Tag Archives: Nike

September 9, 2014 | dlauer | Tagged , , ,

Becoming a lifestyle brand, the Apple way

top-10-brands-on-socialcam-eef22540ddI’ve led corporate branding and narrative development for companies in every industry, from start-ups to the Fortune 100.  At one point in each and every audit, when asking executives who they most want to emulate or be aligned with, they all say the same thing: “I want to be Apple.”

It has happened so often that I have had to specifically re-engineer my question to include a caveat – Apple doesn’t count.  Nor does Nike or Starbucks.

These are the go-to brands that transcend their categories. Their very names have become known as widely-accepted verbs by everyone from Wall Street Analysts to Main Street Millennials.  These companies have created such strong emotional connections with their customers that they now serve to validate their identities and customers reciprocate by voluntarily tattooing their cars, computers and even bodies.  Because for their audiences, they are not corporations, they are a lifestyle.

Lifestyle brands do more than achieve cult-like status among their followers. They successfully break away from the commodity space.  They command a price and loyalty premium unavailable to competitors.

And the secret sauce? After researching and following so many of these brands, including those that have had success on a humbler stage, such as Harley-Davidson, Whole Foods and Ralph Lauren, it has become apparent that there is none.  No amount of imitation in the way these companies look, talk or act can transform an everyday organization into a lifestyle brand. However, several major themes have consistently emerged in the way these companies operate market and think about their businesses that are worth putting into practice:

Stand for something specific

Have a defined identity and corporate narrative that your employees can strive to exemplify and customers and investors can believe in.  Invest in the time and resources to really understand what your company stands for and where it is headed, as well as what drives your stakeholders to action.  Building authentic and ownable thought leadership platforms from that narrative can help get your story told by the influencers, but then you need to reinforce that mission consistently by creating the same experience in everything you do: in store and out, online and in person, on Main Street and on Wall Street.

Tell Stories

Everyone loves a good story. We connect and learn through them; they can help humanize even the most esoteric of topics. However, how you tell yours and who tells it means the difference between empty noise and building authentic relationships with key audiences.  Take Nike for instance:  its 1977 ad campaign was revolutionary for its time, many called it “risky,” even “crazy.” The first of its kind, it featured zero actual Nike products, and it was all centered around the art of storytelling and creating an emotional connection with its audience around hope for what they could accomplish – as athletes and as people, punctuated by the “Just Do It” tagline that has become an iconic, cultural mantra of motivation for everything from climbing Mount Everest to climbing the corporate ladder.

The key is to think about what people want to hear, what motivates them and shape your communications strategically around that.

Are you shuttling people from point A to point B or are you enabling a great travel experience? Are you selling technology that brings Wi-Fi to a stadium or are you making it possible for hundreds of thousands of people to stay connected no matter where they are?

Every corporate story starts with a mission. Find ways to get people excited about yours.

Nobody wins by following the crowd

Don’t be afraid to be unconventional – culturally or otherwise. Distinguish your company from competitors by encourage new standards and “best practices” by looking outside the industry – who does it well in general?  Where are all the thought leaders on topic X, Y or Z convening?  Thinking beyond the category can help employees focus on excelling in key areas like customer service and innovation no matter what gadget or offering they’re supporting. It will also help to reshape the way you think about and approach strategies fornew products, experiences and communications that build your reputation as a leader.

Stay true. If it deviates, don’t do it

Because all associations echo your brand and can have a significant impact on your corporate reputation, mandate a laser-focus on associating yourproducts, partnerships, services and offerings with thesocial and cultural aspirations of your targetaudiences. You can only do this by making understanding the wants and needs of your stakeholders a corporate priority.  Building new products, services and innovations around insights will provide a framework for all decision-making.

May 1, 2013 | cwinters | Tagged ,

Winning the Reputation War: 5 Things Nike Knows (and Does) That Your Company Doesn’t

When a couple of guys who liked to run founded the Blue Ribbon Sports Company in 1964, I’m sure they didn’t set out to create a mega-brand. They began with a simple need to make better track shoes. I haven’t found any prophetic stories about naming their company after the Greek Goddess of Victory – because at first, they didn’t. They named it after the simple goal of winning more track events. Perhaps it was this singular dedication to purpose that prophetically foreshadowed success that is rarely duplicated. Yes, I’m talking about Nike.

I’ve written about Nike before. In fact, I write about them more than I mean to….they just seem to keep coming up as an example of a company getting it right, at least reputationally speaking. It’s why they consistently appear in the top 20 of Fortune’s Most Admired List. It’s why their stock is at an all-time high, and it’s why everything they do – from making a shoe for a limping elephant, to signing the first openly gay pro athlete to a contract, makes headlines.

What does Nike know (and practice) that the rest of us don’t?

  1. Purpose is everything. It provides the courage to stand by your athletes during controversy, the inspiration to innovate and the power to change entire industries. And we aren’t talking about manufactured purpose designed to appeal to a certain set of stakeholders… authentic purpose that begins at the top. Maybe that is why their CEO gets a 90 percent approval rating from the employees.
  2. Leaders Go First, and they go BIG – Many great businesses have been built on the strategy of being a “fast follower.” Nike isn’t one of them. They create the future by marching boldly toward the future they define. That includes their approach to sustainability – of the planet, of society and of their business.
  3. Great companies have great stories. I know that storytelling is sort of a buzz word in our industry today. But check out this article from 2000 – yup, you read that right. It’s all about how Nike invests in corporate storytellers to create a culture, which ensures that the sense of purpose we discussed earlier lives on.
  4. Consistency, from the inside out. Nike’s approach to its employees is consistent with its approach to the world. They are noted as an LGBT-friendly company, and an LGBT-friendly sponsor. They live their values. They tell their stories.
  5. Simplicity rules. Nike has mastered the art of simplicity, in an increasingly complex world. Their discipline around branding, messaging and even decision-making is the stuff that B-school case studies are made of.

If you want a bullet proof reputation like the one Nike has earned, Just Do It. Enough said.


February 21, 2013 | cwinters | Tagged , , , ,

Nike Suspends Deal with Pistorius: Smart Move, or Reputation Stunt?

Abraham Lincoln said, “Character is the tree, reputation is the shadow.” Today, all kinds of pundits will be writing about Nike’s decision to suspend their agreement with Olympian Oscar Pistorius as a reputation-saving move. Heck, I’ve written about Nike and their tendency to stand behind their athletes before. They stuck with Tiger Woods through marital infidelity. And with Lance Armstrong long after reason suggested they shouldn’t.

Nike watchers might have expected them to stick with their Olympian, too. Is the reputational risk of standing by an accused murderer who describes himself as the “bullet in the chamber” a greater risk for the brand than a doper, a cheater or an animal abuser? Nike has demonstrated that they are not afraid of controversy, or even criminal convictions (they were the first to re-sign Michael Vick after he returned to the NFL). Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, LeBron James – all sparked controversy, and all received Nike’s support.

So what’s different? Is Nike doing the right thing, guided by their values? Or is this just another headline-grabbing opportunity for the brand?

I don’t have an inside view of Nike, but they do a great job of articulating a sense of true business purpose and values that guide their decisions. It would be easy to defend a decision to stick with Pistorius based on a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. But sometimes, you have to trust your gut…and sticking by Pistorius just feels wrong. A call like that isn’t to grab headlines, or even to preserve their reputation. It is a demonstration of Nike’s character.

October 19, 2012 | admin | Tagged , , , ,

The Lance Armstrong Effect – Winners and Losers Following The Cyclist’s Announcement

Following the news of Lance Armstrong’s tumultuous week, MWW analyzed the changes in perception since Wednesday’s announcement. The results of the analysis are below. Who do you think will ultimately benefit and suffer from this week’s news? For more on the winners and losers of Lance’s announcement, read Carreen Winters’ thoughts from earlier this week.



October 17, 2012 | cwinters | Tagged , , , ,

Winners & Losers of the Lance Armstrong debacle; An Rx for The Foundation’s Survival

Winner: Nike

Nike has a long history of standing by their spokespeople in times of trouble. I’ve long admired their use of sound judgment and their ability to separate an athlete’s personal choices relative to the reasons they chose him as a spokesperson to begin with. They refrain from panic and reactionism, and protecting their brand, and perhaps even saving a few careers along the way. They weren’t concerned about Tiger Woods and his affair. When LeBron James enraged an entire city, Nike stood by him. They even stood by Lance Armstrong through his decade-long denials about performance enhancing drugs. Until today.

When it became clear that Armstrong is a doper, and a liar, they acted. Now, one could argue that everyone has known this for years. The same way everyone knows it about lots of athletes. Not sure what event tipped them over….unless it was a long overdue private admission by Lance himself, but I doubt it.

Nike demonstrates the kind of behavior I celebrate in a client…they are obviously getting good advice, and acting on it.

Loser: Lance Armstrong

If Nike dumps you, you must have done something seriously wrong. Seriously. The Lance Armstrong brand, which moved so far beyond the Tour de France victories and into iconic stature as a symbol of courage and hope for cancer victims everywhere, is irreparably damaged. Sure, he still beat cancer. But he isn’t a role model. Not to anyone. Not anymore.

Ultimately, it was that very bravado we all loved that caused his downfall. In a demonstration of hubris usually reserved for Congressional inquiries, Armstrong repeatedly lied (and continues to lie), thinking that his compelling and courageous story of beating cancer gave him permission to do so.

A legacy was ruined today. He was lucky to dance between the rain drops as long as he did. The fact that he continues to deny it is a demonstration of the problem.

The Jury’s Out: Livestrong Foundation

In an important nuance, Nike clearly rejected Lance Armstrong, but professed their support for the Livestrong Foundation. Both brands have a lot to lose here, and we’re not just talking about yellow bracelets. There is an entire line of apparel and shoes, representing millions of dollars in sales. The Livestrong partnership is the ultimate personification of Just Do It, in action. So Nike is sticking by them, for now. Presumably, that licensing revenue will keep them afloat, even if they have a short term disruption of donor support. But that window isn’t forever. If the foundation wants to survive they need to do 3 things, quickly:

  • Put a new face to the Foundation. Quickly. Starting with their leadership. But they need other iconic, celebrated “heroes” who’ve survived cancer to get more involved.
  • Energize the base – they need to communicate with their employees, partners and major donors…condemn Lance Armstrong the athlete, but remind people of the importance of the mission to fight cancer.
  • Rally and leverage third party support – the best way to change the narrative is to tell the stories of the impact of the Foundation’s work. Third parties tip the scale in the he said, she said game. And it is clear that Armstrong isn’t going to take a bullet to keep the foundation afloat.

June 7, 2012 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Is CSR the Key to Sustainable Relevance?

When I sit and catch up with my colleagues from all of our practice areas there is a universal challenge our clients are facing: how to be relevant, and stay relevant, amidst the noise. As companies and brands seize the opportunity to use communications to advance their business goals – whether promoting a product, increasing brand awareness, building reputation or attracting the best talent – our 24/7 information environment has turned into a proverbial shouting match of content, news and conversation.

It isn’t enough to matter. You need to matter more.

It all boils down to good citizenship – and it’s the commitment, more than the cause. Creating an authentic culture, from the inside out. Having a social purpose that is more than about making money, but making change and improving lives. That’s what is going to matter over the long haul.

When it comes to using CSR to create relevance, how can you be sure to get it right?

1. Alignment: Your purpose should be aligned with your business mission, and make people feel good about the experience of your product.

There are some great examples of companies doing this well: Starbucks and Chipotle have a similar approach – quality ingredients, sourced with integrity. As I wrote here, Starbucks’ investment in thriving communities and Chipotle’s Food with Integrity platform show CSR integration across every aspect of operations.

There are also a lot of clear misses: Remember when KFC partnered with Susan G. Komen to create pink “Buckets for the Cure”? What was the purpose? Sure, women buy chicken, and women hate breast cancer. But the mission wasn’t aligned with cause.

Using your stores and your customer base to raise money for a cause is a good thing. But it doesn’t automatically make you relevant.

2. Staying Power: Plan to stick with this purpose for as long as you plan to be in business. The ways you do it can change, but the purpose doesn’t.

Nike’s brand promise has been to make their customers the best they can be – whether a professional athlete in training or running to the supermarket. Its CSR programs support that premise. Similarly, Seventh Generation’s cause is to inspire a more conscious and sustainable world. Their CSR platform looks to nurture not only this generation, but the health of the next seven.

To create any significant and long-lasting effects on the planet and communities – and stay relevant – companies must commit for the long-haul.

3. Specificity: Platforms and umbrella branding are good things – it’s a great way to tie together all of the local, regional and national initiatives and give them broader meaning. The danger is when that umbrella becomes so big and broad that it no longer stands for anything. Specificity is what makes programs ownable and memorable.

GE does this well. Their corporate citizenship strategy is framed within two key pillars of energy and sustainable healthcare. Within these pillars, GE has four clear support strategies, tied to their operational sweet spots: infrastructure, technology, financing and capacity building. Much like their business, it just makes sense. But even good companies can fall victim to diluted CSR strategy. Pharma has been criticized for CSR programs that are too broad and sometimes overly conceptual, making it difficult for consumers to see meaningful results and tangible impact.

Identifying what matters – truly – to your consumers and community and committing fully to that cause – that’s what will cut through the noise, and start a long-lasting conversation.

February 27, 2012 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , ,

Beware of Marketing Linsanity: To protect your reputation, apply this test before bringing your Lin-spired product to market

Linsanity has swept the nation. Even people who hate the Knicks find themselves taken in by this great story of an unknown point guard who was about to released and sleeping on a couch becoming the Knicks’ game-changer, in the truest sense of the word.

This is the kind of icon that brands often fight to associate themselves with – a hard working, Harvard-educated athlete who embodies the American dream and the old adage that hard work pays off. A recent study suggests that he is more marketable than first name only NBA greats like Kobe and LeBron. Rumor has it that Nike will begin offering Linsane sneakers via Nike ID as soon as this week. No doubt the endorsement deals are already rolling in.

But brands should beware of marketing Linsanity. Aligning with a celebrity must be authentic and relevant in order to be successful. Take, for example, Ben & Jerry’s new Lin-inspired flavor, complete with lychee and fortune cookie pieces. Ben & Jerry’s is known (and loved) for its cheeky, humorous approach to flavor development (Chubby Hubby, anyone?). So their approach to creating a limited edition flavor was completely authentic to the brand. Unfortunately, it also prompted backlash, and a series of twitter apologies, due to the racial stereotyping involved with the flavor.

Why will Nike Linsanity probably work, while Ben & Jerry’s failed?

Authenticity – I’m not aware that Jeremy Lin is a major ice cream lover, or credits ice cream for his amazing performance on the court. But he definitely wears sneakers…

Relevance – Yes, Jeremy Lin went to Harvard. And yup, Ben & Jerry’s is from New England. But it ends there. Nike, on the other hand, has committed to basketball in a major way…and having a shoe aligned with a player is a proven formula for success. Launching via Nike ID would be particularly genius (and on the heels of the blockbuster Nike Fuel launch). Nike ID is a high-priced, presumably high margin product. It’s exclusive (often a criteria for trendy) and it eliminates the product development cycle time and enables them to go to market while Lin is still hot. After all, it remains to be seen if he will have the staying power of a Michael Jordan, Kobe or LeBron.

Aligning his play with your brand is appropriate – Racial stereotypes aren’t. (Never mind that Lin is from California).

In conference rooms across corporate America, marketers are scrambling to capture some of the Linsanity opportunity. Let the Ben & Jerry’s gaffe serve as a cautionary tale to us all.

October 12, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , ,

If you want to be relevant, tell a great story

If you work in the public relations profession, you’ve probably heard a common lament among clients – “People aren’t getting our story.“

It may be one of the common denominators that make clients from diverse industries and across all practices of public relations alike. Whether launching a brand, working an issue in Washington, conducting an investor road show or managing a crisis, having a compelling story is a fundamental requirement.

In the public relations business, we’ve always been storytellers – whether you call it messaging, corporate/brand positioning or narrative – it’s all about the story. And the greatest, most iconic brands and companies do it really, really well – Nike, GE, Apple and Starbucks all understand that to remain relevant as you grow and change, having a story that resonates is key.

This piece on Starbucks features the philosophies of noted brand evangelist Stanley Hainsworth, and credits great storytelling for transforming a commodity product into a $4 splurge. He talks a lot about the art of storytelling, and gives us a glimpse into the approach he uses to create an emotional connection with stakeholders. As I read this piece, I was struck with the significant alignment between his priorities and the way we approach developing a client’s narrative at MWW Group…in particular, the emphasis on tailoring your story for different audiences – what we call the Total Stakeholder Approach.

The irony is that while this may be a fresh, new approach for the brand evangelist – it has been core to of great public relations programming and strategy from the beginning.

How do you know if your story needs revisiting and refreshing?

  • Any time there has been a significant change in your business – new leaders, new business strategy, new line of business. Chances are you need to rethink your narrative. A more thoughtful approach would have made a big difference for Netflix, and saved them lots of backpedaling.
  • Significant changes in your industry also call for a new story – because your old story simply won’t be relevant anymore.
  • Shift in strategy or emphasis on who, or what, is important.
  • If you are underperforming – in sales, in employee retention, in share price performance – that may be a sign that your story isn’t resonating.
  • If it feels stale, out of date or misaligned with your priorities – even if it isn’t impacting your stakeholders yet.

December 21, 2010 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

Is Nike Too Big to Fail, Reputation-Wise?

It’s been a tough year for Nike. Spokesperson problems with Tiger Woods and LeBron James. Continued investigations into labor conditions in Nike factories abroad. Competition like the new Reebok Zig. And now, a stupid legal maneuver that could spell PR disaster.

Brands are forever trying to find ways to stop the Canal Street cottage industry of counterfeiters. (You know you’ve made it when they are selling your knock offs on a street corner). I get it. But Nike has taken anti-counterfeiting to a whole new level by litigating against an individual who bought a single pair of counterfeit sneakers online. They aren’t going after the website selling counterfeit sneakers, or the supplier who sold them to the website. So this poor customer not only paid for fake sneakers, he bought himself a lawsuit, too.

And while the statute says that the intent of the purchaser isn’t relevant, success in this case for Nike is the equivalent of convicting Al Capone on tax evasion or mail fraud, rather than racketeering. Does Nike really want to discourage us from buying their sneakers? Or has their seemingly bulletproof status, weathering spokesperson issues of gargantuan proportions, given them the sort of reputational hubris that makes them an easy target for consumer activism in 2011?

No one likes when the big corporation goes after the little guy. The question is will enough little guys notice this case, and take some sort of action, to make a difference?

October 29, 2010 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , ,

LeBron’s Taking the Heat: Can This Reputation Ever Rebound?

No one transforms sports legends into brands better than Nike – with Michael Jordan as the ultimate example. With 6 NBA Championships, a foray into Major League Baseball and a footwear and apparel following that makes retailers still weep with joy nearly a decade after his retirement, brand Jordan is like an MBA case study on unlocking the potential of a brand. And Nike was on its way to replicating this success, with LeBron.

Using my focus group of five – the starters on my son’s championship Pee Wee basketball team – I’d say LeBron was beating Jordan hands down. (This was the same group that in 2nd grade indicated they know Michael Jordan – he makes nice shoes.). Of these ten-year-old basketball aficionados, 4 out of 5 wear LeBron’s gear religiously – and all five of them, plus most of the bench, wear Nike basketball sneakers exclusively – leaving Converse scratching their head about where they went wrong with marketing Dwayne Wade’s apparel.

Then came The Decision.

Nike is no stranger to spokesperson scandal. They stood behind Tiger Woods throughout his marital trouble. But what happens when the scandal isn’t in the athlete’s personal life, but is directly related to the game, and specifically the personal marketing of where he’ll be “bringing his talents”? And when the fans’ approval of the legend drops like a lead balloon?

If you are Nike, you make a commercial.

I can’t be sure about the intent of this “What Should I Do?” film, but portraying LeBron as the martyr seems like a misguided approach. No one is going to feel sorry for LeBron, no matter how many crucifixion poses you insert to portray James as a victim, while attempting to harken back to the happy days when the five-story We Are All Witnesses billboard served as a point of pride for Cleveland.

I think it’s safe to say that Nike isn’t actually trying to crowdsource a solution with “What Should I Do?” I think the question is a rhetorical one, designed to portray LeBron as being in a no-win position in order to garner fan sympathy.

What should LeBron do? Spare us the pity party and just play the game. And wait for a new sports legend to fall from grace or for some other event to occur that helps fans move on.

When dealing with a reputational crisis, sometimes the hardest thing to do is be quiet, go back to doing a great job at whatever you do, and wait. But sometimes, the problem can’t be communicated away, and it takes actions to restore confidence and trust of your stakeholders.

LeBron needs to Just Do It. Talk less. Play more. LeBron may never regain the hearts and minds of Cleveland. But bringing a championship to Miami might just improve his popularity, and sell lots of sneakers, too. Nike’s betting millions on it.