What can marketers learn from sneaker culture?

The journey of sneakers from a commodity to a culture is a treasure trove of valuable marketing lessons says YAAP's Atul Hegde

Sneaker marketing is characterised by evocative storytelling, continuous innovation, keeping with the times and fostering a community spirit.

These strategies continue to be relevant for businesses and marketers across industries.

At every juncture, brands released products that were technologically a step change from their predecessors or previous editions.

Following the advent of digitalisation, sneaker culture pivoted to social media, leveraging visual platforms like Instagram, Facebook and TikTok to engage enthusiasts and create hype.

Online tools enabled brands to generate hype through teaser campaigns, cryptic messages and mystery drops, helping create a buzz around the product and drive engagement.

Subsequently, brands enabled buyers to customise their designs, enhancing their sense of ownership.

Sneaker brands placed innovation at the core of product development and marketing and stayed in sync with technological advancements.

Brands like Nike and Adidas embody that approach, with their recent foray into the metaverse attesting to it.

Additionally, brands have doubled down on personalisation by putting their colossal data to good use.

So, technology has become the link between all stages of a product life-cycle — something present-day marketers can aspire for.

Banking on exclusivity

The early traction of sneakers was owed to people’s desire to identify with them. To shape that identity, brands incorporated the totems of contemporary culture and zeitgeist into the design.

For example: basketball players, their insignia and musical expressions shaped the sneaker narratives, giving their owners a sense of identity.

Modern-day brands have ample opportunities to build distinct brand identities that resonate with their target audience.

Another way product-led brands can take a leaf out of the sneaker-marketing book is by pursuing exclusivity.

Typically, exclusivity is driven by launching limited-edition products and creating artificial scarcity.

That, in turn, fuels demand and rationalises the premium pricing. Leading retail brands are known to pursue this strategy occasionally to solidify their market position.

If undertaken strategically and timed with landmark events, limited editions can lead to a windfall. The sense of urgency and excitement around a few sneaker editions continue to linger to this day — a hallmark of marketing excellence.

Fostering collaborations

‘Sneakerheads’ form close-knit communities where new launches are discussed, transactions are facilitated and partnerships are engineered.

Directly or indirectly, brands tend to foster such communities, organise sneaker conventions and reap significant rewards in the long run for relatively less investment.

The opportunity for such community-led brand engagement is growing across industries, especially following the advent of virtual avenues like the metaverse.

Going a step further, such communities can facilitate collaborations between brands and customers, celebrities and influencers.

The opportunity to co-create only strengthens the brand-customer relationship and births loyalty that goes beyond just transactions.

In fact, influencers have been integral to the recent meteoric growth of sneaker culture. Influencers’ credibility among customers will continue to be bankable for marketers across sectors.

Atul Hegde, Founder, YAAP

Sneakers could be stories

A few editions of Nike Air Jordans or Dunks continue to appreciate in value nearly three decades after their debut.

The primary reason is the iconic stories associated with those editions — history that evokes strong emotions for sneaker enthusiasts and sports fans alike.

That ability to strike such emotional connections is a marketing masterstroke because, for example, certain Air Jordans can be relaunched as vintage editions down the road, capitalising on nostalgia and fueling excitement. A good story, as they say, never dies.

Likewise, retro designs can be reinterpreted in modern editions and with contemporary considerations like sustainability.

Today’s customer is inclined towards eco-conscious consumption, placing an onus on brands and marketers to uphold transparency, value-chain sustainability and social equity.

Several sneaker editions in recent years have exemplified that strategy, resonating particularly with the new generation of sneakerheads.

Such developments are marketing lessons in disguise, suggesting that any brand, irrespective of sector, can create a culture around its products by embracing digitalisation, fostering communities and telling compelling stories.

 By Atul Hegde, Founder of YAAP, a new-age, specialized content & influencer marketing company