Just do it: five business lessons startups can learn from Nike

Marketing and brand

4 July 2018

Steve Jobs. Bill Gates. Richard Branson. Phil Knight?

The last name on that list may not be as immediately recognisable as the others, but the brand he founded in 1964 is up there with Apple, Microsoft and Virgin as one of the most famous in the world: Nike.

With its iconic ‘swoosh’ logo and inspirational marketing, Nike has established itself as the biggest brand in sportswear. But even the world’s largest brands start somewhere, be it a garage, bedroom, or in Phil Knight’s case, the back of his car.

So from the back of a car to a multi-billion dollar brand, here’s five lessons your small business can learn from Phil Knight and Nike.

Follow your passion

Being your own boss isn’t easy, but as the saying goes: if you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life. For Phil Knight, he took his love of running and built it into the heart of his startup company. And that connection with the runner’s mindset and the understanding of the needs of his target audience of serious athletes was crucial in making the Nike brand what it is today.

When you’re starting up, why not think about what you can do better than anyone else? What skills or knowledge can you offer that no one else can? How can you do what you love?

Become part of your customers’ lifestyle

‘Just do it’ has become more than a marketing slogan. It’s a mantra for athletes everywhere. And Nike’s inspirational marketing goes beyond selling the latest shoe – it helps their customers think, dream and set goals.  

In your small business, think about how you can establish that emotional connection with your audience. Are you able to personalise your products or service to your customers? By becoming part of your customers’ daily lives you can move beyond customer loyalty and start to build brand advocates.

Build a following with social media

Nike has over 77 million followers on Instagram alone. But far from using this engaged audience to merely sell more sportswear, Nike instead tap into the ‘inspirational’ tone of the social media platform to further their ‘just do it’ ethos, sharing motivational quotes and images to a captive audience.

For small business in particular, social media is a great, cheap way of reaching out to your audience and building a connection. Follow the 80/20 rule and strike a balance between giving back to your customers and building a connection (80% of your posts) and promoting your products and services (the remaining 20%).

Promote your values

As a sportswear brand, Nike wants to connect their brand with certain powerful values and attributes. Achievement. Heroism. Success. To cement this connection, Nike partners with world-leading athletes and teams, associating their victories and achievements with the Nike brand and building a community of brand ambassadors from the biggest names in sport.

For small businesses, a good way of increasing brand awareness and fostering loyalty could be by showing your commitment to the local community. Sponsoring local events, charitable causes or sports teams in your area could put your brand community values front and centre.

Build hype for your brand

With their limited-edition products which have customers queuing for hours, Nike are well versed in stirring up the excitement of diehard sneakerheads and fashion-conscious consumers. By marketing their products as limited and scarce, they automatically become valuable too.

In many ways, independent retailers are best placed to tap into this ‘limited edition’ mindset. While bigger chains rely on mass production, independent stores can stock the higher quality and one-of-a-kind goods that big brand retailers can’t replicate. From vintage clothing stores to handmade crafts and jewellery, smaller sometimes is better.

According to recent AXA research, the number one factor which stops most people from starting this own business is fear. But stories like that of Nike founder Phil Knight show that even the biggest businesses come from the most humble beginnings so long as fear doesn’t hold you back.

As Phil Knight says: “Let everyone else call your idea crazy… just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t ever think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where ‘there’ is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop.”

In other words: just do it.

All businesses start with a story. Protect yours.

Starting a business isn’t easy, but protecting it is. 47% of the small businesses we protect are start ups*. So protect your business’ first steps with AXA.

*Based on AXA business and shop insurance policies as of June 2017. 'Start up business' defined as being less than three years old.