If there were ever a product that symbolized the purchasing power of contemporary culture throughout the last three decades—it would be Nike’s Air Jordan sneakers. Ever since the release of the very first Michael Jordan-inspired Air Jordan shoe in 1985, the popularity of the shoe skyrocketed and hasn’t come back down to earth since—becoming a mainstay of contemporary cultural fashion trends.
A case could easily be made that the Air Jordan sneaker alone is the primary reason why Nike is now by far the biggest footwear company in the world—with the Jordan Brand now surpassing the $5 billion mark in annual revenue . There's no doubt about it, when it comes to product demand, you’d have a hard time finding any item in the world of fashion more coveted than Air Jordan sneakers.
After years of studying the marketing tactics of what I believe is the best marketed brand in the world—Nike, along with the Air Jordan’s overall appeal to consumers around the world—I discovered that one of the key contributing factors that has helped the sneaker remain not only relevant—but even more importantly—heavily coveted amongst contemporary culture—has been Nike’s strategic approach towards the release of each Air Jordan shoe.
Here’s 4 marketing tips from Air Jordan releases to include in your marketing arsenal that'll help your startup become more attractive to your audience.
1. Don’t be too attainable
Back during the early days of Nike, the company had to be much more meticulous in the way they approached manufacturing and distribution. As is the case with most startups—the act of balancing product inventory is often an impediment to a founder's peace of mind.
Nike co-founder Phil Knight explains in his 2016 released book, Shoe Dog: A Memoir By The Creator Of Nike, his philosophy on inventory in the early days of his shoe brand—long before the company’s product demand was anywhere close to what it is today, “I refused to even consider ordering less inventory. Grow or die, that’s what I believed, no matter the situation.”
Hypebeasts around the world would probably find Knight’s approach towards inventory in those days quite ironic compared to now—due to the fact that being able to find a pair of Air Jordan sneakers on store shelves on the date of their release is almost like winning the lottery—literally.
In fact, consumer demand for Air Jordans have become so high—retail shoe stores like Champs, Foot Locker, and Finish Line now hold raffles in order to determine which entrants will win the opportunity to purchase the shoes on their respective release dates. In addition, Nike also holds drawings on their own app “SNKRS” for contestants hoping to land Nike shoes—especially Air Jordans on the day of their release.
Now, it doesn’t take a distribution manager to understand that Nike could easily manufacture and distribute the goods to meet the demand of all those that have both—the money and intent to purchase a pair of Air Jordan sneakers.
However, Nike and Jordan Brand execs are astute enough to understand that if they were to meet consumer demand by increasing production—thus, making the Air Jordan easily attainable for consumers to purchase—that would actually remove the exclusivity element which caused the sneakers to be in such high demand in the first place. Which would be to the brand’s detriment.
Like Nike and Jordan Brand, you can apply the element of exclusivity to your products by identifying which of your brand’s stock-keeping units (SKUs) are the most popular amongst your audience and make them less available to purchase.
I'm sure that it probably seems crazy to intentionally provide less of what people are begging to pay you for. But as Phil Knight said, “History is one long processional of crazy ideas.” And when it comes to exclusivity…since 1985—Nike has shown us all that it's a very effective marketing tactic.
2. Be consistently unpredictable
I often tell founders that one of the most important factors for creating a strong brand is being unrelenting in your commitment towards consistency. That’s because when it comes to branding—intentional consistency is key. Consistency isn’t the icing on the cake of branding—it’s the entire cake.
Unless you’re in the process of a rebrand—everything your brand does should be consistent and congruent with what your audience has come to expect of your brand.
That even includes being unpredictable—which is a facet of marketing the Jordan Brand has now perfected when it comes to scheduling release dates for retro Air Jordan sneakers.
Fans of J’s (Air Jordans) around the world have come to expect that every year—a plethora of retro Air Jordan sneakers will be re-released monthly. But what they aren’t aware of—at least not until Nike announces it—is which particular signature Air Jordan sneaker will be rereleased—nor the colorways of those sneakers.
This element of unpredictability consistently bakes anticipation into the brand year after year—which leads to people wanting to get their hands on the sneakers even that much more.
You can use the power of consistent unpredictability to your startup’s benefit as well by adding a consistent element of unpredictability to your overall marketing strategy. For example: maybe your startup could release a new feature on a certain day each month, hold a drawing where you give away a different item to a special social media follower every month, or introduce a new product to your customers on the first day of each quarter.
Whichever you decide, be sure that it’s something that would pleasantly surprise your audience and would be something that they would deem beneficial—and they’ll reward you for it.
3. Be less ad-focused and more brand-focused
What if I were to tell you that there’s a product that constantly sells out of stock before it even touches retail store shelves…and that product isn't advertised at all? That would be pretty impressive, right? Well, when it comes to the rerelease of Air Jordan sneakers—that’s certainly the case.
Sure, many of us could recall the early days of the Air Jordan brand when Nike, Michael Jordan, and Spike Lee AKA Mars Blackmon—all collaborated to create some of the most memorable campaigns in the history of advertising.
But those days are long gone.
These days, Nike and Jordan Brand do very little—if any at all—advertising for rereleased Air Jordan sneakers. Yet, due to brand affinity—the shoes are still in extremely high demand by millions of consumers around the world. That’s because Nike and Jordan Brand execs made a concerted effort to become more brand-focused than ad-focused.
In an interview with AdamMendler.com, Jordan Brand architect Erin Patton described Nike’s unique perspective towards showcasing their brand over showcasing their products, “At Nike, we always believed that the consumer will know where we’re going when we show them. The brand dictates consumer behavior, not the other way around.”
Be sure to avoid making a mistake made by far too many startups—which is believing that advertising is the cure for everything—because it’s not. However, if there is one cure for everything—that cure is having a strong brand. Which is why building one is where you should direct most of your focus.
4. Be calculating with your calendar
In the book, The Art Of War, Sun Tzu says that prior to engaging in battle, one should, “Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.” That sound advice also applies to the battle of business. And the good folks at Jordan Brand must’ve heard that message loud and clear.
That’s because every time the brand releases an Air Jordan shoe—you could tell that a great deal of pondering and deliberation went into it prior to making the decision to do so.
For example, every year, right before Christmas—Jordan Brand makes sure to rerelease one of their more popular Air Jordan sneakers—which causes a frenzy for consumers that either want to cop a pair for themselves or purchase a pair or two as gifts for others.
Like Jordan Brand, use the calendar to your startup’s advantage by being cognizant of upcoming holidays and popular events in your industry. Then, ponder and plan ahead on ways to provide products or content for consumers around those days.
Whether it's featuring a green product on Earth Day. Having your website go straight to dark mode on Black Friday. Emailing free recipes before Thanksgiving to those that signed up for your newsletter. Or even something as simple as creating a TikTok video featuring lines from classic Christmas films and posting them on your startup's social media pages (that's if legal gives it the thumbs up).
If you ponder long enough, you could always find ways to use the calendar to appeal to consumers. Which will give your startup an edge in the battle of business.