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Want the Air Jordan Effect? Four Powerful Marketing Lessons From Nike and Michael Jordan

Want the Air Jordan Effect? Four Powerful Marketing Lessons From Nike and Michael Jordan

Have you seen the movie “Air”? What an exceptional example of sales, marketing, negotiating, and branding genius! 

I recently watched it and enjoyed it thoroughly. I’m not a basketball fan, but I do enjoy biographies. Plus, the movie was primarily about branding and marketing, which is why I watched it. I was in full analytical mode. It was a winner all the way around. I’ll be using it as an example in my marketing courses and consulting. 


Powerful Marketing Lessons

Few business stories illustrate the power of knowing your audience, disrupting norms, investing wisely, and trusting in expertise as the partnership between Nike and Michael Jordan. In 1984, the fledgling sportswear company took a significant risk and signed the then-rookie player to a five-year endorsement deal. This move transformed the company's trajectory and redefined athlete endorsements and marketing forever.

  1.  Know Your Audience

    Nike's approach to signing Jordan exemplified the importance of understanding your audience. The company recognized that basketball was rising in popularity, and Jordan's energetic, dynamic style of play appealed to young and urban consumers who were becoming increasingly influential in the market.

    But understanding your audience isn't just about the customers. Nike realized the importance of appealing to Jordan and his family, knowing that the strength of the endorsement would be tied to the athlete's genuine belief in the product. Nike's pitch was tailored to the Jordans, focusing on Michael's potential, the quality of the shoes, and the opportunity to create something revolutionary together. The company's ability to empathize and connect with the family played a significant role in sealing the deal.

  2. Be Disruptive

    Nike made bold, disruptive decisions that showed a deep understanding of the market's needs and business goals. One such move was to offer Jordan a percentage of product revenues, which had never been done before. This decision was revolutionary because it highlighted the brand's confidence in the product and showed that they saw Jordan not just as an endorser but as a partner. By taking this unconventional route, Nike disrupted the industry norms and set a new precedent for athlete endorsements. 

  1. Invest in Your Business

    In 1984, Nike took a calculated risk by putting a significant portion of its marketing budget behind Jordan instead of spreading the investment across multiple athletes. The company recognized that the key to its success lay in the depth of its investment, not the breadth. By pooling its resources and focusing on Jordan, Nike was able to create a comprehensive and cohesive marketing campaign that ultimately established the Air Jordans as a cultural phenomenon. 

  1. Trust the Experts

    Nike's decision to work with Jordan was not made in isolation. It involved a team of experts, each contributing unique insights and skills to the process. The company had a product designer who understood the technology and aesthetics of basketball shoes, marketing strategists who knew how to connect with the target audience, and executives willing to take calculated risks. Collaboration among these experts was critical to the partnership's success. 


Relevance To Small Business Owners

Small businesses can learn valuable lessons from the Nike-Jordan partnership. Firstly, it is essential to understand your audience intimately. Know their needs, preferences, and motivations. This understanding should extend not only to your customers but also to any potential partners.

Secondly, don't be afraid to be disruptive. Innovation often means breaking the mold and taking risks. Nike’s decision to offer Jordan a percentage of the product's revenue was radical at the time, but it ended up being a game-changer.

Thirdly, invest wisely in your business. You don't always need to diversify. Sometimes, the key to success lies in concentrating your resources and efforts on the most promising opportunities.

Lastly, trust your team. Leverage your team member's unique skills and expertise and work collaboratively towards your goals. 

The Nike-Jordan partnership is a testament to these principles and their potential when applied correctly. Today, the Jordan Brand stands as a titan in the sportswear industry, generating billions in revenue annually, and it all began with the genius of Nike's approach back in 1984. By understanding the nuances of their audience, being unafraid of disrupting the status quo, making wise investments, and relying on their team's expertise, Nike forged a partnership that changed the face of sportswear marketing.

While every business is unique, and not every strategy can be replicated exactly, the overarching principles remain the same. By taking a leaf out of Nike's book, small business owners can make informed decisions, steer their businesses toward success, and perhaps, create their own version of the Air Jordan phenomenon.

Remember, business success isn't always about having the most resources—it's about using what you have. Take calculated risks, foster genuine connections, and trust in the power of your team. Your small business may not be signing endorsement deals with global sports stars, but with the right strategy, you can still score big in your industry.


About Marcia

Marcia Hylton is a seasoned marketing professional and travel enthusiast. With over 15 years of experience, she has a track record of planning and executing successful marketing campaigns for Fortune 500 companies. After starting a national award-winning marketing agency, she has served a wide range of clients, including small business owners and NBA celebrities. Now, Marcia offers expert marketing strategy to a diverse range of clients, with a focus on delivering measurable results.