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90 million Americans are classified as obese. Many people can be described as professional couch potatoes. A study led by kinesiology researchers at the University of Tennessee, found that the average adult takes just 5,117 steps per day–barely half the daily steps recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General.

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Gym memberships increase right after the holidays but by mid-March attendance is down. Many people start fitness programs but lack the willpower to make it a regular habit. Can technology help? Wearable devices that monitor every footstep and exercise milestone allow people to keep track of their own fitness activities like never before. The devices track steps, distance, calories burned and sleep. Companies like Fitbit, Nike and Jawbone are enhancing users’ workouts through analytics, encouragement and the ability to share your accomplishment with friends through social media. These devices try to make fitness fun and interactive. It is the intersection of health and technology.

The Consumer Electronics Association says the sports and fitness category is a $70 billion annual business in the United States. Fitbit has emerged as the leader in the fast growing digital Health and Fitness category. The NPD Research Group says that Fitbit has 77% of the market for full activity body trackers and 50% of the market for digital fitness devices. Most experts predict rapid growth in this category over the next three to five years.

Fitbit was founded in 2007 by Eric Friedman and James Park. Friedman and Park realized that sensors and wireless technology had advanced to a point where they could bring amazing experiences to fitness and health. The company’s initial product, the Fitbit, was released in September 2009. It was the first wireless wearable fitness device for the mass consumer market. Fitbit’s offering has expanded to include several products including the Flex, Zip, One, Force and Aria. Their products are stylish and available in a variety of colors. Fitbit is sold at Best Buy, Dicks Sporting Goods, Sports Authority, Target and REI to name a few.

Fitbit’s mission is to empower and inspire people to live a healthier more active lifestyle. Their goal is to design products and experiences that fit seamlessly into your life so that you can achieve your fitness goals whatever they maybe.

Can Fitbit sustain its amazing growth? Wearables have become part of many people’s daily lives. Are these products a passing fad or a product category that will grow for years? Will smartphones through apps add this functionality and kill the category?

Have you tried Fitbit or another wearable fitness product?

We are in the middle of the second running boom in the United States. The National Sporting Goods Association reports that sales of running/jogging shoes increased 23% percent in 2012 when compared to 2011. Running represents about a third of the overall sneaker market. Serious runners purchase on average three pair of running shoes a year. The running industry continues thrive despite a sluggish economy.

Participation in running has seen a steady increase in recent years. Running participation (ran at least 6+ days/yr) was up nearly 4% overall in the last year. Adventure running has experienced explosive growth. Events such as Tough Mudder have increased in popularity. Adventure running grew 34% last year. Marathon entries have more than doubled over the past 20 years. More and more women are taking up running. I see it in the size of our local high school’s girls cross-country team. Women accounted for 8.6 million finishers in road races in 2012 compared to 6.8 million men.

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The running shoe market is highly competitive. The top running shoe brands are ASICS, Brooks, Nike, Saucony, New Balance and Mizuno. Brooks has experienced impressive sales and market share growth in recent years. This was fueled by a shift in marketing strategy. For years, Brooks had tried to be a total athletic company like Nike, selling football cleats and a wide variety of sports apparel. Their athlete roster included Dan Marino, James Worthy and Jimmy Connors. They tried to compete with Nike at their own game. That turned out to be a losing proposition.

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About ten years ago, Brooks Sports under the leadership of CEO Jim Weber made a strategic decision to focus on performance running shoes and gear. Brooks eliminated football, basketball and tennis products. Distribution was focused on top running and specialty retailers. This has proven to be a winning strategy.

Many marketers mistakenly believe that more products sold to a broad target audience is the key to growth. Brand Strategist and Author Al Ries in his book “Focus” outlined the premise that long-lasting success depends on focusing on core products and resisting the temptation to diversify. Brooks has successfully executed a focused strategy.

Brooks has developed a simple slogan: “Run Happy.” which defines the brands connection with employees and runners Employees at Brooks live and breathe “Run Happy”, through expression of brand values:

  • Serve People 
  • Lead Thought
  • Play As a Team
  • Compete Every Day
  • Have Integrity 
  • Have Fun
  • Be Active. 

What is your favorite brand of running shoes?

Converse is an iconic brand that revolutionized the sports shoe market. It has a rich history. Converse was synonymous with basketball in the mid 20th century, long before Nike was popular. They were worn by Dr.J, Bill Russell, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Michael Jordan wore them at North Carolina. Tennis stars Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors wore them at Wimbledon.  They have a history of innovative marketing and advertising. In 1991, they launched the “Grandma-Ma” campaign with Larry Johnson.

The brand also symbolizes a rebellious era of trend setters who began as basketball fans and transcended to Rock and Roll. It personifies a lifestyle of freedom and revolution for consumers who express their attitudes through clothing. Its shoes were also worn by cultural icons such as Elvis Presley, James Dean and 1970’s punk bands such as the Ramones as a symbol of defiance.

Converse was established in 1908 by Marguis Mills Converse in Boston. The company’s motto was to be independent enough not to follow every other company in every thing that they do. They started out making rubber soled boots that were good for winter wear. In 1915, the company began making tennis shoes. The company’s main turning point came in 1917, when the Converse All Star was introduced in 1917. In 1921, basketball player Chuck Taylor joined the company and made the All Stars famous.

As I was watching the NCAA Tournament, I started to think about Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars. When I first started playing basketball, Converse was the brand serious players wore. A new pair of high top Chuck Taylor All Stars was a must have every season. They were high quality basketball sneakers at a reasonable price. At their height, Converse controlled 80% of the athletic shoe market. Michael Jordan’s decision to sign with Nike in the 1980’s changed the course of the athletic shoe market. The brand fell behind Nike and Adidas in the battle to capture market share and credibility with young basketball players.


Converse was purchased by Nike in 2001. In recent years, the brand has seen an increase in popularity as a new generation of consumers discovers the brand. Today, Converse is a brand that inspires originality and is a catalyst for creativity. Converse continues to be embraced by optimistic rebels. The real appeal of Converse today is that they are retro and cool. Converse offers consumers the opportunity to design their own pair of Chuck Taylor All Stars.

Did you own a pair of Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars?

New Balance is an example of a Brand that is inspired by a consumer focused purpose and core values. They have defined their purpose around “Inspiring Movement”. Their internal rallying cry is “Let’s Move the World”. They have built a business that inspires people to move and helps athletes achieve their performance goals. They create products that are designed to enable people to move further, faster and more frequently. The brand’s core values are teamwork, integrity and total customer satisfaction. New Balance has always demonstrated a commitment to consumers, associates and local communities. Their clear focus on movement has helped them innovate in the highly competitive athletic footwear market.

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New Balance was founded in the early 1900’s as a manufacturer of arch support and orthopedic shoes. In 1972, James Davis purchased New Balance and began selling athletic shoes in a vast range of sizes and widths. New Balance capitalized on the running boom of the late 1970’s by becoming immersed in the community and developing products that were best in class. Davis built a strong culture through responsible leadership. New Balance is a company where associates are proud to work and that has a history of community involvement. New Balance associates receive 24 hours of training every year. New Balance is the last major athletic shoe brand to make products in the United States. About 25% of New Balance products are made in the United States. They have also been a leader in developing sustainable manufacturing processes.

 

The company’s sales exceed $2 Billion in 2011. It is still privately held. New Balance has avoided endorsement deals with high-profile sports stars. New Balance’s marketing focuses on inspiring every day athletes to achieve excellence. Their campaign features the tagline “Make Excellent Happen.” They have always had a strong following with passionate runners and race walkers.

Are you a runner? Do you wear New Balance shoes?

 

One of my favorite all time brands is Nike. I have worn their shoes and apparel for years. I am a big fan of the “Just Do It” tagline and their innovative advertising campaigns. Nike’s message has always inspired me. Nike has never been afraid of controversy or taking an unpopular position on sports issues. They have made some mistakes but they continue to learn and evolve as a company.

Nike has a strong brand purpose, mission and culture that guides their actions. Their mission is to bring innovation and inspiration to every athlete in the world. Nike believes if you have a body you are an athlete.

Last year Nike produced $24 Billion in revenue. This is up 60% since 2006. Nike is a huge company with 44,000 employees worldwide. This week Fast Company Magazine named Nike as the number one most innovative company of 2013. This is an honor that typically goes to the latest digital startup.

With launch of the Nike Fuel Band, the brand is transforming itself into a digital force. It is also evolving its model from a product company to a products, tech, data and services company. This is an amazing transformation. They are helping people rather than just selling them stuff.

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The Nike Fuel Band measures your everyday activity and turns it into Nike Fuel. It tracks calories burned, steps taken and more. You able to view your history. There is a social component which allows you to connect with friends. Nike is committed to helping people live more active lives.

Their other major innovation is the Flyknit Racer, featherlight shoes that feel more like a sock atop a sole. The Flynite Racer is created from knit threading rather than multiple layers of fabric. The result is a shoe that’s more environmentally friendly and could reduce long-term production costs. “Flyknit is an innovation that could potentially change the athletic shoe category.

Nike’s lesson to brand marketers is to think beyond selling products and figure out how you can provide a service that helps people in their lives. They understand that the digital and mobile world is about helping consumer’s get jobs done.

In your opinion, who is the most innovative company in the United States?

Another marketing story coming out of the Super Bowl is the ongoing battle between sport brands Nike and Under Armour in the apparel, accessories and footwear category. Nike is the number one sports apparel brand with worldwide sales exceeding $24 billion in 2012. Under Armour’s sales for 2012 are estimated to be just shy of $2 Billion. Under Armour is clearly the challenger brand in this battle. However, they have made strong inroads in this country, but Nike dominates internationally. There is big money at stake in this lucrative market.

Neither brand advertised on the Super Bowl broadcast but both had a strong presence at the game. They used a combination of innovative approaches to make an impact. Nike is the official uniform supplier of all the teams in the National League. They also supply the gloves and cleats worn by NFL Players.This means that their logo was visible throughout the game. They are also able to capitalize on sales of licensed jerseys to fans. They design the uniforms for all 32 NFL Teams. For the big game, both teams wore the NFL Nike Elite 51 uniform. This uniform was designed to maximize players speed. Both teams wore Nike Alpha Pro Cleats and Nike Vapor Fly Gloves.

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A number of the athletes who played on Sunday including Ray Lewis and Anquan Boldin are sponsored by Under Armour. These athletes were able to wear Under Armour products under their Nike uniforms with exposed logos. MVP Quarterback Joe Flacco of the Ravens has a Nike endorsement deal. Some athletes including Tom Brady, who is endorsed by Under Armour, have generated controversy by covering the Nike Swoosh Logo on his practice gear.

Under Armour’s headquarters is in Baltimore. They heavily promoted their allegiance to the Ravens on their website, through email communications and in social media. Nike equally promoted both teams on their website.

Both brands have promoted their partnerships with the NFL, the most powerful sports league in the country.  Since 2009, UA has sponsored the NFL Scouting Combine: an invitation-only event where 300 to 350 of the country’s top draft prospects run the 40-yard dash, lift weights and complete other athletic drills. All players must wear UA shirts, shorts and socks. The exposure of the NFL Combine deal helps UA’s brand in a couple of ways. It enables the brand to show off its base-layer products that are worn underneath the NFL uniforms — but not visible on TV. Also, UA gets to associate itself with future stars in the period between when they leaving college and join the NFL Players Association.

This will continue to be an interesting marketing battle to follow.

Which brand do you prefer Nike or Under Armour?

 

Under Armour is one of the fastest growing sports and apparel brands in the world. Under Armour was started in 1996 by Kevin Plank a former high school and college football player. When Kevin played football, he hated how the cotton t-shirts that he wore became soaked with sweat. It was uncomfortable and he believed the extra weight hurt an athlete’s performance. To solve the problem, he developed a microfiber shirt that would wick way moisture and stay light even if the wearer sweat heavily.

From the beginning Kevin Plank and Under Armour were focused on a singular purpose to make athletes better. From that innovation, designed for elite athletes, Under Armour has evolved into well over a $1 Billion consumer brand. They are passionate about developing innovative products for athletes. Consumers love Under Armour products and the logo can be seen anywhere young athletes are competing.

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Under Armour’s  integrated marketing strategy is built around selling its products to high-performing athletes and teams on the high school, college and professional levels. This strategy is executed through outfitting agreements, professional and collegiate sponsorships, individual athletes agreements and by selling directly to team managers and individual athletes. Tom Brady, Buster Posey and Bryce Harper are a few of the athletes that Under Armour sponsors. Their goal is to have Under Armour products seen on the field. A key difference from Nike has been Under Armour’s focus on the team rather than the individual. Everything Under Armour does is designed to build the brand’s authenticity. The brand delivers it message on television, through social media, grass roots sponsorship such as UA Freedom and its support of the Wounded Warrior Project and in-store shops and presentation. Under Armour has built strong unaided awareness and consumer preference through these efforts.

A couple of nights ago when I was working out I had the opportunity to watch the Under Armour High School All America game. This event was a showcase for young athletes as well as Under Armour’s innovative uniform and product design. The event also serves as a platform for uncommitted recruits to announce their college decisions. Several athletes announced where they will be playing college football next season. Under Armour also announced a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Which brand of apparel do you wear when you work out Under Armour or Nike?