In a list recently compiled by the US-based Complex magazine entitled “25 Sneakers You Should Own Before You Die” (click if you are interested in best shoes for plantar fasciitis), ten gym shoe classics by Nike are listed. All the other leading sportswear shoe giants got to have three of their own creations in the list of sneaker joy to die for, at the most. Hardly any other brand is able to so strongly exert its product dictation with modern consumers and their individualism and “anything goes” attitude. Whether it’s Blazer, Free or Dunk, Air Max/Jordan/Yeezy/Safari or one of the other models with the exalted “Air” insert-whatever shoe Nike releases becomes the standard for what to wear. But why is that? What gives the company with the godlike name so much prestige in the market?
It works with the best.
Nike has an uncanny gift when choosing what sports figures to supply with sportswear apparel. Nike signed contracts with both Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods at a time when the two were relatively unknown. The choice of brands with which Nike cooperates seems to be equally well considered. The list of previous collaboration partners includes labels ranging from Stussy and A.P.C. to Levi’s and Liberty London. These brands are fundamentally different in nature- however, their collections with Nike caused a unanimous furor.
It has the best ideas.
The air cushion technology of the Air Max, the springy feel of the Shox, the flexible sole of the Free-all these innovations were both so technically advanced as well as comfortable that they were successful not only among ambitious high performance sporting figures but also in the mainstream urban scene.
It protects itself.
Nike knows how to protect its good ideas. According to a study by the patent attorney Grunecker, between 2000 and 2010 Nike lodged no less than 77% of all patent claims by the five largest sporting goods manufacturers in Europe. As recently as autumn 2012 Nike objected to the marketing of the running shoe “Adizero Primeknit” by Adidas in Germany on the grounds that this infringed against the patent on Nike’s “Flyknit Footwear Technology” and succeeded in obtaining a temporary restraining order.
Journalists too feel the effects of Nike’s protectionism. Image material is never available until just before the sales launch of a collection (which is not helpful for early coverage by specialist media) and Nike is also very sparing with interviews. There is only this sentence at the nikeinc.com website: “Nike regrets that we cannot fulfill requests to interview Nike executives or receive advertising, print ads or images.” Couldn’t be stated more clearly.
It acts like the locals.
Nike operates in more than 170 countries worldwide-and appears to be successful in every one of those local markets. This is due to the fact that Nike gives careful consideration to differences between the various consumer cultures-whether by sponsoring the right athletes and sports or by choosing the optimal retail format. While Nike places a strong focus on wholesale in the US, and in 2011 generated about 23% of its US sales through its three largest retail partners, in China it relies more strongly on monobrand stores run by partners. In addition, there are unique formats such as “1948 London,” a space where nothing is sold and instead serves as a showroom for consumers and showcases Nike’s newest high-end products. People may not be able to understand that in Texas City, but in London Shoreditch it sets off fashion pilgrimages.
It remains to be seen whether Nike will also be able to defend its leading position in the next 20 years. Of central significance for the sporting goods giant is confirming its leading position in China, continuing to develop new markets and making a lasting improvement to its tarnished image regarding sustainability and social responsibility. And most importantly, Nike needs to keep the seemingly endless flow of ideas by its creative people flowing. Otherwise, at some point in time it will be: Ticked off.