How Nike Combines Customer Centricity with Brand Reputation to Stay on Top
When you’re the top dog in sports apparel (an increasingly lucrative industry as consumer interests continue to shift towards athletic health and wellness trends), as well as the largest global footwear brand, it might be easy to keep doing what got you there. In 2017, Nike recognized its dominant market share across these two industries and interestingly decided that this would be the perfect time to start drastically changing some of its marketing and customer service practices. The apparel juggernaut introduced the Triple Double Strategy - promising to double its “cadence and impact of innovation,” double its “speed to market” and double its “direct connections with consumers.” The three components of Nike’s Triple Double Strategy sound nice on the surface, but one proved more profitable than the others.
While competitors like Adidas or Under Armor are constantly focusing primarily on innovation within existing, broadly targeted product lines (like Adidas Yeezy Boosts or the tenth hundredth version of the Under Armour 2.0 short sleeve), as well as dumping distribution through numerous partners (which in turn hurts brand taste as some consumers begin to associate Under Armour with a Marshalls or TJ Maxx), Nike aims to cut down on the number of styles of its products and reduce the number of retail distributors, in turn increasing its brand’s prestige.
Beyond strategic distribution and brand protection, Nike is also doubling down on the Nike Customer Experience (NCX) as a way to create more personal connections with customers. To make a strong customer experience a reality, Nike is investing heavily in front-line agents as part of its marketing team.
Agent (Athlete) Engagement
Nike wants their agents to “join because they love our team” said Larry Rodgers, Senior Director of Retail Concepts, at CCW Austin. “We wanted to ensure our athletes [Nike customer service agents] have a natural career path… We have many experts who then left [traditional] consumer services and then went to our social media team which is actually still part of consumer services. They can also become a product line manager, who is involved in the engineering of products, category experts, brand marketers,” and more.
Nike’s approach opens the door to more employee loyalty and longevity. Sensing support for their personal career progression, “athletes” are more likely to perform at their full potential. And whether these high-performing agents stay with their original teams or move throughout the business (to areas like product engineering or digital marketing), their knowledge and passion will remain in the organization. Nike will deliver a customer-centric, omnichannel experience across D2C purchasing channels, retail environments, social media, brand applications, and more.
Nike Apps and Machine Learning
In addition to agent engagement, Nike is investing in customer centricity through technology, acquiring multiple tech start-ups that contributed to Nike application integration (which has led to a big increase in shoe sales). Customer service, tech, and digital marketing collaborate in using their apps to personalize consumer relationships by being the one-stop shop for anything sports related you might need, from customized workouts to AI-based algorithms for shoe recommendations.
Besides its 30-day wear test (“30-DAY FREE RETURNS DIRT AND ALL,” as stated on the Nike website), some of Nike’s most popular customer benefits include access to the Nike Plus rewards program, which offers exclusives and early access to new products, access to Nike experts for whatever sports-equipment recommendations you or your kids play, and personalized exercise regimens.
In addition to AI-based individualized features on the Nike app, the Nike Fit app is dominating customer service in the footwear industry, snapping a picture of customer’s feet using their phone to get perfect shoe size for every style of Nike shoes. According to Nike Fit, the app uses “computer vision, data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and recommendation algorithms” to measure “the full shape of both feet, offering the ability to know your truly perfect fit.” Nike’s approach embodies the notion of customer-centric innovation; it is using advanced analytics and machine-learning to create actual value for customers. This is not innovation for innovation’s sake — it’s advancement for the customer’s sake.
In a way, Nike is going “big picture” and “small scale” at the same time. On the one hand, it is functioning as a one-stop-shop for its target customers (through training and workout recommendations in addition to apparel and footwear), essentially adapting the Amazon model to the world of athletics. On the other hand, it is leveraging people, process and technology to create special, personal connections with customers.
To put it simply, Nike doesn’t just sell products. It tells customers what they want — and then makes that value readily available. The key is Nike’s ability to cultivate customer trust. Between its brand legacy, its knowledgeable team and its commitment to the entire athletic experience, Nike proves it knows athletes. With personalized recommendations, it then proves it knows individual customers. This one-two punch puts Nike in the unique, coveted position of consistently anticipating and meeting customer needs. It allows Nike to “Just Do It.”