The Origins of Nike
Posted by David Brown on November 4, 2010
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Individuality, performance, innovation – these are three words that athletes, fashionholics, and branding professionals across the world associate with Nike, the American athletics megalith based in Beaverton, Oregon. Nike mixes material technology, performance monitoring, and consumer-customizable products across a huge range of kit – from football boots to jumpers. Yet where can we actually find the roots of this approach? What drives the ‘Nike’ experience?
The answers lie in the running-roots of Nike. Co-founder Phil Knight was an athlete under Coach Bill Bowerman at the University of Oregon. The ‘Bowerman’ system turned out Olympic athletes, future track coaches and internationally competitive collegiate runners. Within this milieu of running, workouts and competition the innovative, product-focused Nike emerged.
Bowerman (below) surmised that light, tailored footwear would be the key to athletic victories. He set about experimenting with the famous ‘waffle’ design by pouring liquid urethane into waffle iron (literally!) Eventually, Knight sold these shoes out of the back of his car throughout Oregon. But Nike does not owe its growth just to product design; Bowerman’s articles and books on running helped spawn the jogging phenomena of the late 1960s. It was a product within larger community, then, that propelled Nike from two blokes selling shoes to a Fortune 500 company.
Nike’s corporate history of design, innovation, and performance underlies its current approach. With the ‘Nike + iPod’ athletes can track the length and duration of their training. Athletes can then post their workouts on Nike-led social networking sites from London, England to Lincoln, Nebraska. Nike offers more than shoes: it provides consumers with the chance to connect to a community of runners every day.
A ‘product-community’ approach still drives Nike’s strategy 50 years on. Nike’s founders created a corporate culture that is focused on the whole customer experience – from the store to tallying gains and losses. As social media becomes increasingly tied to product promotion and experience, Nike’s formula, forged decades ago, should drive growth in the future.