It’s no secret that Nike is a marketing titan among the many sports brands that dot today’s competitive landscape. The activewear giant pioneered the idea of driving awareness through brand sponsorships by enlisting professional athletes to endorse its products. Romanian tennis player Ilie Nastase, track star Steve Prefontaine, basketball god Michael Jordan and golf great Tiger Woods all paved the way for Nike to become the international conglomerate it is today.
From a brand perspective, introducing new products to the market is much easier and effective when you can hang your hat on a high-profile spokesman like LeBron James. But while that formula has proven successful for Nike, the brand hasn’t stopped there. It continues to innovate around the very sneakers, apparel and accessories these athletes use to compete and succeed at a high level, and has managed to stay on top by doing so.
Over the years, Nike has strategically integrated specific proprietary technologies and created naming conventions that play a large role in establishing a unified portfolio architecture model and sustainable brand equities. If you visit nike.com, it’s easy to get lost in myriad styles, models and colors in the brand’s sneaker portfolio. But thanks to a smart and savvy research and development team, Nike has developed advanced products and subsequently coined sub-brands that convey athletic and technological superiority.
The first such example is the Nike “Air Max.” Introduced in 1987, the sneaker uses a large visible “air cushioning unit” at the heel for additional support. Since its inception, close to 50 different models have launched under the “Air Max” sub-brand. During the 25+ years of innovation, “Tube Air”, “Tuned Air” and “Total Air” have also emerged as iterations from Nike. The semantics behind “Air Max” is quite simple. Max is short for maximum, implying the greatest or highest amount possible to be attained. As a result, the consumer is buying into the notion that they are receiving the maximum amount of air in a sneaker. Either that, or the appearance of the shoe is just aesthetically pleasing to them. Regardless, the nomenclature is worth noting.
Next up is the sub-brand that utilizes the word “Hyper.” Nike has really blown this one out of the park, incorporating apparel into the new innovation pipeline. Products include sneakers under the names “Hyperdunk,” “Hyperfuse,” “Hyperposite” and more. Clothing lines such as “Hyperwarm,” “Hypercool” and “Hyperstrong” can be purchased internationally for training and performance during extreme weather conditions. Hyper can be defined as “unusually energetic,” another word that feels on-brand for Nike given their athletic associations.
“Lunar” foam is yet another technology created by Nike, and has now been integrated into the formerly Nike-owned company Cole Haan. According to Nike, “Lunar cushioning system comes in a ‘bottomless’ carrier construction that delivers a lightweight, springy sensation and responsive yet soft shock absorption.” Does Nike believe it really feels like you are walking on the moon? Who knows, but they sure are comfortable. Models such as the LunarGrand Wingtip and Penny can be purchased on ColeHaan.com for a cool $248.
The most recent technology to be unveiled – and at the 2012 Olympic Games, no less – was Nike Flyknit. The technology features “yarns and fabric variations that are precisely engineered only where they are needed for a featherweight, form fitting and virtually seamless upper.” In other words, Nike balances the fine line of using an efficient amount of materials that provide enough support for world-class athletes. Furthermore, the sneaker is so light it feels as if you are wearing a sock, all the while communicating the intricacies of a high quality knitting process. Given that they were worn by Olympians Michael Phelps and Serena Williams, the volt/neon-colored “Flyknit Trainer+” sneakers ate up a ton of publicity during the games.
These four sub-brands illustrate how important nomenclature is when developing a portfolio architecture system. Associating complex and advanced technologies with simple yet relevant model names allow consumers to identify each sub-brand with ease. The difficult part of leading an industry is sustaining the established equities you have built to date. Nike does an amazing job at bridging the gap between launching new innovations and creating a consumer experience. They even merge these sub-brands with one another: Witness the Nike Lunar Flyknit Chukka (red) and the 2013 Air Max with Flyknit technology (pink).
Other sub-brands include the Nike+ (activity points system based on movement), Pro Combat (Deflex foam to help you stay fast and explosive through impact), Dri-FIT (high performance, microfiber, polyester fabric that has the properties and build quality to wick sweat away), Nike Free (a revolutionary sole that lets your feet move naturally and ultimately perform better) and Nike Shox (four circular columns in a square formation to provide cushioning).
Brilliant branding or a simple marketing tactic to get us to spend more money on sneakers, apparel and accessories?