The Art Of Storytelling: Nike Way!

“For entrepreneurs and businesses, the ability to articulate a story is an invaluable asset. While the core remains the same, storytelling does entail different attributes depending on the audience.”

The first, and perhaps the most important attribute, pertains to the way the entrepreneur came up with the idea for the venture. In some cases, the origin of a business can be as simple as an entrepreneur observing a gap in the market and devising a solution to fill that gap.

In other cases, the origin story may involve a group of partners working day in day out in a small room until they come up with the first prototype. In either case, more than the actual origin, the way it is portrayed makes all the difference to the audience.

The importance of the story can be understood from the fact that it is utilised by the founding team to share their vision of the world in an inspiring way. Having such a story in place can also act as a guiding factor for the company over the course of its existence. The second attribute of storytelling that an entrepreneur usually indulges in pertains to pitching the idea/business to potential investors, customers, or even prospective employees.

In each case, the story is modified to appeal to the target audience. For the potential investors, the story focusses more on the founding team’s credentials, the market potential of the business, possible competition, and expected return on investment for the investor. In the case of customers, the story focusses on how the business makes the customer’s life better and how important it is for them to own that product.

Finally, for employees, the story focusses on the importance of the company mission, the talent pool that the company possesses, and possible benefits (both monetary & non-monetary) that the employee can gain by being part of the company.

Now that we have established the importance of storytelling and how it varies, let’s focus on one target audience and try to understand how storytelling can be most optimised for it. Let’s consider the end customers as the target segment. Now, a company has several chances of sharing its story with the customers as it has multiple such customer touch points.

Each time the customer visits the company’s store (both physical & virtual), there is an opportunity to share the company’s story in the form of interaction with sales representatives or even information from banner/posters in the store. Each time a customer interacts with another customer, there is a chance to pass on the company’s story, provided the latter customer is not only informed but also receptive to the company in question.

While most successful companies, such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, or even Facebook, are excellent storytellers when it comes to their brand/company, there is no one equal to Nike in this regard.

The sporting giant has consistently occupied the customer mind space not only because of a wide range of iconic products but also because every employee in the company believes in the Nike story. As a result, they not only put that story into practice but also propagate it further. This is the reason why Nike has been able to stay true to its philosophy of ‘Just Do it’ over the years.

Therefore, it is not surprising that Nike strongly propagates the story of the evolution of each of its brands. Let’s look at how the company shares this story with both new and older customers.

5,000 USD fine for wearing the Shoes

Banking on the appeal of Michael Jordan, who was in his prime during the eighties, the company sought to create Air Jordon series that were to be a collector’s item and adopted a strategy of releasing stock fewer than 500 pairs of each colourway. This, in turn, ensured that the brand of shoes was always sought after.

Another example of the exclusivity factor Nike created around the product came from the fact that each time Michael wore the shoes, the company was fined USD 5,000. This was due to the non-compliance of the shoes design with those mandated by NBA. However, to ensure that its design gained maximum visibility, Nike continued to pay the fine.                                                                                                                       

Celebrities as contributors

The next example showcase Nike’s ability to sell a story is the Dunk. Originally named College Colour High and targeted at the twelve NCAA basketball teams, Dunks soon found a fan following among casual users as well, owing to its design and fit. Realising the opportunity presented by segments other than basketball players and casual users, Nike introduced the Dunk SB line targeting skateboarders. Usually, a mash-up of different colours, Nike’s Dunks are never sold at wholesale or discounted rates.

Despite this, the brand of shoes continue to be a youth icon and has seen inputs from different contributors, ranging from singer Pharrell Williams to surfer Chris Lundy.

From a failing product to an evergreen triumph

The third example in evolutionary storytelling is Nike’s Air Max, which was on the verge of cancellation as the company’s marketing department was sceptical of the appeal of a visible air cushioning in the shoe. However, this feature acted as the differentiator for the brand and made it a must have Nike for both sports stars and casual users.

Nike banked on this appeal and in a bid to further strengthen its popularity, roped in celebrities John McEnroe, Bo Jackson, and Michael Jordan in a TV commercial. With the success of the line of shoes came several colourways and collaboration with brands such as HUF and Atmos, ensuring, even more, options for the users in terms of design.

Nike product evolution story outlines one key aspect – it is important to remember the heritage and share it with the future generations. If done well, it helps transmit the same passion among different generations, which is required to ensure continued appeal for a brand.