Small Thoughts

Marketing Strategies That Stick Like Nike, Netflix, and Apple

Indelible: making marks that cannot be removed; not able to be forgotten or removed.

You want your marketing to be warmly remembered for a long time to come. This is called “indelible marketing” and many companies try for this, but only a few succeed.

There are marketing strategies that have won hearts, not just sales. The companies behind those campaigns understood several key principles of human memory and emotions that inscribed their brand on the hearts of their audience.

You can have a similar impact, but first you will need to tackle some basics of human memory and emotion. That knowledge will structure each display ad, blog post, sales letter, and landing page for long lasting impact.

Then you’ll need to examine simple strategies Nike, Netflix, and Apple used to fuel their marketing with persuasive power.

Start with making memories

The easiest way to make a memory stick is repetition.

“[Ebbinghaus] found that poorly learned material is very rapidly forgotten. However, he also found that increases in strength of learning increase the strength of memory tested the next day and that repeated daily relearning greatly improves memory on each subsequent day.”

That’s James L. McGaugh from his 2003 book, “Memory and Emotion: The Making of Lasting Memories.”

Repetition in your marketing will go a long way in creating a lasting impact. Repeat calls to action, value propositions, benefits, features. Obviously you can be limited by media space in some instances. All the more reason to have a well defined marketing message that is easily reiterated.

If you have the choice of your ads appearing once in front of a massive audience or many times in front of a limited audience, you’re going to have a longer lasting impact with repeated exposure in front of a smaller audience. Just make sure the audience is well targeted.

Why do we say, “Learn by heart” when memories are stored in the brain?

If you look up Aristotle’s theory of the heart’s role in human biology, his hypothesis will startle you.

Aristotle was what is called a “cardiocentrist.” He believed that the heart was the seat of human intelligence, memory, and emotion. This was a popular view in Aristotle’s time. He would debate against those who believed that human intelligence and memory was stored in the brain.

Crazy right!?

But this was a popular belief. Take, for example, the word “record.” In Latin, “re” means again, “cor” mean heart. To record was to repeatedly impress the heart. Again, they thought that memory was stored in the heart.

What does this have to do with marketing?  It’s the relationship between memory and emotion.

Even at a primitive scientific level, we understood that emotions have a significant impact on memory. Strong emotions will cement a memory in our heads for a long time.

Here’s James McGaugh again from the same book:

“Although repetition is a highly effective way of making strong, long-lasting memories, it is not the only way. For better or for worse (and it can be both), highly arousing emotional experiences are also well remembered.”

When your marketing stirs up the right emotions in your audience, it has a better chance of leaving a lasting impression. Intimately understanding your client’s pain and frustrations will allow you to create empathy. Put your audience in the right mood and your marketing becomes memorable.

But it’s not just emotions you want. . . 

You can tell a story and create a mood, good or bad, in the audience, and still only get mediocre response.

The purpose of empathizing with your prospect is to make a connection with him or her. Once you have them in the right mood, frustrated or elated, position your offer and company as being on their side. Demonstrate that you hold the solution they are hoping for.

You’re looking for the gut reaction. You want “Ah Ha!” moments, when the audience snaps their fingers, and exclaims out loud. This is when they realize that you understand them, that they’re not alone, and that you hold the solution.

Those gut reactions will imprint your brand on their hearts for good. Even if other companies offer more affordable options, it will be hard for them to ignore that genuine reaction they had to your brand.

In real life that looks like Netflix giving away $13.6 Million…

In 2010 Netflix had 384,000 subscribers to their free trial. In 2011, Netflix increased their trial period to a full month, and their free trial user base jumped to 1.7 million.

$8 / month X 1.7 million users = $13.6 million that Netflix GAVE AWAY. You’re not the only one that thought this strategy was insane. Netflix was highly criticized for this gift.

BUT, 93% of those users converted to paying customers. That’s almost 1.6 million new paying customers who are likely to stick around for more than 2 or 3 months.

Gift giving is one of those strategies that impacts customers for a long time. Especially when it’s outrageously generous.

You feel more obliged to return the favour when someone gives generously. Especially when they seek nothing in return. That means if you attach no strings to your gift, people want to return the favour even more.

To impact your audience in a way they won’t soon forget, give generously.

Keep your brand human … Like Apple?

I know that some might argue that Apple isn’t a human brand anymore, but I would ardently defend Apple on this point.

Case and point, their Mac vs. PC television ads. Mac was personified as a casual, cool, witty, young professional. PC was personified as a geeky, awkward, stuffy, corporate geezer. PC would try to boast about his capabilities, but Mac would easily, and almost lazily dismantle PC’s boasting.

These ads were funny, intelligent, but most importantly, relatable. Apple knew exactly who their audience was and created an image that will forever be associated with their brand.

Humanize your image. Match emotional, gut reactions with a human face. Your brand becomes relatable and believable, and your offer will be supported by the weight of a credible brand.

The right timing will glue your brand to a cultural memory.

In 1989, Nike was the underdog. Reebok dominated the American sports apparel market, especially in shoes.

Nike was getting ready to release a new athletic shoe, their cross trainer. They created a commercial featuring star athlete, Bo Jackson. Bo successfully played professional baseball and professional football.

The commercial showed Bo not only playing baseball and football, but basketball, soccer, cricket, and a bunch of other sports. And in each sport, there was a celebrity athlete to endorse Bo. Like Micheal Jordan saying, “Bo knows basketball.”

Throughout the commercial were shots of Bo wearing Nike’s new cross trainer shoes.

This commercial, that has become known today as “Bo Knows,” was set to début after the fourth inning of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. As it turned out, Bo was first up to bat in the game. First bat, first inning, and Bo launches the ball into the stands; a home run.

The commercial is pushed up to the “A” block. Bo hits a home run, then he shows up in this new Nike commercial with these new shoes on.

To this day, Reebok has not been able to recapture the athletic footwear throne that Nike now occupies.

Timing is tricky. You can’t always plan for it. But you can be ready. Nike didn’t know Bo was going to hit that first home run, but they knew he was going to be playing in that game.

Nail the timing and you’ll be glued to a moment in history for your audience.


Indelible marketing connects to emotions, creates guts reactions, and repeats a clear message often enough to become recognizable to your audience.

Give generously, keep your brand human, and nail the timing. All of this works together to form a marketing effort that cannot be removed from your audience’s memory.

What marketing campaign marked you the most? How is your brand connecting to your audience for lasting impact?

Comment below with your story. And please share this post. Let’s bring others into the conversation.

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