Nike is now a global brand with a turnover of $ 28.7 billion in 2015. It was on the 18th of June 1971 that the first Nike shoes went on the market in the four shops under the banner 'Blue Ribbon Sports'. The turnover in 1972 was slightly under 2 million. But as the first annual report post IPO in 1981 stated - the year when sales reached $ 458 million: "Since that time, revenues have grown at a compound annual rate of approximately 85%, while net income has grown at nearly 100% per year". Why was an unknown brand able to become the world's first sports brand - demoting Adidas that dominated the sports world in 1972 far behind?
Two books tracing the first twenty years of the trademark help us to better understand how Nike was constructed as a brand: "Swoosh: the Unauthorized Story of Nike and the Men Who Played There" (J. B. Strasser & L. Becklund, Harper Business, 1991) and "Out of Nowhere - The Inside Story of How Nike Marketed the Culture of Running" (G. Hollister, Meyer & Meyer Sport, 2008).
From the outset two elements appear as fundamental:
- A tribe: that of middle-distance and long-distance runners from US universities. It was around one of the most famous teams - the University of Oregon, coached by Bill Bowerman - that the core of the original company BRS was constructed. The company recruited only athletes or former university runners - who understood what runners needed, and sold the shoes directly to the athletes and their coaches. "BRS was a company run by athletes, for athletes". The shared culture within this 'tribe' enabled the brand to "adhere" as close as possible to the expectations of its consumers. Knowing the customer / consumer had therefore been Nike's strength from the outset.
- The pursuit of performance through the product: a permanent tinkering to make the shoes better - often to the detriment of quality.
The same approach was then developed when the brand (very quickly) tackled other sports: tennis and basketball. Nike developed through the penetration of the sports world and the search for promising young athletes. In tennis, by sponsoring Ilie Nastase and John McEnroe - the two "bad boys" of the circuit. In basketball, by sponsoring the coaches of the university teams (and supplying their teams with shoes). But running remained its core business for a long time - thanks to a fundamental cultural movement that turned Americans into runners: Jogging. Jogging had become a means of keeping fit, and Bill Bowerman had been one of its pioneers since 1963, by proclaiming its health benefits. Nike thus benefited from a double movement that allowed it to grow strongly in the 70's: the conjunction of athletes (runners) and the social and cultural movement of jogging - which enabled the brand to break out of the athlete circle. At the heart of both there was one man: Bill Bowerman. Nike's fantastic growth between 1972 and 1981 therefore was driven by a dual cultural engine: an internal culture (that of distance and middle distance runners) and an external Culture (jogging and fitness).