A friend invited me to a running event a couple of weeks ago in Shoreditch, London. I like running and thought, 'why not.' Little did I realise that this was more than just a bunch of running enthusiasts getting together for a quick jog.
The first sign that it was something special was when I received a bag of goodies on the day of the run. In it was a brand new pair of Nike Free running shoes and some khaki army uniform-style running shorts. There was a letter too, printed on recycled paper. It was friendly, inviting, personal, de-branded. It said:
"Thanks so much for joining us on the run this evening. If you could arrive at the Nike 1948 store at 6.45pm ready to run that would be great.
We have provided some shorts for you to wear this evening and we will give you a T-shirt when you arrive.
If you have any Nikes that you are more comfortable running in feel free to wear them and keep these trainers as a present from us.
See you soon."
Awesome I thought. I turned up that night not sure what to expect, but I was excited. A bunch of trendy people greeted me, decked out head to toe in Nike, but in a style perfectly suited to urban East London.
The 1948 store was in a converted railway arch. It was less about retail and achingly pushing the Nike brand, and more about establishing a celebration of Shoreditch-life, community, running innovation and creativity. It felt like an arts club or theatre studio full of free spirits.
I got my T-shirt. On it was printed Rum Dem Crew and the obligatory Nike swoosh. A slogan on the back said "hit the road, not the wall."
Our running guide for the evening, Charlie Dark got us limbering up and then off we went for a fun, action-packed 5k around the streets of East London, passing bustling bars, the intoxicating aromas of Brick Lane curry houses and wonderful examples of street art.
Out of breath, invigorated, laughing and thoroughly inspired, we got back to 1948 and it was filled with people and anticipatory energy. Local artists, poets and musicians were there to chat creativity - the things that inspire them and bring them together - just like running.
It turns out Charlie started Run Dem Crew to be the opposite of an every day running club:
"Over two hundred strong and growing daily, the RDC is a collective of creative heads with a passion for running and the exchange of ideas. We meet every Tuesday to run and explore the streets of London."
Nike's purpose is 'to provide inspiration and innovation for every athlete* in the world." The asterix states, "if you've got a body, you're an athlete. And Run Dem Crew is just one example of how this philosophy sits at the core of everything they do.
Their marketing is built-in and not just a silo that pumps out communications. Instead of telling people what they're about through endless ads, headlines and taglines, Nike simply create the platforms that prove it's true, every day.
They give up ownership of their brand to people like Charlie to do something amazing. Sure, they point the way and build the stage, but we're the people that act upon it and bring the meaning of their brand purpose to life. That's a truly empowered movement and a truly modern marketing organisation.
It's brand building for the now, where people crave remarkable experiences and not endless, unfulfilled promises. Where the message is rendered increasingly redundant and the brand becomes a platform for inspiration, innovation and connection to something bigger and more profound. The experience creates the message, not the other way around.
On my way home, I Instagram-ed my new trainers, I tweeted about the event and I posted about it on Facebook. I'm writing a blog about it right now.
I'm sure the irony isn't lost on anyone. In today's impatient world, creating meaningful experiences and communities is the only message a brand should ever need.