Marketing Strategy

How Nike Became Successful and the Leader in the Sports Product Market

Old Nike logo               PMoiE8tk

                                                  Nike Logo 5                                                                           Nike Logo 6

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This article will cover how Nike became the leading company in sports brand apparel. The article includes the strategies and marketing tactics Nike utilized to rise up to the top of their industry.  Please note that Profitworks does not necessarily endorse all of the business strategies Nike practices, but simply finds this an interesting company to study. Profitworks provides online marketing services that drive businesses to become the leader in their market. We challenge you to take one thing you learn from this article and implement it in your business and see if it does not make a significant impact on the success of your business. 

This article will cover:

1. Nike's Strategy to Become the Leader in their Market

2. Statistics on Nike's Leadership
3. How Does Nike Respond to Competition?

4. How Does Nike Position their Brand?

5. How Does Nike Maintain Leadership?

6. How Does Nike Respond to Failures and Setbacks?
7. Examples of Nike's Marketing - To learn how you can use Nike's Marketing strategy to grow your business, listen to this podcast episode
8. Nike's Values
9. Other Interesting Facts
10. References


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Nike's Strategy to Become the Leader in their Market

Nike Success

Nike is successful because it has some of the best, if not the best, marketing in the world. Their brand is the #1 brand in the sporting goods industry and is the 14th most valuable brand in the world. 61 The Nike business strategy is clear, invest in building your brand through emotional marketing and sports celebrity endorsements, develop products that have high-quality, market-leading technology and buy out competing sports brands. 

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Nike Has Established their Brand and Logo through Marketing

Why is Nike successful at marketing? How did Nike become popular? What is the Nike strategy when it comes to marketing and branding? They work hard at marketing and invest a lot into it. 

"No company in the world spends as much money on sports sponsorships as Nike.." 47

Nike invests in marketing and this can be seen in their 2014 fiscal report.  "...Nike spent $3.031 billion on what they call “Demand Creation.” Nike’s a little fuzzy on what that means (marketing can be anything from a TV ad buy to a collaboration with a niche shop). According to Matt it's "Nike-speak for 'Advertising.'" That means that Nike spends about $100 per second on advertising." 40 Nike is spending almost the same amount on marketing that Under Armour makes in sales.  This article discusses the importance of marketing that Nike focuses on in 2016, "Nike spent $3.3 billion on marketing in the last year, while Under Armour did $3.96 billion in sales in the last year." 29

Nike spends over $3 Billion in advertising a year 47

Nike promotes their products with having celebrities, professional and college athletes with sponsorship agreements. 11 Nike's first athlete to endorse their products was a Romanian tennis played named Ilie Natase. 12 Nike also invested in marketing early on in their establishment.  Currently, Nike focuses on sponsorships, internet marketing, email marketing, and utilized multimedia marketing campaigns. 12 

Click Here to View the List of Nike's Sponsorships

Some examples of Nike's Sponsorships are: 13 & 14 

In 1982, Nike produced their first advertisement. Nike has been given various awards for their advertisements (Emmy award twice for best commercial, Advertiser of the Year in 1994 and 2003). 15  See below for the Emmy award winning commercials.


Click Above To Watch The Firs Ever Nike Commercial

Click Above for Emmy Award Nike Morning After Video


Click Above for Nike Emmy Award Commercial - Move


Nike Focuses on Selling the "Emotional Benefits" of their Product 10

Nike sells a lifestyle, it taps into an emotional part of the consumer that wants to aspire to live healthier and to find their own "greatness". It is noted that Bill Bowerman did not sell his shoes with his marketing strategy, but the emotional benefits of feeling good about jogging and healthy living. 10 One writer observed that Nike mentions their product minimally in their advertisements, but focuses on the benefits of exercise. 23 & 16 

Below is an example of Nike having 6 NFL stars to go back to their high schools and work with their football teams. There is minimal showcasing of Nike's products or even mention of their brand.

Click to Watch 6 NFL Stars Go Back to their High Schools


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Nike Embraces New Technologies 10

Nike has developed and established a variety of new technologies associated with their brand. For example, Nike developed a shoe that will auto-lace when you put your heel in the shoe. 16 It is noted that it took them 10 years to create HyperAdapt 1.0. 


Click Above to Watch a Video on the HyperAdapt 1.0

Nike is constantly being innovative with the development of their shoes. They have done things to make the shoe lighter and sturdier such as Flyknit. They also have developed a shoe called Nike Air Vapormax that has eliminated foam and has replaced it with air bags. 17  In 2006, they also developed a shoe that connected to an i-pod to track the pace and distance of the walker or runner. 16 

free rn flyknit 2017 big kids running shoe 

Flyknit shoe 18 


Nike Provides a Wide Variety of Products To A Large Number Of Sports To Capture Great Market Share

Nike has a variety of sporting products for everyone. This includes sports equipment and apparel for baseball, ice hockey, track and field, soccer, surfing, yoga, tennis, basketball, lacrosse, skateboarding, combat sports, cycling, wrestling, volleyball, cheerleading, auto racing, aquatic activities, cricket, and golf. 11 & 15  In addition to shoes and sport equipment, they also provide clothing (tracksuits, sport shorts, sports bras, and casual clothes such as shirts, jeans, jackets, socks, hats), watches, apps, backpacks, purses, wallets, gloves, sunglasses, hair-bands, scarves, belts, etc. 19 Not only does Nike have a variety of options of products, but Nike also owns Hurley, Converse, and Jordan brands. By offering more products to more people, in more markets than any other sports company, they are able to capture a far greater market share of the market than any other company. 


20, 21, & 22


Nike Focuses on Product Quality and Creating Products that Help Athletes Perform Better

Like most leaders in the market, Nike values the consumer and the importance of providing a quality product. Nike quality and durability is a critical part of their strategy to be able to command high prices for their products. Their brand is associated with providing top-notch product for athletes that help them perform better. One article notes how Nike has been consistent in their message to consumers that they stress the importance of their needs and preferences. 10 The message to consumers is that Nike wants to make your life better at something you are passionate about (whether that is basketball, running, jogging, etc) and to improve your overall health.

In 2016, it is noted that Nike won the Olympics for the United States athletes who wore their sneaker brand. See below for the chart comparison of Nike and their competitors and how one may argue Nike's product helped the athletes perform better. 40

olympic medals rio 2016 sneaker brands

Below is a graph suggesting that Nike's NBA players have better results in the game when wearing their sneakers: 29 


Just Doing It 30


Nike Buys Out Competing Sports Product Brands

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Statistics on Nike's Leadership

It is noted that Nike owns 48% of the athletic footwear market in the United States. Specifically for the basketball footwear, Nike has 96% of the share. See below for a chart of Nike having 96%. 25 In 2016, Nike's sales revenue was 32.46 billion. Below is a chart that shows Nike's revenue worldwide from 2005 to 2016 in USD. 26



Further Nike Statistics related to market leadership: 27

Below is a chart that details Nike's revenue for North America: 28 



The chart below shows how in 2015, Nike is dominating in their market in the United States for basketball shoes. A perfect example of their leadership in the basketball market.



Forbes discusses the most valuable brands and puts Nike at the highest position for apparel category.  In 2014, it is noted the brand value is of 27.5 billion. 24


How Does Nike Respond to Competition?

Nike Thrives and Excels Because of Competition Existing

Analysts state, “Brands like Adidas and Under Armour are all doing new things,” Poser says. “When Nike’s competition is doing a lot, Nike tends to respond even better. When nothing is going on, Nike leads the pack, but it’s not as innovative–the urgency isn’t there in general. Have you ever gone into a really good restaurant when the place is dead and the service is terrible? And then go back to the same restaurant when it’s busy and the service is great? When you’re being challenged, you get busy, you hustle, and you do everything better.” 32 

Nike Stays Ahead of their Competitors

For example, Nike launched their website (1999) before their competitors: Foot Locker (2000 launched) and Adidas (2006 launched website). This is 7 years ahead of Adidas.  It also is noted that it can be reflected in the website sale results - Nike in 2011 had more than four times the sale than Adidas. 33 Nike was one the first sports brand companies to utilize social media. 33 To learn more about how Nike has and continues to use social media to drive sales, check out this thorough case study. Nike also tries to stay ahead of their competitors with their advancements in the technology in their products (i.e. auto-lacing shoes). Staying ahead of your competition requires great strategy. Nike is a master at this. If you are looking to do the same, consider completing a strategy canvas for your competitive landscape.

How Does Nike Position their Brand?

nike logo evolution

Nike Logos 7

Nike Utilizes Emotional Branding  

There are various articles that suggest Nike has emotional branding which plays on the idea of heroism (you the consumer being able to find your strength and greatness). It is noted that they tell stories of the struggle and perseverance of an individual (whether professional or average-day citizen) that is combating an "internal villain" (thoughts we struggle in our mind - i.e. laziness, self-worth, fears) and it ends in victory. 34, 35, 36, & 37 Nike tries to pull on something that resonates with everyone with their slogan "Just do it", a mantra for individuals to claim when they tackle their goals. 39  

Here is an example of emotional branding advertising that is not Nike:


Click Above to Watch Gatorade - Make Defeat Your Fuel

Below are examples of Nike's use of emotional branding:


Click Above to Watch Nike Video - "Come out of Nowhere"

Click Above to Watch Nike Video - "Everything You Need is Already Inside You"



Nike also tackles empowering women with emotional branding:

Screenshot 2014 10 27 at 10.15.24 PM


Click Above to Watch Women in Sports Nike Video

Click Above to Watch Nike Advertisement - What Will They Say About You


Nike Co-brands with Various Sports

Nike and Olympics

Nike was criticized for not being an Olympic sponsor in 1996, but investing in sponsorships of athletes and a Nike Centre right outside the athletic village, which upset competitors like Adidas who spent over 50 million dollars to become an official sponsor. 37 Nike's golden shoes on Olympic athlete Michael Johnson was a strategic marketing technique for Nike.  Nike did a variety of creative marketing techniques that would suggest Olympics, but never mention it in the advertisement. 38 There are now more strict rules about companies doing marketing techniques like these. 37 As a result, In 2016, Nike was an official sponsor for the Olympics in Rio.

Michael Johnson time cover 2016   Michael Johnson nike gold shoes 02 2016


In 2016, it is noted that Nike won the Olympics for the United States athletes who wore their sneaker brand. See below for the chart comparison of Nike and their competitors. 40

olympic medals rio 2016 sneaker brands

Nike and FIFA

Nike has fluctuated with being sponsors at FIFA and other years Adidas has been the sponsorship.  Yet, even though they are not necessarily the sponsors, Nike finds unique ways to showcase their brand. 41 In 2010, "The Nielsen Company analyzed online blogs, message boards, and social networking sites and found that the sports shoe and apparel giant (Nike) was more frequently linked to the World Cup than any of the tournament’s official partners and sponsors." 42 Nike is receiving the benefits in showcasing their brand and product without having to necessarily pay the sponsorship fees. Nike experienced negative attention as a result of the FIFA scandal in 2015.  Below you can see an image of three major companies and how the brand suffered from the scandal. The scandal included bribery and drug-related allegations. 43 

Nike social sentiment 2 copy


NFL and Nike

Nike established a contract with NFL in 2012 for five years. In 2015, Nike added 3 more years with NFL without an auction, which some would say was a very beneficial move for the company. 45 

Click The Below Image to Watch NFL Nike Color Rush 2016 Design Innovation

Nike Football NFL Color Rush 2016 Group Wide native 1600

 Nike's Uniform 2016 NFL 1

NBA and Nike

Adidas gave up their connection with the NBA for apparel and jerseys in 2015.  Starting in 2017/2018 Nike will have an eight-year contract to provide jerseys and apparel for the NBA league. As noted below, Nike has also had major NBA and WNBA players be a part of their promotions and products (I.e the Jordan line). Nike is introducing a first for NBA, as previously there has not been a company's logo on the uniforms. 46 


Nike NBA logo native 1600

NBA Nike 2


Michael Jordan and Nike 3

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Michael Jordan Advertisement 4

nike womens line delle donne article4

WNBA Jewell Lloyd Nike Advertisement 8




How Does Nike Maintain Leadership?

Nike Maximizes Marketing Money with Sports Endorsements

"No company in the world spends as much money on sports sponsorships as Nike.." 47

Nike invests in marketing and this can be seen in their 2014 fiscal report.  "...Nike spent $3.031 billion on what they call “Demand Creation.” Nike’s a little fuzzy on what that means (marketing can be anything from a TV ad buy to a collaboration with a niche shop). According to Matt it's "Nike-speak for 'Advertising.'" That means that Nike spends about $100 per second on advertising." 40 Nike is spending almost the same amount on marketing that Under Armour makes in sales.  This article discusses the importance of marketing that Nike focuses on in 2016, "Nike spent $3.3 billion on marketing in the last year, while Under Armour did $3.96 billion in sales in the last year." 29  As noted earlier, Nike invests in marketing with advertising and brands to include well-known athletes.  Nike has also shifted from not only targeting the elite sector of athletes but allowing consumers to explore their inner athlete - to become fit and healthy with Nike's products. You can see this shift in how Nike has a saying that "if you have a body, you are an athlete." 48 One article points out, "...professional and college athletes as a group only contained about one million people, whereas the fitness universe was at least 150X larger." 49 


Nike Utilizes Social Media to Present their Digital Marketing

"It (Nike) has the most followers and subscribers on all social channels." 39 See below of graphs that indicate how many subscribers on a variety of social media networks and how Nike dominates in each of these areas.

Screen Shot 2016 12 20 at 2.55.07 PM






Here is a screenshot of the Nike Instagram Account - You can see a mixture of photos and videos with over million views on the videos and thousands of likes and comments.

nike vs adidas on social media 2016 1024x512



Screenshot from one of Nike's videos on their Facebook page. As you can see there have been over 6.5 million views.

Screen Shot 2016 12 20 at 2.57.03 PM



Here is a screenshot and an example of Nike's Twitter page.  There are over 7 million followers of the end of June 2016.


How Does Nike Respond to Failures and Setbacks?

Nike received a lot of negative public relations around having their products made in sweatshops: 33 & 52

In response to this negative attention, Nike established:

Nike was the first sportswear brand to be upfront with the public about who they are using for their contracted factories.  This occurred in 2005 and it helped redeem the negative attention they received prior. 52 


Examples of Nike Marketing Strategy

Click Above for Examples of Nike's Marketing Strategy

It is noted that Bill Bowerman can be linked to the jogging craze that occurred in the late 1960s and 1970s. Bill wrote various books and articles about the benefits of jogging.  It is noted that one of Bill's books that he wrote about jogging was done with a cardiologist. See below for a graph that details the timeline of Nike's contributions, showing a small piece of Nike history. 10

Blog Ben NikeMarketingStrategy runningboom

Some writers highlight and list different digital marketing campaigns that Nike has utilized over the years: 58 & 59
1) Livestrong - this campaign coincided with Nike's sales increasing more than 45%.

Click Above to Watch Video on Chalkbot Nike's Livestrong Campaign

2) Fuel Your Team - over 6 million members that are linked to this campaign. This campaign is linked with Nike+ and Fuel Band.

Click Above for a Nike Fuel Case Study Video

3) The Chance - in 2010 Nike targeted young people to win Nike Academy for a year. It is noted that the Chance helped promote Nike and increase their fan-base. "Participants created more than 17,000 Facebook pages which reached an additional 5.5 million fans. Furthermore, 2,000 user-generated videos and 28,000 player posts were created and the brand received 3.4 million YouTube views." 58

4) Times Square Billboard - Allowing people to design their own Nike shoe and have it up on the billboard.

5) The Chosen - A campaign focusing on niche sports (snowboarding, skateboarding, skating, surfing, BMX)

Click Above to Watch Another Nike Marketing Example -Their "Chosen" Advertisement Campaign

As stated before, Nike's advertisements often have minimal mention of their product, but focus on telling a story.  Below are some examples on Instagram that use the power of a photography/imagery to tell a story and have a positive association with their brand.

Nike Shoes

Here is a picture from Instagram on the Nike account.  Below the picture has the description: "Greetings from mile one. It's here where you and a few of your fastest friends can enjoy a short, breathtaking stay. Relax, dig in your toes, and chase the sunset. Wish you were here. Find your fast at #sofast" 60


 Nike Surfing

Here is another picture from Instagram on the Nike account.  Below the picture has the description: "It's not always sunshine and sand. #justdoit" 60

The Nike marketing strategy, in summary, is, invest heavily in marketing, use emotional advertising that every human being can identify with, offer premium products at premium prices and sell their products primarily through 3rd party retails stores. 


Nike's Values

Nike claims to be socially conscious and invests back into the community.  Their website has a section where they talk about helping kids get healthy and active and their passion to help communities and creating global change. 53 Nike is also associated with Product Red which the mission of the agency is to prevent HIV transmission from mother to infant. 54 Nike discusses how they try to eliminate the global issue of climate change.  They make a statement saying "double the business with half the impact." 55 See below for a chart that demonstrates their plan to eliminate carbon emissions.

Nike SPI Our Vision E native 1600

Decoupling v3 original

Other Interesting Facts

Click to Watch Nike's History in 3 Minutes

nike diversity

History of the Athletic Shoe: 57 

History of Athletic Shoes


Nike's timleine of owning various brands and selling them:

nike the innovation machine 6 638

Acquisition Timeline 33

Click here for Other Nike Facts and Statistics


Nike was founded in 1964 by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight with $1200 in the bank. 9 The company was originally called "Blue Ribbon Sports", which later became "Nike Inc" in 1971, named after a Greek goddess of victory. 5


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