I will always remember the day I picked up my Nike Air Jordan 6. I was 11 years old and, as anyone who grew up in the ‘90s will remember, trainers were more important than parents. They were an obsession: your status and a fast-track to being the coolest, most important kid in the school year.
My uncle was a steward for British Airways, and he announced that he was collecting me a pair from the States, 3 months before they would arrive in the UK. Holy shitballs. Imagine all your Christmases and birthdays squeezed into a shoe box and you get an idea of how excited I was. This was monumental.
Most of my mates were sceptical that I was telling the truth – even I didn’t quite believe it. My uncle lived about 35 minutes away but the journey to collect them seemed to take hours. Finally, we arrived. Deep breath. A pristine box was handed to me, and, as I slowly opened it, I saw them, tucked underneath their protective paper duvet. Futuristic. Beautiful. MINE. I hugged them to my chest.
Boom. There I was: the coolest kid in class, milking every second of my moment of playground fame (even if it only lasted a day). Everyone gathered round to look at the works of art I was strutting about in. It was quite a rough school and things used to go missing if you didn’t watch your back… I remember tying my shoelaces extra tight that day.
After five games of football; two heavy rounds of British Bulldog and kicking an old Coke bottle up the road, my brand new trainers were like any of my other scuffed pumps lying battered in the bottom of my wardrobe. But I didn’t care. That moment of getting everything I had ever wanted has stayed with me to this day.
So why do I want my brand to be like a pair of trainers? The thing I want to emulate is the enthusiasm, thirst and passion I had as a child… can I get my customers that excited about what I do? Perhaps it’s not achievable, but it gives me something to think about and work towards. Let’s look at Nike’s formula for creating the ‘must have’ brand:
1. Produce a slick product
There was no denying that the Nike Air Jordan 6 looked beautiful. They were so different from anything else on the market and today they still look completely unique. The use of the bright red details; the combination of both leather and suede, and the iconic holes in the tongue brought a totally new product to the market. At the time, most of the brand’s competitors were releasing ‘samey’ styles: mainly white with splashes of colour (think Adidas Torsion, Puma Disc and Reebok Pump). Nike’s new sleek, contemporary, almost space-like design disrupted what was considered fresh and cool.
2. Build anticipation
Get your customers talking about you! The playground was the most fiercely competitive marketplace I have ever experienced. This is the earliest experience of how a product can define your character, your beliefs and your desires. I think we mellow as we get older, but fundamentally, this is brand positioning in its purest form. This sense of desire was also enhanced in 1991 when ambassador Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to their first of three consecutive NBA championships. Its success-by-association would be considered as early influencer marketing, but, to this day, that affiliation of product and star has never been replicated.
3. Create a sense of scarcity
What makes a product so desirable that you would do anything to get it? My trainers were like Netflix is today, where the States get their hands on the latest TV shows before us schmucks over in the UK. When the sneaks were launched over here, the queue outside Intersport snaked from one street to the next. And the price tag was eye-watering. I was fortunate that, not only did I have an uncle who travelled regularly to the States, but that also the pound was pretty strong at the time so they were half the price of their UK equivalents. Only a small percentage of the British market would have been able to afford these trainers. If you were fortunate to have a pair, you were considered to be wealthier and more privileged than your friends and peers: a king amongst pre-teens.
So how can you replicate these learnings within your own brand? Well, obviously quality matters and striving to create new, desirable, and remarkable products and services should be priority. However although quality product is important, creating demand is a necessity. What can you do to get your customers talking about you and how can you instill a sense of scarcity in what you offer? The watchmakers Audemars Piguet only make a small amount of watches in certain collections, and if you want to drive the latest Maclaren you must apply to be on a waiting list. Widen the gap between ‘can have’ and ‘must have’ by creating demand, urgency and obsession. Make your customers yearn after you like a pair of Nike Air Jordan 6 (the ones with holes in the tongue).