They’re cool, fit, and unrelenting winners in the face of all adversary. With style and swagger, they face down failure on a daily basis and say not today. They call themselves Nike, but they’re not just a brand. They’re also you and me, and everyone who straps on that sacred swoosh serving to define both brand and personal identity. Thanks to exceptional branding and marketing strategy throughout the years, Nike has become one of the most loved brands today.
Late last night, I just finished reading Phil Knight’s book Shoe Dog. It was a book appearing everywhere as a recommendation for those starting their own business or working in the marketing industry. And I certainly have no regrets about entering it on my reading list. It imparts great business wisdom from the founder of Nike and serves as his memoir. Knight started Nike in the early 1970’s and built them into the behemoth it is today. The book is an excellent guide in marketing and branding strategy if you read closely. It provides an ample demonstration of knight’s intuitive and strategic brain for both marketing and brand building.
Reading books, especially from founders, I find is an excellent method of gleaming their knowledge as well as harvesting years of experience covering building their brand. Knights book has led me to investigate and contemplate the reason behind much of Nike’s success. I’ve found the secret to their success lies in part to brilliantly effective branding and marketing strategy. Here are some of my takeaways:
The Spirit of Nike
When Phil Knight started his shoe company he called it Blue Ribbon. Seeking a stronger brand identity and a way of selling shoes without the Japanese manufacturer’s knowledge, Blue Ribbon needed another name. He wanted a name that was strong, meaningful and made people feel proud to wear the shoe. His voracious appetite for books led him to Greek Mythology where he saw the name “Nike” which stood for Goddess of Victory. “Nike” encompassed the feeling of pride and victory wanted to be associated with his new brand.
Phil Knight never wanted the focus of marketing to be on the product itself. Shoes were boring. He wanted the shoes to mean something to the person wearing them. In advertising and presentation of the product, the focus wasn’t on the product but the spirit of the shoes. What they stood for! In the early days, sales merchandisers were wowed by Knights presentations of his products even though quality, in the beginning, was lacking. He regaled them with stories of his vision for Nike and how it would be the shoe that every future athlete would lace up when attacking the track. It wasn’t just another shoe company.
In the early days, celebrity endorsements were one of the main drivers of growth for the Nike brand. Phil Knight and his team would canvas local and national runners as well as their coaches to wear Nike shoes. They saw it as an excellent way of attracting attention and spreading word of mouth about the brand. It also carried the added caveat that if one of their runners won, then everyone would want to know what shoes they were wearing. In 1973, Nike became the first company to sign an athlete on an endorsement deal for wearing their product.
Over the years, Nike has recruited a vast array of celebrity endorsers for their products. They mainly stick to the sports field with names such as Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods all becoming synonymous with the Nike brand. This policy has reaped its rewards for the company. Kids especially follow their sporting heroes and seek to wear clothing and shoes that their role models wear. It makes them feel like they’re literally in their shoes. At least that’s how I felt when I was a young lad.
Nike even went as far as co-creating a new product with Michael Jordan in 1985 – The Air Jordan. It achieved notoriety as it was banned from the NBA due to its bright colours. But this only served to further inflame customers desire for the shoes. This celebrity endorsement policy still is a major focal point of Nike’s marketing and branding departments budget spend.
Innovative and Stylish Products
“Our job is to wake up the consumers. If we become predictable, that’s not waking them up.” – Phil Knight, Nike founder
In the beginning, Nike wanted to create products with both style and substance. A tight budget in the early years meant they often had to neglect excessive standards of quality and use the branding to promote the product. Knight and his team, however, had an obsessive eye for detail. While accepting quality issues, they always strove to address it to achieve the company’s goal of creating great quality running shoes.
Nike wanted their products to be both well designed and stylish. They created different styles of shoes with different colours which consumers went wild for. In those times, competing shoes were simplistic and absent personality and sophistication. Nike’s flashy shoes stole consumers attention with each person eager to wear shoes that would make them stand out. Presentation of the shoes was also important and the boxes for the shoes were equally well presented.
Constant innovation of the product and distribution channels helped Nike stand out from the competition. They viewed their shoes as post-modern art and sought to create shoes that changed the shoe industry.The focus was put on creating lighter and lighter shoes for runners resulting in more people winning races in Nike shoes. This led to even more top athletes seeking to endorse their shoes. Knight was also one of the first American entrepreneurs to seek to do business in Japan despite frosty relations with the two companies post WW2. He set up a manufacturing base there helping the company achieve economies of scale due to low labour and material cost.
Phil Knight was never a big believer in advertising at the start. He saw it as a waste of budget as he could never account for where the money went. This began to change however as he sought to scale the business and entered discussions with advertising agencies. The slogan “Just Do It” created by the Wieden and Kennedy Advertising Agency pronounced Nike on an international stage. Suddenly the slogan became one everyone would tell themselves when attempting to fulfil one of their dreams. The Nike and consumer identity suddenly became enmeshed with Nike representing the individual quest for extraordinary human achievement.
Much of this article carries stories from the evolution of Nike and how effective and inspired marketing as well as branding played a major part in their success. They still follow many of these marketing principles today. And there’s no reason why you can’t learn from Nike and apply their secrets to your business.