketing, and not just doing it, but doing it well.

More Than Ever, Leadership Must Set the Tone In Digital

There are several themes among people in the digital/social industry that I often hear over and over again. And, they are concerning. The themes revolve around the pressure to produce. The need to always be on. Having a hard time prioritizing. Comparing work to others and getting discouraged. A lack of resources relative to the output. The list goes on and on and on.

The challenges in this industry used to be how to tackle a “platform strategy”. But now the issues in this industry are much bigger and more problematic than that. As expectations increase with digital, the issues are about resources, employee burnout, lack of vision, etc.

There are a lot of things to improve and a lot of solutions to put forth. It’s going to take time. One thing that I keep coming back to though is the need for strong digital leadership. More than ever, we need people leading digital teams to set the tone and be firm in their approach.

I agree that most digital teams are understaffed. I agree that this industry can be exhausting. I agree we have a long way to go before organizations are making the true investment digital needs. But, I also believe we in this industry have created our own frenzy.

Teams scramble to jump on every trending topic. They believe they need to be on 24-7 and tweet every single day. Not to mention, it’s always important to be first to the newest platform party. But, why? Teams do these things because of internal pressure. Not because fans expect it and want it. And even worse, not because it’s right for the organization.

The reality is we operate in a world with small teams (typically) and already endless amounts of pressure. If you want to survive the long game in digital, you have to learn that there is, in fact, a balance. We don’t have to create false frenzies and false pressures. We have to make the conscious effort to prioritize.

And this is why we need digital leaders who know how to set the tone. It’s not about micromanaging. It’s about being an active leader who empowers your team to focus and act on a meaningful vision.

While this list could go on and on, here are five things digital leaders need to do to set the tone …

Set the North Star.
Working in social media for a team without a vision will drive anyone crazy. You end up throwing a bunch of things at the wall hoping they stick. It’s fruitless and exhausting.

Leaders need to collaborate with their teams on an actual vision. What are we trying to do? What does our brand stand for? What’s our focus and our priorities?

When a North Star is set it gives the work a reason for being. It helps teams come together for a common goal and gives focus. And when we work with small teams and resources, having focus is a beautiful thing.

Put up guardrails.
We talk a lot about what to do, but we don’t spend enough time talking about what not to do. And, in order for digital teams to stay sane, having candid conversations where to spend your time is key. This should not be a guessing game.

Digital leaders need to put up guardrails. What is worth our team’s energy, time and resources? Is it every trending topic of the day? Probably not. Is it the new platform that launched 30 seconds ago? Probably not. Is it a race to put out more volume than everyone else? Probably not.

Guardrails of what not to do help your team channel their energy where it matters. It helps them get rid of the false pressures we have created in this industry. Of course sometimes these guardrails will bend, but for the most part, it lets your team know that it’s okay to not focus efforts here or there (even if it feels like everyone else is).

Be clear (and realistic) about expectations.
With the always on and changing nature of digital, it takes a certain personality type to work in the industry. Often, you’ll find people who have a hard time turning work off. Yes, we get addicted to this thing called the internet.

Because of this, it’s important that people leading digital teams set expectations about work and office hours. And, actually, enforce it. If your team worked until midnight, are they allowed some flex time the next morning? Does your team feel comfortable coming to you if they’re feeling a little burnt out (a very real thing)? Leadership must set clear expectations, welcome honest conversations and celebrate some kind of balance.

Be engaged.
People leading digital teams can not sit in a corner office and never come out. They need to be engaged with their team to understand the changing dynamics. They need to understand the workflow, process, all the internal asks and the hiccups.

Too often digital leadership is disconnected from the work. They don’t know what it takes to do the job, how many hours their team is putting in (or on what) and the struggles that they face.

Being an engaged leader does not mean you micromanage. It means you have a pulse on your team. You know how to advocate for their work. You can spot issues before they arrive. It means you are present to help your team prioritize. Digital leaders, you must be engaged.

Have a backbone & be firm in your beliefs.
Too often organizations and leaders put to paper their strategy, vision and expectations in digital/social only to allow it derail. And, for not so good reasons.

You know the drill. Someone in the organization wants x up on social, even though it doesn’t add value to the brand or the fans. So, your team scrambles to get it done even though it’s not part of the vision. These fire drills for the sake of fire drills have to stop.

Digital leaders must have a backbone. They must be firm in their beliefs and know how to map back to the why — both with their team and also others in the organization. Digital leaders must be able to articulate the value that digital brings to the organization and celebrate the team’s success to build trust. Building trust helps people buy into the vision. And when people buy into the vision, it’s easy to push back because you can map back to the why.

Have a voice. Stand up for your team. Be a champion and advocate. Give the team focus and purpose. Digital leadership must set the tone for the organization.

We might not be able to do it all with small and nimble teams. But with focus, every team can do good work and have big wins, while remaining somewhat sane. What a novelty!

There are many issues to solve and work through in this industry, but digital leaders can play a large part in helping teams set the tone. We decide what’s important and what’s worth our time. Make sure your team knows that it’s not just okay to focus and prioritize, but that it’s expected.

Interested in more reads like this? Check out What Digital Teams Need to Thrive. As always, thanks for reading!