“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” In less than ten words, Nike managed to successfully leverage a national controversy  when they launched a brand campaign over Labor Day featuring controversial football player Colin Kaepernick.

The high-risk stunt at first seemed to backfire, but then went on to grow their brand, improve sales, and win the adoration of marketers everywhere.

And now that the end-of-year retrospectives and awards have started showing up on the Internet, we’re seeing a whole new batch of accolades for the company formerly known as Blue Ribbon Sports.

Nike: Marketer of the Year

Nike just received the Dive Award for Marketer of the Year from Marketing Dive.

In their write-up, they praise the shoe dogs by saying, “Nike is an example of the significant impact skilled marketers who aren't afraid to take risks can have on a business.”

On the exact same day, in position one of part one of Marketing Week’s best campaigns of 2018. Who do you think they feature? Nike.

Marketing Week ran their own consumer study that found two things.

First, the campaign was indeed quite divisive. Only 31% of U.S. respondents remembered hearing mostly positive remarks about the campaign, compared to 45% who recalled mostly negative opinions.

But second, when the results were segmented, they found that the campaign positively affected the opinions of likely Nike shoe buyers and increased their willingness to buy more shoes.

I’ve also been fascinated by the Nike campaign. But for me it hasn’t been so much about if it worked or if it was a good idea or bad idea. I’ve been wondering why it had such the impact that it did.

And that’s what brings us to this week’s topic.

How Brands Grow

Recently, I was listening to the 2010 book, How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know, by Byron Sharp.

It’s a great book, but if you don’t have six and a half hours, here’s the TL;DR: Brands grow because of two things: reach and resonance.

First, get as much reach as possible. Sharp provides evidence-based examples of how little loyalty consumers have within a category and why gaining the biggest footprint possible is the only way to become the market leader.

Second, the author suggests that brands grow not through differentiation, which is what many marketers focus on. Instead, he thinks they should try to increase a brands distinctiveness, which is different.

Sharp says, “Rather than striving for meaningful perceived differentiation, marketers should seek meaningless distinctiveness. Branding lasts. Differentiation doesn’t.”

If reach and distinctiveness are the measures of growing a brand, could this explain Nike’s success with the Dream Crazy campaign?

In the reach department, absolutely. The campaign’s YouTube video has more than 27 million views to date and search demand for Colin Kaepernick over the Labor Day weekend surged to about three quarters of the all-time high when he first took a knee in 2016.

As far as distinctiveness goes, that’s much more subjective, but it seems like Nike achieved the right kind of salience with consumers with the campaign as well.

In a recent Marketing Land article, Resonate’s Matt Crush mapped specific quotes from the Nike ad to the values of Influence, Creativity, Achievement, and Independence.

He then went on to claim that nearly half of all Americans identify with one or more of those qualities and said, “not only was Nike appealing to its base, but it was also deeply resonating with millions of other potential customers that share its brand’s values.” Well said.

Growing Your Brand

So there you have it, Nike connected with a message that resonated with people and found a way to make the message go far. That’s some textbook brand building.

So if think you can do better than Nike and want to vie for the 2019 Drum Marketer Of The Year Award, start thinking a lot more about increasing your reach and salience and how to invest in, measure, and grow these important branding levers for your company.

And that’s how you can help fix marketing. We’ll see you next time.