Do Interactive Applications Pave the Road to Superfan Communities? Part 1

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Andrew and Alex joined Forrester for its 2008 Marketing Forum, which focused on the challenge of customer engagement in a digital media world.  This second series of articles focuses on case studies of companies using interactive applications as the hook for building communities of superfans.

Creating Brand Advocates at Nike’s Jordan Brand
Emmanuel Brown, Director of Digital and Content, Nike’s Jordan Brand

Emmanuel Brown Composite

Nike’s Jordan Brand has developed a couple of immersive experiences for highly engaged fans.  The experiences start with deep insight into these “superfan” needs, and build intense community engagement for these hardcore fans, but are small scale communities relative to the scope of the Jordan Brand.  Which raises the question, are these high ROI applications for engaging and activating superfans, or are they so focused on the hard core that they are failing to engage the brand’s mass market?  Read on and share your opinion…

Emmanuel began by sharing background on Nike, whose headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon is like a Disneyland for adults, and its Jordan Brand division, where Michael Jordan (MJ) still deeply interacts with the brand, the same way that he was engaged with the game of basketball.

Mentally, or digitally, cut to a stirring, inspiring Michael Jordan video (videos can be found at Nike’s site for the Jordan Brand, Jumpman23).

The Jordan Brand.  Nike approached Michael Jordan in 1984 to have a signature shoe built around him, a completely novel concept at the time.  In 1996, the Jordan Brand was born as a division within Nike.  The brand has 110 people versus the Tiger Woods Brand’s 400 people, and both brands support the same amount of revenue.  Nine out of ten people own (or have owned) Air Jordans, and the Jordan Brand is the second in the market behind Nike itself.

Jordan Target CustomerThe Jordan Brand’s primary consumer is the core urban male 15-20 year old, highly competitive, a leader of the team.  These guys often know what the brand is doing before the news is made public.  The secondary consumer is 12-24 year old males and females, urban and suburban, not necessarily competitive.  Their consumers’ mind space includes social media, television, and the video game space.  The Jordan Brand does a lot of marketing through video games – with them, kids can see the entire line-up.  Most kids know what products they want before they get to the store.

The engagement philosophy for the brand is (1) to engage with consumers where and when they want (online!); (2) product and service together are critical to delivering a greater experience and engagement; and finally (3) the consumer decides.

Jordan Breakfast ClubThe Jordan Breakfast Club.  A key platform for engagement is the Jordan Breakfast Club.  The challenge was to establish an authentic position for Jordan in the training marketplace.  Every morning, MJ and his teammates used to wake up and complete a workout regiment before he got to eat his four course breakfast.  So the Jordan Brand went after an unmet need of the target customer around training – everyone says that training is important, but no one tells kids how to train.  The Breakfast Club includes a simple peer-based assessment and a custom designed workout program that can be printed out or downloaded onto an iPod as videos for a huge number of possible workouts.  The Jordan Breakfast Club has 20,000 plus engaged users, and tens of thousands additional views on YouTube.  The Club also did a 10-city summer tour to reach thousands more at day long training camps.  The program won a 2007 Forrester Groundswell Award.

Jordan Fight ClubThe Jordan Flight Club.  After building the Breakfast Club, the brand started getting more information about its consumers, and next started the Flight Club.  The Jordan brand has a huge “sneaker-head” following, and the Flight Club is about limited edition, one-at-a-time, high demand products for fiercely loyal customers who are willing to pay a very high price and avoid the disappointment of trying to get limited products through retail.  The brand got a lot of feedback from consumers in designing how the Breakfast Club would work.  Members of got membership offers and the opportunity to invite two more friends – in others words, an “insider” offer for loyal customers only.  Demand went through the roof, with people selling their free invitations on eBay, and over 40,000 members joining in the first 45 days.

Emmanuel’s summary:  (1) create relevant experiences beyond the product, (2) service complementary needs of the consumer, (3) empower engaged consumers to be brand advocates, and (3) create and own communities where they are relevant and authentic.  The Jordan Brand’s next big challenge is to take these opportunities in the digital space and migrate them to the physical space, like the Jordan Breakfast Club tour.

Q&A Discussion

How do you share learning from the Jordan Brand throughout Nike?  We do case studies.  Things may work differently for us versus golf, and we use best practices.

The 15-20 year old market is refreshed every 5 years, so how do you target for the future, and specifically do you market to even younger (under 15) generations?  We try to communicate in a simplified format, keep MJ’s story relevant, and make great products.  We don’t market to the younger kids, but do try to emphasize success through working hard.

What do you mean that you’ve learned the hard way about ignoring customers?  We created a website where consumers could buy one-off products, and only created 6,000 units of a product that 1.6 million consumers tried to buy, crashing the site and generating hate mail.  We use sales data and forecasting to ensure that problem is not repeated going forward.  We’d rather overstock and deal with excess inventory than to have too little product and anger consumers.

For limited editions, doesn’t it help the brand to sell out so fast?  You have to appreciate the global effect of our brand.  Kids in Australia were getting their hands on US-only products; we responded to make the products available there.   We’re pushing to think more globally and satisfy demand, offering limited products in all parts of the world.

The Breakfast Club concept sounds great, but how are you measuring the true impact?  We’re not measuring the financials, but we do track the ongoing activities of the kids who sign up.  One of the Pro teams we visited adopted the philosophy as their primary means of training!

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