Innovate or Die.

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Back in the time warp of 1999, when most retailers were just starting to figure out how this internet thing was going to affect their business, Nike struck a deal with Fogdog to begin selling Nike products online.  At first they had stayed away from online retailing, in an attempt to protect the brand through its brick-and-mortar stores where they had more control.  What’s now seen as a “duh” moment, at the time was a risky step off the precipice of the New Economy.

Travel forward to earlier this summer, when Nike announced Nike+, a website focused on runners who use the joint-venture Nike running shoe with the apple iPod built in, exceeding even their own expections for how consumers would choose to interact with its social network.

There’s a long history of Nike’s commitment to innovation, I don’t need to summarize that here.  You can google “innovate or die” and Nike and get 607 results returned right off the bat.   Just as with their brand peer and partner Apple, the key is that Nike has incorporated innovation as part of its brand, people know and associate them with being a cultural leader in what’s next.  A trendsetter.  A benchmark.  Not just in products, but in the way they approach reaching their consumers through emerging media and cutting edge creative.  The agencies they chose to work with have these reputations, too – Wieden, Crispin, Razorfish – they are the Madonnas and Stings of the agency world, only first names are needed in conversation, and they are reaching consumers in ways never attempted before. 

As a consumer and an advertising person I have followed Nike for years, but did not know until they became a client of ours their commitment to fostering this culture of cutting edge innovation.  Many people, myself included, believe Nike functions on an enormous advertising budget which allows them to try new things at any cost to maintain their edge.  The reality is they work with a much smaller budget than you would think for such a huge company and dynamic brand, they just do it more efficiently.  More strategically.

Many people tell us they like working for smaller clients, or even non-profits, because its more interesting to try and do new things with less money.  Nike takes the same approach – more is not always better.  As large of a company as they are, this decisive, efficient culture they’ve created is more indicative of a smaller, more nimble company. 

From a recruiting standpoint, we see this immediately in the access we are given to executives who are actually hiring authorities, and in the speed with which they make their own decisions to move the ball forward.  On the flip-side,  dotcom companies like Google are struggling to maintain their “all hands on deck” culture in the face of enormous growth, and one symptom is their is excrutiatingly labored hiring process.  Innovation must carry through all channels of a company, not just their marketing and product strategy.

The bottom line is Nike doesn’t just tout their innovative, never satisfied, don’t look back culture.  They live it.  And we’re having a lot of fun recruiting for them.

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