While I admit to being one of those people who views the idea of running as much more attractive than the actual running part (thus far, I’ve been satisfied to pass runners on my Specialized Road Bike, thank you), I’m blown away by Nike’s strategy with their Digital Plus business and specifically, their Nike+ program for runners.

It’s low tech (the shoe) meets media (Apple devices) meets social networking (the Nike+ community) meets platform strategy for Nike and potentially, marketing nirvana, based on the data and insights gained about their most passionate customers.  (Check out the Nike+ site to tune into the scale and scope of this initiative.)

There are strategy and marketing lessons here for all of us.

In the recent Fortune article, Nike’s New Marketing Mojo, the firm’s CEO, Mark Parker, describes a visual he had created awhile ago, depicting a dozen video game “Pac Men” consuming the Nike swoosh, as an indicator of how easily the company could be overtaken by competitors. A good many purveyors of commodity-like products are struggling to find differentiation in this world. Nike’s example offers an approach with massive dividends.

Digital Sport (the business unit) and its biggest hit, Nike+ is described in Fortune as, “not just about creating must-have sports gadgets. Getting so close to its consumers’ data holds exceptional promise for one of the world’s greatest marketers: It means it can follow them, build an online community for them, and forge a tighter relationship with them than ever before.”

The stats filled website offering indications of total miles run, calories consumed, steps taken and something called Nike Fuel earned, is a fascinating testament to how much engagement they’ve created. Fortune reports that 5 million runners now log onto Nike+ to check their status, set new goals, compete with friends and engage….all in the Nike ecosystem.

Watch for a rapid expansion in new offerings (complements) to support this platform strategy.

Questions and Thought Prompters for the Rest of Us:

  • Systems and platform thinking can have a profound impact on a commodity business. What’s your potential play?
  • The integration solves an interesting problem that few probably could have articulated. It connects like minded enthusiasts with each other and gives them tools that are useful and fun.  And it afforded Nike massive differentiation in a crowded market without resorting to the potentially most destructive of all tools, price-cutting.
  • The shoes and the ipod integration is interesting, the social media, data gathering power and the dialogue created in the Nike ecosystem is priceless. What is it about your customers and ecosystem that might lend itself to a rich dialogue and connectivity?
  • How might this strategy change your marketing approaches? If you are anything like Nike, it has meant a wholesale shift in marketing tactics. (Note: that doesn’t mean a reduction in marketing expenditures…just a shift in where they are spending.)

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I’m  a big fan of analogic reasoning and using one example to stimulate creativity in completely different environments. How might Nike’s example be adapted or extended to serve your purposes?

And, I confess that I might give the road bike a rest this Spring and join the Nike+ community. I’ll be slow moving dot on the Nike map!

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Art Petty is a Chicago-based management consultant focusing on strategy and leadership development. Art regularly speaks on innovation in management and leadership, and his work is reflected in two books, including the recent, Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.  Art publishes regularly at The Management Excellence blog at https://artpetty.com

Prior to his solo career, Art spent 20+ years leading marketing sales and business units in systems and software organizations around the globe. You can follow Art on twitter: @artpetty and he can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]