What a $15 basketball shoe can teach businesses about effective marketing

Jan 8, 2018

Maybe the most fundamental element of effective marketing is differentiation. If the whole point is to stand out from your competitors, why would you want to copy them?

Former NBA All Star Stephon Marbury asked himself the same thing. Born in Brooklyn as one of seven kids, he could never afford high-end basketball shoes, and wondered why every star-endorsed sneaker had to be expensive.

Fast forward to the 2000s. Marbury’s playing with the New York Knicks. He’s past his prime, and actually has a somewhat tarnished brand. From the common perspective of how endorsements work, he had no chance of snagging a successful shoe deal.

But who says every signature sneaker has to follow in the literal footsteps of the Nike Air Jordan? What if you could go in the complete opposite direction?

“The other way of thinking about endorsements, is that if you have the right product, and the right person, and the story is perfect,” explained one NPR reporter, “then maybe you don’t have to be the most famous person in the world.”

With this idea, Marbury teamed up with a discount clothing chain to create the Starbury. It sold for only $14.98 – one-tenth the cost of Jordans – so that even the most disadvantaged youth could afford it.

Stephon Marbury playing in his signature shoe. Can’t help but point out he’s blowing past former Sixers player Willie Green.

Sure, people were skeptical of its quality for that price. Marbury hushed that criticism when he wore them that entire next season, averaging 37 minutes a game.

The media loved the story. Marbury was soon on every news show, from Good Morning America to 60 Minutes.

As a result, the shoes sold out instantly, and completely changed Marbury’s brand.

Long story short: don’t get caught mindlessly following the crowd. When everyone else is just trying to “Be Like Mike,” the best move is one that’s unlike your competitors.

This article was written by apprentice storyteller Tomi Kosoko. It first appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short.

We’d love your endorsement. Please share!

New logo for Long Story Short, the Braithwaite Communications weekly newsletter.

If you like this article, you'll love our newsletter.

We'll send you a great true story with a useful business lesson every Monday.

Thanks! You'll receive a welcome email soon. (It might go to your Junk, Clutter or Promotions folder.)