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“We have to amplify their voices”: How Nike creates emotional connections

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Few marketing executives can claim to have as much of a global impact on consumers as Greg Hoffman, former CMO at Nike, global brand leader and advisor. Throughout his 27-year career at the sporting giant, Hoffman was the mastermind behind emotive brand campaigns that drove themes of equality, sustainability, and empowerment.

Nike’s Equality campaign, featuring tennis star Serena Williams and basketball player LeBron James, highlighted the need for equal treatment of people on and off the playing field. The ‘Lace up, save lives’ campaign, a collaboration between Nike and Project Red, brought HIV awareness and education to the youth of South Africa through football and provided underserved communities with access to healthcare and education. While in Shanghai in 2015, a full-sized basketball court with motion-tracking and LED visualisation technology was created to help US basketball star Kobe Bryant teach his moves to young players.

The common theme throughout Hoffman’s projects is a focus on the emotional connection – something which he believes is essential in humanising brands. 

At Asia’s Marketing Pulse conference this week, Hoffman spoke about some of his biggest campaigns at Nike and shared advice for marketers to connect with consumers through online platforms and under tighter budgets. Here are some of the insights he shared. 

Emotion by design

With businesses today focused on optimisation and efficiency and marketing functions driven by data and analytics, Hoffman said, “the art is being squeezed out of the marketing process.” 

“This really leads to a transactional relationship, and less human brands. So going forward, my call-to-action is that we need to ensure we’re building emotional equity in every interaction that we have with the consumer as a brand, and maintaining the great balance between the art and science of marketing.

“Consumers themselves have stories and dreams that they can share, that you can bring into your stories. That starts to create that level of emotion, that level of connection, where it’s not just a one-way broadcast to the consumer, or through these digital mediums, it’s truly a partnership and a conversation. In this budget-challenged world, I think we have to collaborate with our audience more, and we have to amplify their voices and allow them to take the stage. Our job is to enable them, to empower their creativity, to empower their voice.”

Amplifying voices

Throughout Hoffman’s career at Nike, the brand tackled various issues through the lens of what it knows best – sport.

“Anytime we put a point of view out there, we always made sure that we had an insight that came from sport,” he said. 

“When you think of the Nike Equality campaign, we had Black athletes who told us that when they were inside the lines of sport, they felt like equals; when they walked outside the pitch, the court or the track, they no longer felt like equals. That’s an insight directly from athletes that we used our platform to bring to life in a compelling way to the world – but again, through their voices.” 

Hoffman encouraged brands to think about their purpose, who they serve, and to leverage the voices of consumers to create impact. 

“The best thing you can do is to amplify the voices of those who are trying to change the world, whether it’s racial injustice, women’s empowerment, sustainability … it’s better than using the brand’s own voice through narration where it sounds preachy, to be honest,” he said.

“Oftentimes, a brand can be a catalyst through allowing others to use its platform. You’re a connector. You’re a catalyst. You bring people together, and I think that’s how you create a movement that’s really going to push the world forward in a much better way.”

Importance of empathy 

Hoffman said the most important tool in this idea of ‘marketing for good’ is empathy.

“Empathy is about seeing what isn’t necessarily on the surface and it’s spending the time to see, feel, and listen to the stories of the individuals in the cities where they are, which means you have to be more local, you have to feel more human. You have to feel like you’re in one’s living room. And so you have to get beyond simple observations and assumptions of a culture, or of a country. 

“By listening and leaning in, you’re going to find the unseen needs that exist in a lot of underserved communities around the world. And as you do that, there is a business result attached to that of course, but it’s a byproduct, it’s not the point. 

Stop chasing ‘cool’

In a world obsessed with the hottest new gadgets, digital platforms and people, Hoffman believes brands need to push past the desire to partner with the individuals who have the most influence in the moment. 

“It’s important to continue to come back to who we are as a brand, and don’t get in the habit of chasing ‘cool’,” he said. :At the end of the day, a brand’s authenticity is its real currency. Forget that, and your audience eventually will know that you’re faking it.”

The post “We have to amplify their voices”: How Nike creates emotional connections appeared first on Inside Retail.

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