Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Nike spirit

I’ve been a sports fanatic since I was a kid. I’ve played rugby, cricket, and tennis to a serious level and a number of other sports for fun and relaxation. Try keeping me away from an All Blacks game and you will see what Loyalty Beyond Reason looks like when it’s riled. Those are my credentials for writing this post. Deep, personal commitment rather than professional evaluation.

A few years ago I gave a presentation to one of the modern icons of sport, the Nike corporation. At that time, they were the subject of constant discussion and their swoosh logo was popping up everywhere. Some companies might have let this sort of corporate celebrity go to their heads, but Nike have always been a company that keeps its focus.

Evidence of that can be seen in some of the discussion during their 2009 third quarter conference call. It was just part of my usual scan of sports business as Chairman of the USA Rugby Board, but it turned out to be more relevant and interesting than I’d expected.

Nike’s CEO, Mark Parker, totally gets the growing importance of sport. I say growing because I often hear people say that sport has been bobbing around in a kind of ‘sports bubble’ for the last decade. And we all know what happens to bubbles! Mark makes a great distinction between attendance (fronting up to the field to watch a game) and viewership, which is of course, the all-important sisomo and screens connection. He suggests that because we can count the number of people at a game, we give this metric more importance than we should. To him, what matters are the new access points to sports – communities, environments, connections, the whole 24-hour maelstrom of debate, opinion, and aspiration that seethes online. That’s where Nike is working hard.

And then he nails it for me: “Maybe if you are in the old and not transitioning to the new you may feel like you are in a bubble and it is about ready to burst. But if you are part of the new it is really almost an infinite landscape from which to engage with consumers in new and energetic ways.”

Fantastic! Parker understands that being a great brand, or a Lovemark, is not a forever thing. As people change, a Lovemark must change with them. As Nike puts it, the company’s history is not as important as its potential. Mark believes, as I do, that this potential will be created by the people who love the brand. In today’s Value Economy, value means much more than price. Charlie Denson, President of Nike Brand explains, “We are seeing the rise of new expectations based on quality, performance and sustainability in products. We are seeing consumers gravitate towards authentic brands that work hard to earn their trust and keep it.” Spoken like a true Lovemark.

This is the spirit that will get great companies through this current catastrophe. Only by putting your brand in the hands of consumers can you lay down a clear pathway for success in tomorrow’s world.