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How Nike Women's Marathon Wins the Gold in Marketing to Women

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On October 21, Nike will have hosted its 4th annual Women's Marathon in San Francisco... and, friends, this is no ordinary marathon.

Yes, it's still 26.2 miles of courage and pain, but this course is also full of female-friendly delights and surprises. Specifically designed with women in mind, the Nike Women's Marathon motivates women to bring their body, mind, spirit, and camaraderie to run their best race.

Let's take a look at the core marketing-to-women strategies that Nike is using to elevate the impact of this event: Surprise & Delight, Community, Corporate Halo, Storytelling, Emotional Connection, and Inclusiveness.

Surprise & Delight

Random acts of kindness are wonderful ways to connect with your female audience, create a great memory, and give them something to tell their friends about. In fact, in this age of word-of-mouth marketing, the Surprise & Delight strategy is consistently the most effective way to create positive word of mouth—your most powerful marketing multiplier.


From the spectacular views along the course to the sweet treats during the Chocolate Mile to the foot-pampering pedicure stations, Nike has designed every detail of the Nike Women's Marathon to delight the women runners.

On Thursday night before the big weekend, participants are invited to the Ladies Night happy hour, featuring drinks, appetizers, and special raffles, including a chance to win diamond earrings from Tiffany & Co. At the Nike Expotique, the racers can indulge in free massages and manicures, tune up with Nike+ trials, fitness consultations, training and nutrition seminars, and have some fun at the hair and make-up stylist stations. Post-race, there's a big party at the finish line with music, more free massages, and lots of good food.

At the end of the 26.2 miles, each runner gets a Finisher's necklace from Tiffany, a little bit of bling that serves as a badge of honor for every woman who fights her way to the finish line. As one blogger put it, "Crossing the finish line and having a tall, handsome man in a tuxedo hand you a little blue box makes it worth all of your hard work!"

And picture this the day after the race: 20,000 runners fan out from San Francisco, returning to their homes across the country and across the world exhilarated by the experience and singing its praises to everyone they encounter.

With this event, by showing its commitment to women, Nike has in effect created a corps of brand ambassadors visibly and publicly committed to the brand.

Online Community

Men aspire to be at the top of the heap, the King of the Road. Psychologists have found, however, that women generally don't want to be looked up to, any more than they want to be looked down on. Female gender culture operates within the worldview of a peer group, and women like to look across, to feel a sense of bonds among equals. Women want to be a part of a community, to be with people with whom they have something in common.

Nike has figured out how to bring empathy and community to their marathon this year, and it's doing it in a creative "new media" way. In addition to the actual, on-site, physical race in San Francisco, its is also holding the Nike+ Women's Half Marathon, a local counterpart to the real deal that women can run on their own turf.

Women across the country can run 13.1 miles on a course of their choosing on October 21, log their results onto the Nike Web site by the end of the day, and become an official half-marathon finisher. And as the Nike site says, finishing has its privileges: When you cross the finish line on nikeplus.com, you get a virtual trophy in your online trophy case (hey—a trophy's a trophy—I'll take it!). And, not to worry, you too get a box in Tiffany blue—a silver key chain—and in the mail you'll receive your very own Nike Finisher's T-shirt.

Also online, Nike helps women find a support network while training by hosting an online forum. They can meet other women who will run on race day, share training tips, encourage each other, share favorite routes, etc.

Even if you couldn't be in San Francisco next weekend, Nike created a way to engage women all over the world, inspire them to "Run Together!" as this year's tagline goes, and bond with tens of thousands of women across the planet.

Corporate Halo

The "corporate halo" principle—shorthand for companies that dedicate real time, money, and commitment to acts and programs of good community citizenship—is one of the strongest "marketing to women" tools in any strategic plan, because it can help a brand stand out in a meaningful way.

When all other things are equal (and in this era of commoditization, they so often are), a company's good community practices can be the deciding factor that builds a bridge to your brand instead of to your competition. Study after study shows that the majority of men and women care about corporate halo—but the women always care just a little bit more. And since it's the women who buy 80% of everything, that opens up doors of opportunity for marketers seeking to invite their best prospects in.

The Nike Women's Marathon benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the world's largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research. Via a partnership with Team in Training, the marathon raised more than $40 million in its first three years for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Storytelling, Emotions & Inclusiveness

I do miss one thing from last year's event: the stories featured on the Web site. There were hundreds of them, some serious, some funny, some moving, and all inspirational.

They represented the broad range of women's reasons to run: Some love to run just for the heck of it, some seek goals to accomplish, some run in honor of survivors, some run in memory of loved ones, some run to bathe in the beauty of San Francisco, some run to lose weight and gain a fitness routine for life, some run to be social and to train with friends.

Regardless of the reason, the Nike Women's Marathon fulfills a dream for each of them. This inclusiveness strategy is important to Nike's success with women. Most Nike ads come across as only for serious hard-core athletes. With its marathon communications, Nike recognizes and includes all women, who have many different motivations for running beyond being a hard body.

The hundreds of stories on last year's site were listed as links with a memorable first line for each story. With lead-ins like "Began running in my 70s," "In memory of my son Nick," "To prove a point," and "The Ladies Lunchtime Running Club," who could resist the urge to read them all?

I think I clicked on every one—and it's no exaggeration to say that the whole time I felt steeped in good vibes about the benefits and blessings that the Nike Marathon was bringing to these women in mind, body, spirit, and camaraderie.

Every year, the Nike Women's Marathon has been sold out in a matter of hours—and it's easy to see why. If you were one of this year's runners, I hope you had a great time. If you are a marketer looking for inspiration on how to "just do it" with marketing to women, look to Nike—the goddess of victory, don't you know!


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Marti Barletta is the founder and CEO of consulting think-tank The TrendSight Group  (www.trendsight.com) and the author of PrimeTime Women: How to Win the Hearts, Minds, and Business of Boomer Big Spenders (Jan. 2007) and Marketing to Women: How to Understand, Reach and Increase Your Share of the World's Largest Market Segment (Dec. 2002). Reach her at marti.barletta@trendsight.com.

Are you a Premium Plus member of MarketingProfs?  You can replay our 90-minute virtual seminar with Marti, Reach the Big Spenders:  How to Market wo Women from 50 to 75.

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