The Key to Nike’s Sport Marketing Success

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Ask anyone, from pro athletes to casual fans, to list the five biggest sports brands in the world, and Nike will almost certainly be close to the top. The company not only controls almost half of the U.S.’s athletic wear market, but it was also recently ranked as the most valuable apparel brand in the world. While Nike owes its dominance to several factors, innovative marketing is chief among them. Below are a few of the marketing strategies that have helped Nike become a sports apparel giant.

Iconic Branding

Image via Flickr by joseanprado

Try talking about Nike’s marketing strategy without citing the brilliant simplicity of two key components: the “swoosh” logo and the “Just Do It” slogan. You’ll find the task almost impossible.

The swoosh dates back to the early 1970s, when Nike co-founder Phil Knight was looking for a logo for his new brand. The first shoes featuring the swoosh debuted at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, in the summer of 1972.

The slogan came about in 1988 as part of a marketing campaign that sought to differentiate Nike from competitors, such as Reebok, who were focusing on the aerobics craze. Nike’s tough, hard-hitting campaign was not targeted at any specific age or gender segment. The motivational nature of the slogan helped establish Nike as not only an athletic brand, but also a lifestyle and fashion statement.

Aspirational Positioning

While Phil Knight was honing in on the brand that was to become Nike, his fellow co-founder and track and field coach Bill Bowerman was molding custom soles for his runners using a waffle iron and testing them with top performers like Olympian Steve Prefontaine.

This alliance is an early example of a strategy that has paid off for Nike ever since, most notably in the 1980s with Michael Jordan. By creating synergistic partnerships with top athletes and teams, Nike established itself as an aspirational brand. Beginner and intermediate athletes, as well as fans, have an emotional affinity for Nike, thanks to the brand’s relationships with professional athletes.

Innovation and Optimization

Nike’s strong commitment to research and development has grown to include emerging sports technologies, most recently in the form of the Nike+ platform and FuelBand app. But this move toward digital products has significant benefits on the marketing side. As customers engage on community pages and upload data about their activities, location, and interests, they offer valuable information that Nike’s marketers can leverage to segment their customers and create highly segmented campaigns. The company has also invested heavily in social media in the last 10 years, engaging customers in communities built around specific sports and events around the world.

Large and small companies and brands, not only in athletics and apparel, but also in every sector, look to Nike as a leader. From its roots as a small footwear company to its status as one of the world’s most successful and recognizable brands, Nike continues to break new ground and build a legacy that students of sport management can learn from for decades to come.