Branding 101: Know What You’re Selling [The @Nike Story]

I love this quote from Andrew Stanton on storytelling:

“Storytelling is knowing that everything you’re saying, from your first sentence to your last, is leading to a single goal and ideally confirming some truth that deepens our understanding of who we are as human beings.”

To tell a good brand story you need to know what you’re selling. You also need to know what your audience are buying,  it’s not always your physical goods or services.  Read on…

Physical vs. Emotional Selling [Products vs. Brands]

Professor Theodore Levitt coined the phrase “Marketing Myopia” and asked the quintessential question: “What business are you really in?”.

There’s a distinct difference between selling a product (let’s say running shoes), and selling the emotions that go with it (let’s say feelings of victory, achievement,  perseverance, etc.).

History is littered with businesses suffering from marketing myopia.  Companies that didn’t know what they were selling.  Dis-illusioned about the business they’re in.  Not fully aware what their customers were actually buying.  Businesses such as these failed.

History is also decorated with examples of businesses who had (and still have) a crystal clear focus on their brand proposition. Their core values and beliefs are embedded at the heart of their products or services. Their brand stories are so compelling that consumers have no choice but to rally behind  and amplify them.  These businesses succeeded.

Examples of brands who know exactly what they’re selling include Apple, Virgin and Coca Cola.  One brand in particular with a consistent and compelling story is Nike.

Once Upon a Time [The Nike Story Begins]

In a land far far away, well not THAT far, America actually… two visionary Oregonians shook hands.

Bill Bowerman and Phile Knight - Nike Founders
Bill Bowerman and Phile Knight – Nike Founders

Bill Bowerman and his University of Oregon runner Phil Knight wanted to “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world” …

*If you have a Body, you are an Athlete [the Audience]

When Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman made this observation many years ago, he was defining how he viewed the endless possibilities for human potential in sports. He set the tone and direction for a young company created in 1972, called Nike, and every day those same words inspire new generations of Nike employees and customers all over the world.

The “SWOOSH” – as the Leading Character [also You]

The SWOOSH (also the person who’s wearing it) became the leading character in this story. “The Swoosh” is a graphic design created by Caroline Davidson in 1971. It represents the wing of the Greek Goddess [of Victory] NIKE.  In spring of 1972, the first shoe with the NIKE SWOOSH was introduced…..the rest is history! (from Nike Consumer Affairs packet, 1996)

Nike – a Brand With a Compelling Story

Nike sells shoes but it’s not in the shoe-selling business. It’s in the business of selling emotion and aspiration.  Nike sells achievement, Nike sells perseverance and Nike sells Victory.  Nike also happens to sell running shoes and athletic wear.

Nike’s power to sell comes from deep-rooted yearnings for cultural inclusiveness and individual athletic accomplishment.  This started when American record-holder Steve Prefontaine became the first major track athlete to wear Nike shoes. It has continued ever since including the following associations:

  • 1978:  Nike signs Tennis “bad boy” John McEnroe.
  • 1984: Nike signs Michael Jordan to an endorsement contract including his own signature shoe, the Air Jordan.
  • 1989: Bo Jackson appears in Nike’s Bo Knows ad campaign to support the launch of its cross-training shoe.

Every Good Story has Conflict

Consumers identify with brand stories that validate their core beliefs and ones that attempt to resolve and/or shed light on internal conflict.  Nike tapped into the ultimate conflict in all human beings; purpose and self-validation.  This 1964 print ad “There is no finish line” still resonates with consumers today.

there's no finish line print ad

And Every Good Story also has a Happy Ending [Association with Victory]…

In 1982 Dan Wieden and Dave Kennedy started their own advertising agency, Wieden+Kennedy, taking with them the Nike account . In October of the same year, Nike aired its first national television ad during the New York Marathon, cementing its association with the ultimate symbol of achievement and victory, along with the famous scene from the classic movie, Chariots of Fire…

Nike still sponsors Marathon events all over the world including the 2012 Nagoya Women’s Marathon, the biggest of its kind with 13,000+ runners.

Motto of the Story? Just Do It!

In 1988 Nike introduced its famous tagline, Just do it, a brainchild of Dan Weiden, co-founder of famous ad agency Wieden + Kennedy.

After stumbling badly against archrival Reebok in the 1980s, Nike rose about as high and fast in the ‘90s as any company can. It took on a new religion of brand consciousness and broke advertising sound barriers with its indelible Swoosh, “Just Do It” slogan and deified sports figures. Nike managed the deftest of marketing tricks: to be both anti-establishment and mass market, to the tune of $9.2 billion dollars in sales in 1997.

—Jolie Soloman
“When Nike Goes Cold”

The “Swoosh” character embodied the spirit of the brand and for the next decade the infamous slogan took on many forms including a 1996 Gorilla marketing campaign in Amsterdam – chalk ‘goals’ appeared on many brick walls, just like the one you can see below. There was no type, but simply the well recognised Nike tick logo. Nike’s thoughts behind this campaign, working alongside KesselsKramer Advertising agency, were to inspire kids in Amsterdam to create their own football pitch, sending out the message that it doesn’t need to be expensive to have fun.

5 Glorious Decades Later…

Nike is still telling the same story, albeit though new mediums as can be seen in the new Facebook brand page with over 3.4 million fans and adopting a consistent image on Twitter with over 300 thousand followers.

Nike Social

Nike is also first there on new interest-based social platforms such as Pinterest, although it appears that they’ve yet to adopt a strategy for this up-n-coming site.

Nike football on pinterest

They’ll figure out Pinterest at some point, but even if they don’t, I’m sure their fans will keep their story alive…

Now Over to You…

Are you Inspired by Nike’s Story? What’s your Brand Story?  Share Below…

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