Nike Blends Marketing and Customer Service with a Little Help from Richard Sherman



Consistently cited on lists of brands that deliver the best customer experience, Nike strives to surprise and delight its customers. During the brand's Gear Up promotional event earlier in June, some customers that called the brand's customer service line got to experience both emotions when Seattle Seahawks' Richard Sherman answered the phone. But the decision to make Sherman man the phone was more than a publicity stunt—rather, the move demonstrates Nike's grasp on the evolution of customer experience, as well as the need to blend marketing and service efforts.

"In the social media age, the line between marketing and service continues to blur. Engaged customers can become either your greatest marketing partner or a negative force that can put you out of business. Nike's promotion invites customers to the conversation. It's a smart move if you know you are pretty great at what you do. Sherman's direct participation with customers reinforces selling an experience versus selling a product," Kate Zabriskie, founder of Business Training Works, a consultancy and training firm, says.

On the surface, it's pure marketing—a celebrity endorses a product and shows up at a promotional event—yet Nike took this a step further. The brand is all about inspiration down to its core. Its slogan, "Just Do It," doesn't refer to its products, for example. Instead, it's an inspirational mantra for customers to put on Nike gear and do extraordinary things while wearing it. Its brand promise is more than to supply athletic wear; it's to drive athleticism. That's why it wasn't enough for Sherman to simply show up.

"[Nike] understands what its customers value, [and they use it] to fuel marketing efforts. Customers value the [athleticism] of the celebrities that endorse their product, hence making these types of connections in person highly valuable to both those who experience a conversation with Sherman, and those who yearn for the opportunity to connect with another star in the future," says Shawn Casemore, consultant and author of Operational Empowerment: Collaborate, Innovate and Engage to Beat the Competition. When a brand takes marketing beyond selling a product and ventures into inspiring the customer on the other end of a support call, that's when marketing and service abandon their individual silos and transform into one holistic customer experience.

But companies don't need to hire a professional athlete or celebrity to blend marketing and customer service effectively. All it takes is creating a strong employee-customer connection, Casemore says. "Employees interact with customers on an hourly basis; therefore they are most in tune with what customers want, what they don't want, and what they would like to see changed. Rarely does marketing connect with front-line employees to build marketing campaigns. However, [it] should," he explains.

The convergence between marketing and service can happen in other areas as well. Marketing automation platforms, which are typically thought of as tools to help with prospecting and converting leads into sales opportunities, can be used to nurture existing customer relationships as well, Malinda Wilkinson, CMO at Salesfusion, points out. "Whether communicating product updates, sharing best practices, or up-selling additional products, it allows all activities and interactions to be tracked.  And, if they are integrated with their CRM, all customer service managers have full visibility into the customer's interactions to be able to have more relevant, meaningful conversations," she explains.

Brands that do attempt to eliminate the great divide between their marketing and customer service efforts have plenty to gain. As surveys are increasingly phased out, direct customer interactions are becoming one of the most effective means of gathering consumer feedback that will ultimately drive marketing campaigns. Attempting to assess the market by using a survey is "useless," according to Casemore. "The only customers who answer a survey are those who either love or hate your product [or] service," he says. "Having actual face-to-face or voice-to-voice communications with customers is key to understanding how they think, what they desire, and how a company might best offer it," he adds.

For Nike, the effort is paying off. The company was just recently named the biggest retail brand in the United States, generating over $30 billion in revenue. "Anyone can talk a good game. Many people can provide a good product. Few give a consistently fabulous experience. Those who do have definitely created two-way conversations and branded the service they provide," Zabriskie says. 


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