Five Questions With FOS: Nike’s Ron Faris

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Want to better understand how Nike wants to ramp up its sales straight to shoppers? The best place to start might be at New York City’s South Street Seaport.

That is the new home of Nike’s s23NYC Digital Studio, a group of engineers, designers, data scientists, marketers and operators that are being tasked with finding innovative ways to connect with the company’s most dedicated consumers.

The s23NYC team began three years ago and has operated Nike’s highly successful SNKRS app, which has deepened the bond between sneakerheads and the company through things like merchandise drops, pop-up experiences and other things that have helped to build a strong community.

Now Nike wants to bring the same approach it has used in the sneaker community to other groups of fanatical communities within the Nike ecosystem like running or basketball.

Ron Faris, Nike vice president SNKRS digital product and the GM of the s23NYC Digital Studio, spoke with FOS about how the company will look to accomplish that.

Front Office Sports: How did this all get started?

Faris: We had started this journey three years ago as a new way to create experiences and resonate digitally with the sneaker-obsessed community through the app SNKRS. I think as we’ve unlocked more, we’ve had the luxury of working with the sneaker[obsessed community because they’re so fanatical that they come back to the app every day. And when members come back every day, that’s just more signals that they’re giving you and more information that’s helping you try new things that you wouldn’t be able to do with other apps.

We started to learn about our users and members who were coming in and being engaged. We figured, well if we could understand them more, can we start to predict what they would do and predict what would be appealing to them? One of our biggest unlocks was understanding the concept of exclusive access. That was just by seeing how engaged people were with the content of the app and what we had, we could prioritize them to have access to product quicker than others because they were authentically engaged in that.

FOS: How do you translate what you’ve seen in SNKRS to other people engaged with Nike in other sports?

Faris: All of these learnings just made it very clear that the playbook we were writing for the sneaker obsessed was very similar to any obsessed group or fan. All of those communities share the same dynamics which is about having those who are most engaged, probably about 20% of your community, that when you build tools for them to show off how engaged they are, those who are less engaged can use that to discover, and that in turn makes those less engaged more excited and more intrigued about being part of the community. And that model is something that we don’t see just for the sneaker-obsessed community but for any community.

FOS: The company is focusing on growing its direct-to-consumer business – what role do you see this approach playing in that?

Faris: I think it’s the tip of the spear of that direct-to-consumer offense because this is the place where we can invent interactions and experiences, new canvases for us to be able to experiment with our 21st-century Gen Z consumers. Nike has always been a phenomenal storytelling brand, but in the last 10 to 20 years that canvas has changed. Art is the same, but the canvas has changed. Now, our job is to make sure that we can build next-generation canvases to tell these stories in the form of products, content or experiences.

FOS: Does the same strategy that works for people who love sneakers work for people that love running?

Faris: I think the way we look at it is there will be some other communities that have more overlap than others. Let’s take the basketball obsessed, I think that community shares a lot of overlap with the sneaker obsessed. So from that perspective, we’ll probably start with some of the same experiences and some of the same content formats to see if it resonates deeper with them on a different app other than the Nike app. I think a running member at a running community shares different elements of a sneakers-obsessed community. It’s not the same passion, but the mechanics of what makes them fanatical are the same in the sense that there is an authentic passion that fuels them wanting to run more as opposed to in sneakers where it fuels them to want to collect more around their sneaker obsession.

And whether you’re in a music community, a video game community, a sneaker community or running community, the dynamics are all the same. Where you have that, those folks who are at the top of the pyramid, who are the most engaged and have the most knowledge, what you want to do is build the tools that allow them to share that knowledge with those less engaged so that they can discover and get inspired so that they can become more knowledge. That’s how all fanatical communities work. And if we stay true to that model, then the features just become this blank canvas

FOS: You’ve been innovative with the approach to SNKRS – what’s next?

Faris: You’ll be seeing a lot more content franchises that start to feature members as the star of them and have them telling us their authentic stories around their love of sneakers. We’ll also offer the opportunity for them through a form of UGC to be able to upload certain moments relevant to what sneakers they are rocking at a certain time. So that’s a key component to ramp up the community in that regard. And then I think the second and equally important thing we’re doing is as we’ve seen explosive growth in the SNKRS community, our whole approach now is to really ramp up fairness and making sure that the right members get access to product.

What we don’t want to do is grow a community so big and disappoint the people. We want to take care of the people that engage authentically with us, leveraging signal capture to be able to target the right people to get access to the product before others do, and that’s our exclusive access approach. Exclusive access has been the first set of tests to be able to target members who authenticate and give them fair access to product. I think we’re in the early days on that, and I want to get to a point where membership at Nike means getting a fair level of access to product.