Three marketing lessons from the co-founder of Nike or how to build a sport empire

Phil Knight is a typical example of a self-made person. A student at the Faculty of Economics and runner, at university he dreamed of creating a business selling sneakers. At 26, Phil Knight began selling athletic shoes from Japan from the back of his car. He retired after 40 years and left behind a sports empire with 5,000 stores and sales of 16 billion US dollars. Phil Knight described the history of his business in detail in his memoir Shoe Dog. On 500 pages, there is no hint of business theory - only experience. According to it, we will analyze what the brand’s marketing strategy was based on.

“He won Wimbledon. In our shoes”

In the memoir Phil Knight admits that he does not believe in the power of advertising. He speaks with skepticism about huge banners and high-profile slogans. And it seems to me that Phil Knight recognized only influence marketing. Nike sneakers were seen on popular US golfer Tiger Woods and baseball player Derek Jeter, sports stars Michael Jordan and Cristiano Ronaldo, running legend Steve Prefontaine (Pre) and tennis player Jimmy Connors.

Nike agents literally had to hunt for successful and influential athletes. The collaboration with them did cost a lot of money. But all the efforts paid off in full - the sneaker models in which the athletes appeared bought up in a matter of months. The company also practiced the “give away” method: Nike agents in Hollywood gave pair after a pair to everyone who fell into the frame of video cameras for at least a second. So, Nike sneakers appeared in TV shows and sitcoms. Housewives and schoolchildren learned about the brand. And sales went up again.

“In all the world there had never been such a sanctuary for runners, a place that didn’t just sell them shoes but celebrated them and their shoes”

In the sixties, mainly professional athletes went jogging. Amateur runners were few, and people didn’t understand their hobby. The Nike guys decided to change people`s minds.

They started with the book “Jogging”. It was written by co-founder of the company, coach Bill Bowerman. The book has become a hymn to running. Not to sneakers, but to jogging as a way of life. The brand didn`t promote its product, but the passion of potential customers. And clients appreciated it.

With the same respect for customers, Nike designed its first store - comfortable chairs, books for runners, photos of athletes on the walls. It was not a store, it was more like a social club, a “a sanctuary for runners”, as Phil Knight wrote. As a result, the place was always filled with visitors. They were reading books here for hours, chatting, going home for dinner and returning to buy another pair of Nike sneakers.

“Just watch. We’ll make our factories shining examples”

In the nineties, a wave of criticism fell on Nike: the company was accused of dangerous conditions for workers in factories and the use of child labor. Sensational revelations, scandalous interviews with workers, shocking headlines. It got to the point that social activists burned an effigy of Phil Knight opposite the flagship store in Oregon.

It was a disaster, but Phil Knight managed to emerge victorious and strengthen the brand's reputation. How? The company acknowledged the allegations and publicly announced that all deficiencies would be corrected. Nike fulfilled its promises - production in factories became safe, even though the company took ten years to do this. Nike shared its best practices with everyone, including competitors. Later a UN spokesman called Nike the gold standard for all clothing factories around the world.

Nike is 55 years old in 2019. COO of Sarafan Technology Inc. Ksenia Shirokova analysed the secrets behind the success of the company, which in less than half a century has created the most expensive sport brand in the world.

Sarafan Technology Inc. is a Marketing Tech company based in the USA and Europe. The company is a developer of interactive Advertising solutions for publishers. All the solutions are based on Artificial Intelligence technology Sarafan.AI that identifies objects in photos and videos published in media websites and searches for identical or similar items in online stores.

Phil Knight at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (2009); Nike Pressroom


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