Every time I sit down to write a blog post about business branding, there’s this voice in my head that says, Try not to bring up Nike. Now, it’s not that I dislike Nike. The company is such a stellar example of branding that I can find a way to incorporate Nike into just about any branding blog post. But, in order to not sound like a broken record, I try to refrain from bringing them up whenever possible.

This is my Nike complex.

Today, everything I’ve ever wanted to say about Nike gets to come out! While the brand is far too large and complex for this post to be “definitive,” I want to take a closer look into a few of the things that make this brand so great.

A Content Generation Powerhouse

You hear the phrase “content generation” thrown around a lot these days. Everyone’s talking about inbound marketing and creating content. “You’ve got to be creating content!” cries every single marketer. Well, yes, quality content with strategy behind it. However, if you’re wondering what that really means beyond blog posts and fancy Infographics, take a hint from Nike. This content generation powerhouse was creating top-notch stuff long before content marketing was big…

2007: Nike Website

Nearly five years ago, The New York Times reported on Nike’s major step into content marketing (though they had been more than dabbling long before). Nike had launched its Nike+ website, which allowed users to track their runs through a shoe sensor that synced with the runner’s iPod; the iPod then synced with the Nike+ website. (Remember, this was 2007 – no 4G or Cloud!)

The article reports (quoting Advertising Age) that Nike spent only 33% ($678 million) of its 2006 advertising budget on traditional media (TV, print, etc.), which was down from 55% from ten years earlier. In 2007, Nike was leading big business in content marketing. But, they were just getting started.

2012: Nike Fuelband

Fast forward to 2012. Today, the Nike+ website has been reinvented through the introduction of the Nike+ Fuelband. It used to be that great business branding meant designing a shirt with your logo, and then turning that shirt into a status symbol that people were proud to walk around in. It was free advertising; people felt good; everybody was happy.

Today, however, that primary concept is going a lot further. Nike fans aren’t just wearing a product with the Nike label; they’re actively sharing it with friends and followers on social media networks. Let me explain…

The Nike Fuelband is a sophisticated bracelet Nike sells. You wear it on your wrist and run, dance, whatever it is you do (because – by the way – Nike is all about what you do). As you go about your activity, you have a goal you’re trying to meet. It might be calories burned; it might be steps taken. The Fuelband then syncs up with your Nike+ account, and you can share your achievements through Facebook and Twitter.

With Nike+, the company has created a genius product that provides a useful service, and allows the consumer to generate content on behalf of the company. Impressive, right? There are also more specific (and fancier) related apps like the Nike+ Running App, which allows you to receive live encouragement from your friends on Facebook while you’re on a run. Of course, that also means everyone who sees your Facebook activity also receives a Nike brand impression every time you go on a run. Another win for Nike.

The Nike Image

Of course, Nike has some pretty smart people making things happen. A couple months ago – the one time I allowed myself to write about Nike – I brought up the fact that Nike’s famous slogan, Just Do It, boosted sales from $877 million to $9.2 billion in the first ten years. With results like that, it’s natural that Nike would expect a lot out of itself.

So, what have these business branding geniuses done since then? Well, one of the most appealing parts of the Nike brand is the fact that Nike wants you to be who you are. The company doesn’t try to make every one of its customers into star athletes because, at base, they’re realistic. Nike acknowledges the fact that many of their customers will never run a marathon, much less a 5K. However, they want to be the shoes on your feet and the app on your Facebook as you go about your life.

No surprise: this resonates with people. Just Do It is a catchy slogan, but there’s something deeper to it. Nike doesn’t have to say what the It is, and frankly, they don’t really care. They Just want you to Do It with their support. If you look at this concept too closely, it might make Nike sound rather unappealing – just another “heartless corporation.” However, when you look at the high-quality content that the company produces, you have to give credit where credit is due… Nike is offering something of value to the customer, which is what really matters.

Okay, good for Nike, but where’s my take-away?

Here’s the deal. Nike operates on a much, much bigger budget than you and I can even dream about. They have a global spread that should make any marketer’s palms sweat. And, I’d wager that you’re forty times more likely to get a definition for the word ‘Nike’ than for the word ‘obstreperous’ when polling the man-on-the-street.

That being said, there’s no reason you can’t start branding your business with the same approach that has worked for Nike. The beauty of content marketing is that it all works on a sliding scale. You can get proportionate results for your money. Your app may not be as sophisticated; your blog may not have as many readers; but, you can create content, and your audience will share that content if it’s valuable. That’s a guarantee!

What are some of your favorite aspects of the Nike brand? Or, what do you not like about the Nike brand?

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