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Brand Innovation

Brand Innovation Requires Deeper Connections

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Nike Brand Innovation and Jerome Conlon

In the late 1980’s when Nike was in the midst of figuring out how to reposition the brand with the women’s market (see Soulful Branding for the full case study) we found that hardcore, male, testosterone-driven, competitive sports heroes, images and stories were all pervasive, defining the ethos of the Nike brand. Recognizing the inappropriateness of the hardcore male sports ethos in communicating with women was the first step in successfully repositioning the Nike brand. But the sustained effects of this turnaround were achieved by forming a better connection with source. What does the phrase ‘Connection With Source’ mean?

People living in different circumstances over the ages have answered this question very differently. Let’s briefly examine this from a variety of different perspectives to understand its importance in brand innovation:

A Zen Story Perspective

“The little fish went to the Queen fish and asked: ‘I have always heard about the sea, but what is this sea? Where is it’? The Queen fish explained: ‘You live, move and have your being in the sea. The sea is within you and without you, and you are made of the sea, and you will end in the sea. The sea surrounds you as your own being’.

An Indigenous Culture Perspective

Here ‘Source’ is viewed as the interconnected ‘web of life,’ which is the ground of being for both the outer natural world and the inner spirit world. The land, animals, plants, water, earth, wind, fire and the other elements were all part of the interconnected web in the outer world. Dreams, thoughts, feelings and ancestor voices all made up aspects of the inner spirit world. Indigenous cultures didn’t view the phenomenon of the outer and inner worlds as separate or disconnected from Source. All these objects and subjects came from Source. This was living in the garden (before the fall) having a direct connection with the oneness of the world, being at one with all of your surroundings and with inner experiences of consciousness.

A Monotheistic Religion Perspective

Source is viewed as an all-powerful God, generally a father figure, sometimes angry and wrathful, that watches over humanity and judges, rewards and punishes us. This Source spoke through the sages, saints and prophets and for Christians through the Bible, for Jews through the Torah and for Muslims through the Koran. Through revelations encoded in these sacred texts this Source defined commandments for living in accord with the Divine will.

A Scientific Perspective

Particularly in the world of quantum physics, we have another understanding emerging of Source. Newtonian physics presented a mechanical view of the universe that taught us to view the elements of the Universe as isolated and independent, that obeyed the simple laws of cause and effect. Quantum physics provided the revelation that at the atomic level of existence matter did not follow the mechanical laws that governed Newton’s universe. Quantum physics has changed a few peoples understanding of how the Universe really works but society and many branches of learning have not really caught up with this insight. Beneath our chemically constructed bodies our atoms vibrate in a frequency range that governs health, and our bodies are immersed and can interact with many different kinds of invisible energy in the fields surrounding us. The largest field of energy is the Zero Point Field. From a scientific perspective this is the ground of being from which all energy and information in the cosmos is sourced.

A Brand Innovation Perspective

There are different ways to source consciousness in brand problem solving. If the right frame of consciousness doesn’t exist on the front end of doing strategy work…the conclusions for brand extensions can be dubious. Each product or service category is a good starting place for thinking broadly about the source for brand innovation inspiration. What is the source of the connection that women have with sports and fitness? This is the question I spent many hours contemplating while serving as a brand director and guardian for ten years at Nike. And it was from uncovering deep insights into this question that Nike was able to turn the tables on Reebok and recover the #1 sales and market share position within a very short period of time.

Developing multi-dimensional intimacy with a wide range of direct experiences in sport allowed me to locate issues and opportunities missed by everyone else. This kind of work is very difficult but not impossible to do if you aren’t passionately and intimately involved within a category. There are many valuable qualitative research techniques for understanding the role that your category plays or could play in people’s lives. In companies that are more product and transaction driven deep category insight about what really drives consumption behavior can be hard to find. But if a deeper connection with the soul of the category is uncovered it often reveals new innovation and expansion possibilities. If your category and brand are skimming along the surface for marketing solutions and never penetrate to the depths then you haven’t achieved your brand development potential. The most original, powerful and integrated solutions are often found a little deeper down.

“Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Deep down the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.” – David Lynch

Just like in this example examining what the phrase ‘Connecting With Source’ means from different perspectives…brand meaning can take on different nuances and flavors with different segments of the market. It wasn’t until Nike learned this fundamental truth about branding that it solved the riddle behind its biggest brand growth obstacle and learned how to open up whole new green field opportunities. Sometimes the biggest breakthroughs can come from examining a topic of interest from multiple perspectives to get a richer, deeper and more insightful understanding of what is true and for whom. You can learn more about depth research in my new book, Soulful Branding – Unlock the Hidden Energy In Your Company and Brand.

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