The Nike Brand

By Tom Dougherty

NIKE brand and the secrets to differentiation

The Nike brand did it. Dare to Be Different.

Nike brandIn the media crazy world in which we live, when the Nike brand presents a new tag line, or Mr. Potato Head rises from pop culture purgatory to represent a modern version of the Jolly Green Giant, advertising becomes big news. In the dog-eat-dog world of fast food, the business community clamors to snatch small gems of marketing wisdom. How does this help us steal share?

Does it work? Has the game changed? Years ago, brand was loosely defined as a “promise to the consumer of a perceived value.” Corporations have spent billions of dollars building brands, books have been written, and articles have been published. Marketing experts told us that brand was the most important discipline in today’s advertising arena. Yet customers have spent years telling us that brand was not working.

Traditional Branding and Brand Differentiation

Nike brandIf traditional branding worked in the manner in which it was designed, you would expect that there would be a sizable discrepancy in price between generic and branded products. You would also expect to see robust margins in branded products and a distinct consumer preference for the promise of value that the brand delivers.

However, what we see is great similarity in products, and hardly a national brand exists that is not competing in the arena of price. Consider the history of the brand story. It started as a means of product identity and differentiation.

It did not take a rocket scientist to understand the basics. If the consumer had a good experience with a product or service, then he/she might look for that same brand the next time he/she needed it. Brand managers understood the need for consistency of look and feel. It made life easier and made sense of choice. But the marketplace was not nearly so crowded in those days.

When David Ogilvy helped make Hathaway a respected brand, it competed with a small group of other national brands, and an even smaller group of generic no-name shirt manufacturers. Agencies at the time discovered that if you created a brand image for products, sales increased.

The Crowded Market

Enter the creative revolution of the 60’s — a time when advertising for inanimate objects started with an infusion of human attributes. If the creative team thought of the product in human terms (modern, forward thinking, etc.), the advertising seemed more effective. Soon the market became more crowded as more messages and choices vied for the consumer’s mindset.

Unique Selling Proposition (USP) (read about the tired idea of USP here) was incorporated into the mix. Couple human attributes with the latest in product benefit and branding, as we now know it, was launched. Brand worked but not because of the human attributes called desired brand image. The advertising was more effective simply because it was more memorable. Imbue an advertisement with human traits, and consumers are more apt to remember it. It worked because we were able to tell a better story. But USP is not brand differentiation. It is a tactical — not a strategic equity.

Is USP the Answer? It was not for the Nike brand

But is USP a cornerstone for stealing share? I think not. It is the antithesis of brand objectives. Purchases are not intellectual activities. They ARE emotional ones. Few consumers walk the market aisles armed with the latest copy of Consumer Reports. No one picks the products or services they consume as a result of a “T” chart, neatly plotted with the pros and cons of purchasing.

Nike brandAnd this brings me back to the beginning. This is why Nike is still news. Is the Nike brand athletic shoe better than its branded competitors? Is it worth four times the cost of its generic copycat? Does it make you run faster, jump higher, and land a multi-million dollar place on a NBA roster? I think we can all say that it is none of the above. Consumers pay a market multiple of FOUR to have the logo on their shoes. Nike brand is confident that they will do the same for anything else they decide to brand.

If you want to steal share in this crowded market, your brand must recognize that every purchase a consumer makes, no matter how small, holds within its nucleus the DNA of self-description. In this complicated and crowded world, where social and cultural identifications have been dashed on the rocks, real brand equity is recognizable and indisputable.

Show me myself, not as I am but as I wish to be and I will buy it every time. In fact, I will feel incomplete without it once I know it exists. In the face of a crowded marketplace, it pushes the competition under. REAL brand BRANDS the customer, not the product. It actively tells the customer who they are when they use it. Does it work? Ask Nike.


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