Sneakers as seen from below

How Growing Up a Sneakerhead Taught Me Marketing

By John Raffa, Intern

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been infatuated with sneakers and all of the elements that intersect with sneaker culture and the sneaker community. Considering I played sports throughout my childhood, the right pair of footwear was always important, whether I was playing basketball or football. I remember as a child my parents taking me to the mall to get that new pair of sneakers for the school year. They would be the only pair for the year, so I had to make sure the pair I chose lasted. When middle school came along, one pair per year was just not enough and I became infatuated with sneakers to the point where I was looking for the newest release almost every month. Of course, my parents wouldn’t oblige by consistently buying me new pairs, so I had to find a way to get them myself. This is when I started my own sneaker reselling business.

It started as a way simply for me to fund my hobby of owning shoes from my favorite players, artists and designers, but soon it became a way for me to make money as well. I started to dive into the sneaker industry, learning all I could about each shoe and how and which shoes would allow me to turn the highest returns on my initial investments. I began studying sneaker market trends and analyzing important information like quantity, brand and model to attempt to gauge which shoes would hold the most value on the resale market. I looked into all the players in the game and figured out how they operated as well as ways to better acquire limited-edition sneakers. It became a small business that turned a nice profit; a profit that, in turn, funded my lifestyle through my younger years while contributing to my knowledge of the field.

When I started my internship at MKP, I began learning about bank marketing communications and I soon realized that everything I am learning in this professional setting is relatable to the knowledge I’ve gained about sneakers. In studying MKP’s previous work, I found many examples of ways that sneakers and the way they are marketed intersect with the work MKP does.

Hip Hop and Banking

Media and advertising is a large part of what many people know about the sneaker industry, especially in terms of how sneaker brands use famous people and influencers to advertise their products. Some famous examples are the “Bo Knows” campaign by Nike and Bo Jackson or the “My Adidas” campaign by Adidas and Run DMC. These campaigns opened up channels between the sneaker industry and communities that had never before been specifically targeted, and the campaigns made lasting impacts that persist today. Michael Jordan was always considered a focal point of the sneaker industry, but to bring in a football player or a hip hop group had never before been done.

When going over MKP’s work with Burke and Herbert Bank, I saw clear commonalities between sneaker advertising campaigns and the advertising campaigns MKP has worked on. The Burke and Herbert Bank “That's Better” advertising campaign reminded me of the “My Adidas” campaign by Adidas. The bold, in-your-face colors and fonts used in the branch posters made the customer well aware of the branch promotions in much the same way those black and white strips of the adidas sneakers seized viewers’ attention. Burke and Herbert is a community bank in northern Virginia that has, historically, focused on personal banking and the importance of the local community. So, when it came to the campaign, a predominant strategy was to make sure small business owners and personal banking customers felt heard and appreciated. The bank wanted customers to know that, because of their dedication to the community and the businesses in the area, they would be better taken care of at Burke and Herbert Bank than they would at any big bank.

It was the bold community-based element of the Burke and Herbert Bank campaign that found parallels with the “My Adidas” campaign with Run DMC. Sneakers had long been looked at as nothing more than tennis shoes for athletes. But when Adidas brought in hip hop cultural icons, it took a stand against that hegemony and brought street culture to the world of footwear, a marriage that is still intact today. Furthermore, it bridged the gap between music, streetwear and sports, and showed that the community supporting these athletes extends beyond the court. It was a bold community-based campaign that showed—like the Burke and Herbert Bank campaign—that it was “better here.” The campaign’s message expressed appreciation for people who created culture, and not just the athletes getting paid to wear the shoes.

Hip Hop has always been known to be in your face and loud, not dissimilar from the way colors and text was used in the Burke and Herbert campaign. Both the Adidas and Burke and Herbert campaigns shared themes of flashy messaging and community-focused messaging.

In Adidas’s case, it was the connections that the campaign forged with the community that helped make it so popular. By acknowledging the people that pushed sneaker culture and employing their assistance, the campaign could give back and show respect to the streetwear and hip hop influencers in a way that was mutually beneficial to both parties.

In the case of MKP’s work with Burke and Herbert Bank, the objective was to show local businesses and personal consumers to prove what they were getting was “better here.” There are unmistakable parallels to what Adidas and Run DMC did by showing respect to sneaker culture, hip hop and streetwear.

Check Your Email

Another thing that MKP has in common with sneaker culture is its focus on digital content. In the company’s work with Metro Credit Union, for example, I could see how different communication outlets like email and direct mail are used to inform the customer of impending changes. I saw significant parallels between this work and the way that sneaker companies use different channels to inform consumers about impending sneaker releases.

A goal of the project for Metro Credit Union was to send system conversion emails to customers who were segmented based on whether they were online banking customers. There was an email sent before the conversion and after the conversion to inform customers of everything they would need to know related to the conversion. The emails were built in HTML to the client’s brand standards and included links to a microsite with more information. There was also a Spanish language microsite for Spanish-speaking customers. The segmentation relied on data to ensure the best customer experience and minimize confusion before and after the conversion. It was thanks to a deep understanding of the customer base and a successful segmentation strategy that the project was carried to completion smoothly and provided the right information to the right customer.

The Metro Credit Union project reminded me of the many different ways sneaker companies use to alert consumers about impending releases. One way is a week or so before sneakers are released. I often receive an email with a picture of the sneakers and a link to either an online store at which I can purchase the shoes or a landing page with information about where and when I can make my purchase. This might be because I signed up for a mailing list or perhaps the company knows I could be interested because of my purchase history. These are commonplace tactics companies use to build excitement, inform interested customers about what is on the horizon and facilitate sales.

Another tactic I often see entails a minimalistic microsite that is published just a few hours before the release where people interested in the sneaker can sign up for a raffle in hopes of getting access to purchase the sneakers. From there, select customers receive an email providing a short summary of the promotion and a link to a different page where they have a limited time to check out before the offer expires. Even customers who are not selected might receive an email to inform them that they were not selected and to thank them for their interest in the product. This is, perhaps, a more guerilla tactic due to the short timeframe of the promotion. Only the most dedicated customers make themselves available at the drop of a hat, and still it requires a bit of luck. Nevertheless, promotions of this nature can succeed in building excitement and generating interest via social media and word of mouth.

Yet another example involves an app that is released as a way to communicate releases and act simultaneously as a hub for promotions and a virtual store. Apps can sometimes release products via raffles and then email journeys are segmented based on raffle outcomes. Apps may also release products based on the specific locations of users. In this case, only people in the designated area have the ability to add sneakers to their carts and check out. Companies deploy different ways to inform customers about releases through digital channels and increasingly they are introducing gamified, interactive ways for consumers to earn the chance to purchase highly anticipated releases from their favorite athletes, artists and designers. Users can also curate their feeds to show the types of sneakers they like best and constantly stay updated about what is coming out and when.

The dichotomy between customers who have the app and customers who do not is similar to the segmentation that MKP recommended in the Metro Credit Union project. Customers who have the app can be equated to Metro Credit Union members who had online banking, and those who do not have the app can be compared to members who do not have online banking.

Two is Better than One

MKP also does a lot of work with bank merger communications and, in today’s sneaker culture, collaborations are extremely common. In the parlance of bank mergers, these collaborations might be described as a temporary “merger of equals,” but there are also times when one sneaker company buys another. For example, Nike purchased the Jordan brand and Converse and now all operate under the Nike corporation. In MKP’s merger communication project between Sterling and Astoria, they sent out a few announcements to inform the customers of Sterling and Astoria about the merger and what would happen to their accounts and the branding of their bank. In this case the goal of the project was to build confidence among current customers that their bank would not lose its focus on personal banking, despite Sterling’s reputation as a business bank.

Through this merger, the bank wanted to bring a business banking branch to Long Island but it wanted its customers to know that they will still provide great personal banking services. To achieve this, they sent customers a merger announcement that provided a rundown on transition details concerning the bank name change, dates, times and more. Then, when the merger was completed, they segmented communications based on personal and business customers, explaining that there would be no immediate changes and the transaction was more of expansion. Ahead of conversion, a fully customized package of all account details was sent to all customers with all imminent changes. The main objective of this detailed package was to keep customers informed of the changes to their accounts. Finally,Pre-Conversion Communications were deployed to prepare customers for change and inspire confidence in new organization.

Since I do not work for Nike, I cannot provide many details into the conversion process when they acquired the Jordan brand and Converse, but there is a clear resemblance between MKP’s work and sneaker mergers. In the case of the Sterling-Astoria merger, one bank took over the branding of the other bank. In the case of Nike’s acquisitions, both still operate under their own branding but they became subsidiaries of Nike. Michael Jordan was originally a Nike athlete, but, as he grew, so did his brand. Understanding the magnitude of Jordan’s audience, Nike took advantage of the opportunity to buy the brand, and helped reach Michael Jordan’s audience to create a multi-billion dollar market. With the Converse merger, Nike added a historic brand to a portfolio that was already the number one athletic brand in the world. The rich history of Converse adds to the prestige and solidifies Nike’s place at the center of the sports merchandise universe.

Through my time working and contributing to the MKP team, I have learned a lot about what they do as a company as well as the creative solutions they deploy to solve problems. This experience as well as my prior experience and passion for sneakers gave me a great opportunity to find a creative way to intersect my passions and relate them to the work MKP does. Not often will you hear people speak on the parallels between bank marketing communications and the way Nike releases the latest Jordans. And yet, it’s exciting for me to build on something I know and something I am learning through my internship—and this exercise provided an interesting way to further my understanding of financial industry communications. The work of MKP may be on a different scale than that of Adidas and Run DMC, but they share the same bedrock best marketing principles to achieve similar goals. Growing up a sneakerhead gave me a hobby and ultimately helped provide a foundation for my continued growth and learning in the field of marketing.

MKP communications inc. is a New York City-based communications company specializing in financial services marketing and merger/change communication.