Did the “swoosh,” make Nike or did Nike make the “swoosh?”

Carolyn Davidson's swoosh design represents the Greek goddess of victory, Nike's, wing. She was paid $35 for this design.
Carolyn Davidson’s swoosh design represents the Greek goddess of victory, Nike’s, wing. She was paid $35 for this design.

For the typical buyer of athletic shoes, high-tech moisture-wicking t-shirts, or water resistant watches, all of which Nike sells, this is sort of a chicken/egg question. But for marketers and small business owners there’s an important distinction to be recognized. One that speaks to the most basic questions in branding and marketing: “What is a brand, anyway? And how do we build and manage one?”

Outside of the advertising, marketing or branding industries, consumers and small business owners tend to think of a brand as a logo, a name, maybe a tagline. When people hear the word “Nike,” they think of the swoosh, “Just Do It,” or Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. These elements are all critical to the Nike brand of course, but in and of themselves, they’re not the brand; they’re more properly understood as the corporate identity.

Your Brand Is an Experience – Make It a Good One

What the company understands, and what small business owners can learn from the Nike model as we construct and manage our brands, is that a brand isn’t primarily an image or a bunch of words; it’s an experience. Good companies manage their brands by making sure their customers are having a great experience, and then using the positive emotions related to that experience to create an emotional bond with the customers.

From it’s website, to the stores, to its packaging, to its celebrity endorsements, Nike manages the customer experience so as to emphasize its core brand mantra: Authentic Athletic Performance. Nike’s core values are related to commitment, intensity and expertise on the field. Every internal memo, every retail experience, every ad should be reinforcing that idea. Nike sporting goods and gear will help you excel at your chosen sport or game; you are a serious athlete; Nike understands the needs of the serous athlete.

So when you see the swoosh, you know – without even consciously thinking it – that Nike understands your needs. It’s a good feeling. Nike makes the swoosh, not vice versa.

Local Companies Give Good Experience

Some local companies understand the concept of brand as experience and are using it to differentiate themselves. Une Belle Vie is one example. The memorial cremation urn company realized that the experience their competition was giving lacked something that customers shopping for this product needed desperately: compassion. Click over to the website and you’ll see that the online retail experience is designed to give visitors to the site a feeling of calm and warmth. The messaging is all about celebrating the life of the deceased and giving good information about cremation in general. You don’t sense the toxic cocktail of commerce and depression you feel at some of their competitors’ sites. The logo’s gentle curves and the site’s inviting colors and easy-to-use interface reinforce the message of peace, acceptance and celebration.

Table Mountain Vision is another local company whose brand is built primarily upon a great customer experience. The Golden, Colorado vision clinic recently rebranded itself, from clunky and clinical to warm and welcoming. This more accurately expresses the comfortable, relaxing and familial ambience the staff creates in their new location, which feels more like a day spa than a doctor’s office.

What these small, local businesses are doing that Nike does is managing the entire customer or client experience as an element of their brand management, helping to build a strong bond between the customer and the company – a great description of what a brand needs to do.

1 thought on “Did the “swoosh,” make Nike or did Nike make the “swoosh?””

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