Authenticity: Just Do It

"Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything."

Over the last few years, purpose-driven marketing has been a hot button for a number of brands and organizations, and the launch of Nike’s most recent campaign just thrust the conversation back into the spotlight for marketers around the world. Regardless of your feelings on the stance the brand has taken with Colin Kaepernick, specifically, it is difficult to disagree with the conclusion that only Nike could have pulled off such a contentious campaign.

What would have been an enormous risk for 99.9 percent of brands (it’s almost impossible to imagine McDonald’s or Apple even reaching for something so challenging, much less actually succeeding) was in fact no risk at all for Nike. Share price is on the rise after a short-term drop when the campaign was announced Tuesday and, in the first 72 hours post-announcement, the company had already received the equivalent of $43 million in earned media -- and will likely gain even more when compared to the long-lasting fidelity that it has cemented in the hearts and minds of its target audience.

The reason that Nike is succeeding with a subject so emotive and divisive (with seemingly little concern for any backlash) speaks to the incredible, authentic relationship it has with its audience. There’s no marketing decision made today without consulting the data informing the strategy, and calculating the cost, the risk, and the anticipated reward of every move. In this respect at least, Nike is no different. But, Nike has an unparalleled pulse on its community, an unwavering commitment to purpose-driven marketing and, most importantly, an incredible understanding of itself. And it has both developed and maintained these three pillars by engaging in near-constant collaboration with its audience.

Nike's approach of unapologetically and fully committing to a purpose, while considered controversial by some, is a successful and effective strategy for reaching the audiences that matter most to them. For any marketer watching this week’s headlines with the same combination of fascination and admiration as I am, there are a couple of key lessons that we would all do well to take to heart.

Embrace an ask first mentality

Consumers appreciate authenticity and don’t take lightly to brands that jump on trends for the sake of getting involved in cultural conversations.

This isn’t the first time Nike’s made a bold, politically-aligned statement, and the company’s approach to regularly listening to and engaging with its rigorous fan-base has helped it effectively navigate complex and sensitive political issues to its advantage. Other companies have readily adopted similar approaches -- I don’t think anyone will soon forget what Always did with "#LikeAGirl," and we saw a number of brands take political risks with their campaigns during this year’s Super Bowl.

If you’re considering taking your brand in this direction, test your idea out with your audience first. Bold moves, as we know, can be incredible statements, but no one wants to be in a position of asking for forgiveness.

Maintain an open line of communication with customers

Customers are more than willing to share how they feel and what a brand can do to make them happier.

Pick any brand’s page on Facebook and I guarantee you’ll see hundreds of comments, yet while we frequently talk about engagement on social media, I think we often forget how easy it is to actually listen to what consumers have to say. Loyalty is fragile enough, and consumers opinions are constantly in flux. The more you can regularly engage and stay in sync with their mindset, the more likely you are to launch ideas, campaigns, products, etc., that are in line with that they want and expect from your company.

Welcome your customer into the decision-making room

Nike couldn’t have pulled off this campaign without an always-on, always-listening approach to business that prioritizes truly understanding what consumers want and where their mindset is.

As I touched on before, getting that real-time, accurate sense from your audience, given most people’s tendency to fluctuate opinions based on a variety of factors, helps ensure that products and campaigns are resonating with audiences. So when it’s time to make the big decisions and say yes, keep that institutional knowledge at the forefront and remember who is ultimately buying your product.

Dawn Colossi is the chief marketing officer of FocusVision.

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