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In 2009, Nike’s Simon Pestridge said:

“We don’t do advertising anymore.
We just do cool stuff.”

Of course, these words sound more far-reaching than they actually are, and Nike’s marketing activities since then imply that Pestridge was actually referring to classical “one-way” advertising only. Still: It’s a bold statement and I admire him simply for making it. And I second the way his quote from this interview with marketingmagazine.co.uk continues:

“Advertising is all about achieving awareness, and we no longer need awareness. We need to become part of people’s lives, and digital allows us to do that.”

It’s great, if a company can say that. Not too sure, if it is ever really true, that a brand doesn’t need awareness, but whatever: bold statement, deliberately and successfully provocative. But what is true (not rocket science, but a truth long evident, yet still hidden to blindfold marketers from the last century) is the fact that digital is becoming more and more important for leveraging a company’s brand awareness and reputation. One day, it may become the (main) place, but it’s not yet.

Digital in the 21st century, digital in the so-called 2.0 age of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and all the many platforms around today (and the unknown one’s that will pop up tomorrow) is not about broadcasting, about messaging, about patronizing uneducated audiences. It’s about interaction, about engagement, about openness, verifiable authenticity, and consequently about conversations. The end of the age of broadcasting and (classical one-way) advertising has long begun, as has the beginning of the age of shared content creation with audiences. Audiences meaning people, human beings with emotions and opinions, with maybe better ideas closer to your product’s true core than any single person in your marketing department could have.

This power of the crowd and its potential is still heavily unused and underrated, like diamonds laying out in the open and mistaken for plastic accessories, apparently worthless, of minor quality, maybe even dangerous. Oooh, scary!

Nike has made this move very consequently, as David Moth kindly summarized last year at econsultancy.com. The people who experience the brand (in marketing speech: target group) and wish to interact with the company and its people, are not only allowed to do just that, they are actually encouraged to do it. To become part of the brand and even help create its future perception by being an inventive part of what it does today. And not only in the digital world; Nike’s effort cross the borders of online and offline, as their audiences do, too.

Here is one of my favorites from Moth’s collection, mainly because it does exactly that: bridge the artificial gap between digital and analogue:


The true power of tomorrow’s communication with (and not marketing for!) people takes place everywhere where these people are, regardless of online or offline, above the stupid line or below it, internal or external, blue-collar or white-collar, or whatever artificial distinction we have made up for decades to pigeonhole he stuff we do and the people we do it for. [By the way, Nike does not limit its co-creating approach to marketing and communications, they also integrate customers in the creation process of their actual products, see here.]

Apart from having the right people with the right visions and insights around at the right time to create such a shift from glossy TV and print broadcasting to customer-engaging digitally crowd-sourced advertising, Nike has or at least claims to have one massive advantage compared to other companies, especially in the B2B area:

“We know who we are. We know what we want to achieve and we go for it 100 per cent of the time.”
Says Pestridge, again.

If only that were true for more brands. How much more courageous, engaging and entertaining would advertising and corporate communications be.

I truly believe that THIS is THE CORE and foremost homework any company needs to do: find out who they are, what their BIG STORY aka their identity is. That’s a massive undertaking that requires quite some investments, both time and budget-wise. Sometimes this undertaking is a tedious one, as it requires a lot of relentless self-reflection and open, honest introspection.

But also a great deal of listening. To people in touch with your company, it’s products, its people, its communications – everything. And once you’re through the results of these listening exercises into one data bucket, analyze them and put your cards on the table, you’ll see: It’s worth it.

Finding your BIG STORY is the prerequisite to purposeful storytelling about your brand, your people, your products – and to any truly and sustainably meaningful conversation, the best-case result from good storytelling. All corporate stories that don’t follow a company’s big story, its identity, its DNA, are just meaningless debris in the vast web space of content overload.