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Nike runs with consumer engagement 2.0

With the rise and rise of social media, digital budgets are perpetually growing as consumer brands seek to start online conversations, accumulate likes and successfully cross pollinate their ambitious array of branded platforms. Against this virtual backdrop, there are brands that have gone one step further; harnessing the organisational prowess of social media, but using it to direct brand fans through the digital looking glass, to events hosted offline.

Enticing a consumer to click a like button or join a group online is one thing, expecting them to actually turn up, in the real world (and actually do something once they are there) is another kettle of fish completely. Which is why initiatives like the Nike+ Sydney Run Club are notable both for their ambition, and their success.

The Nike+ Run Club started in Niketown stores across the USA in 1988, driven by a desire to bring runners together regardless of experience, pace or fitness. The movement arrived in Australia in 2011, with clubs springing up in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney – with the latter constituting the world’s largest running club (in tandem with New York City).

Most Monday evenings a few hours before dusk, a small army of Sydney workers leave work or on time, change into sports gear and convene at the Pitt Street Nike store. Once assembled, they split into groups, according to distance and pace ability, or preference. At 6pm, with military style precision, the groups depart on a scenic run around the city, 5-12 kilometres in duration, taking advantage of the lush parks and scenic gardens flanking the CBD and the winding harbourside jetties and walkways.

A group of upwards of 300 runners pounding pavement through bustling metropolitan hubs such as the Rocks and Circular Quay takes a few people by surprise, as you can imagine. Somewhat ironically, having made it through the looking glass, a mass of UGC video and photography quickly put the individuals back online. What’s more, the invading force has a common uniform. Updated with new colours and styles year on year, the Nike+ masses sport dry fit T-shirts bearing the distinctive wings logo, developed specifically for the run club.

But this is Australia, one might think, running groups are a dime a dozen. True, but what makes this one different is both the scale and improbability of it. A group of strangers, a good number international in origin, brought together via a shared enjoyment of running, a desire to meet new people and enjoy this fabulous city we are lucky enough to live, work and spend time in. In Nike’s own words; “Nike+ Run Club is about getting out there, getting motivated and having fun with other runners. We bring runners together to push the pace, up the ante and meet like-minded runners.”

And what of the brand itself? The Nike role in this equation is that of facilitator – it’s the common thread that binds individuals together. An understanding of what Nike stands for can overcome language and cultural barriers, and once running, we’re all on the same team. The result? A remarkably friendly and professionally run club, providing a weekly focus for motivation and a ready made network of like minded, sporty people to train with. And the stuff they don’t tell you on the website; club members get a VIP store loyalty card and the chance to meet and run with celebrity guests and sporting heroes.

Nike+ is jam packed with talent (not only the eye candy type) the real skill/ high-level athlete type. There are some downright brilliant runners amongst the masses who turn up. This spurs everyone on and, over time, many Mondays later, the majority of members have dramatically improved both their distance and pace groups, moving up through the ranks to arrive at a level that they previously did not think possible.

When all is said and done, it’s great to see brands like Nike facilitating experiences and events that not only link with their products, business category and ethos, but actually create something tangible and of real value to the consumer. It’s the people that bring the real magic to Nike+ Run Club, and not only the runners that participate. Being cheered on by a group of school kids outside the Opera House, or given high fives by some European tourists in the Botanic Gardens. “Keep it up!” - simple words of encouragement from a total stranger when you’re struggling in the summer heat on the final leg of a 10km run - every run is unique and unpredictable, but ultimately rewarding.

Nike+ Sydney Run Club can be found on Facebook, or just turn up to the Pitt Street store before 6pm on Mondays or Wednesdays.

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