magine walking into an elegant New York restaurant, taking out your phone to snap a picture of the menu, and just like magic, you’ve earned the right to purchase a pair of limited edition Nike sneakers. Crazy, right?
Nike recently did a collaboration with renowned culinary television star David Chang, founder of the Korean-inspired Momofuku restaurant chain. Why, you might ask, would Nike, a traditional high performance sportswear company, design a shoe with a celebrity chef?
The answer lies in the mind of the consumer. New and emerging consumer groups are less interested in buying “products” and instead want to have an experience; often, these experiences are unexpected and bring together disparate brands and their ambassadors. Today’s businesses must find the sweet spot that pairs novelty with familiarity, combining sales with story.
David Chang has always had a connection to the skateboarding community, and his shoe design is a nod to the relationship between the Momofuku restaurants and the skateboarders he has partnered with. Chang recognizes the parallels between skate and food culture, and it is reflected in the approach to kitchen dress, which is ultimately wound into his special edition sneaker. From the Momofuku logo, a peach that appears on the heel of the shoe, to the dark denim exterior that matches the chef’s aprons, Chang creates a cross-section of customers that would consider themselves sneakerheads and foodies.
The result? Slam dunk. The Nike SB Dunk High Pro “Momofuku” skate and lifestyle shoe’s kickoff had fans lining up as early as the night before. The queue was treated to morning drinks and snacks to whet their appetites, keeping them hungry for shoes while they waited. After a rapid sell-out, now just two months later, the sneaker is only available on eBay for nearly twice its original price.
Applying the almost opposite tactic, Nike recently took another broad leap and signed a partnership with Amazon to sell directly from the Amazon website. This move will certainly drive sales and catapult profits, but at what cost to the brand? Yes, the company will be able to cut out unlicensed and licensed third-party vendors, which could be selling products that don’t meet the company’s standards, but it could be detrimental to the brand in a different way. Nike has historically defined itself by keeping distribution of its products limited to athletic and apparel channels where a trained person could talk with you about fit, function and performance. How will Nike make shopping for its products on Amazon an “experience” that will be authentic and aspirational?
Capitalism and economics demand that companies also grow and innovate to stay competitive. Today, consumers not only want convenience, but they also want to connect with the product on a deeper level. For many, this means purchasing products that are hard to get (scarcity) and have meaning behind them (story). Therefore, the billion-dollar question is: How do brands continue to grow without sacrificing their identity?
Conventional business philosophy suggests that growth can only be accomplished through two ways: mass production or creating scarcity to stimulate demand. However, Nike has shown us that it is not an “either or” situation; it’s both (provided the story or experience remains compelling). Using what we at Meriwether Group call “the Power of And,” Nike has effectively stayed exclusive while still expanding its brand’s scope and influence.
Nike, along with other large brands, has been able to do this without sacrificing its image. How? Through segmentation strategies and by acquiring smaller brands. For instance, Nike will only sell its most exclusive Air Jordans in select brick and mortar boutiques and their high-performance sneakers at partnering stores, namely Foot Locker. This leaves its more general performance models to companies like Dick’s Sporting Goods or now extinct Sports Authority. Nike also purchased surf brand Hurley in 2002 and Converse in 2003, giving the company authentic brands to attack surf and lifestyle without bringing the Nike brand into those channels.
Nike has continued to rule the sportswear world because it has evolved and yet stayed relevant by creating unique brand experiences. At the 2015 NBA All Star Weekend in New York, Nike’s Jordan brand created a pop-up shop complete with a full-basketball court where fans could test shoes, view an archived history of Michael Jordan memorabilia, and catch guest appearances by pro athletes. Consumers crave this kind of interaction where they can get up close and personal with a product and learn its story. Like ordering a side of Momofuku signature pork buns and a spicy lychee slushie to go with your new denim kicks.
Even the smallest startup can develop its own unique brand experience. By infusing your brand with meaning, you sell more than just a product; you make a memory. As long as brands equally invest in growth and develop an authentic narrative that consumers can relate to, then as Nike’s Jordan Brand says, they can “Become Legendary.”