Velocity: Nike’s 7 new laws for a digital world

Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 15.14.10Being a social media sceptic, I picked up this book by Nike's Stefan Olander with some serious doubts in my mind. However, I found it one of the most inspiring books I've read in a while. Indeed, I felt it was worth 2 posts: this one on learnings for being a digitally empowered company, and a second one on universal marketing principles.

Stefan knows a thing or two about digital business, being the VP of "Digital Sport" for Nike. He co-wrote the book with Ajaz Ahmed, Founder of AKQA a leading digital agency. I like the way the book is writtent as a conversation between the two of them. At first I though this was a gimmick, but in fact it works really well.

Here are my key points about digital business.

1. Beyond social media to eBusiness

"eBusiness" is an ancient term from yesteryear, used in the early days of the web. But I think it sums up what Velocity talks about: becoming a digitally empowered business. This is 100 hundred times more interesting than social media in my eyes.

Nike has created a whole new business and revenue stream based on digital sport. This started with Nike+iPod, that I posted on back on almost 7 years ago, here. This technology allows you to track your runs on your iPhone or iPod, via a little tracking device in your Nike trainers.

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More recently, Nike launched the Fuelband, a wristband that tracks all your daily activity, including walking and climbing stairs, and tells you how many calories you have burnt.

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Nike iD was one of the first services to allow you to personalise your new footwear. 

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Both Nike + iPod and Nike+ Fuelband allow you to share your data with other people if you want, so have the obligatory "social" dimension. However, they work without the social angle, as tools to help people track their sporting activity.

2. EVERY business needs to be tech savvy

A fundamental point in the book is that digital technology affects every single business on the planet. As Stefan says,"Not everyone should strive to be a tech company, but every company should strive to be technology-proficient, with infrastructure and competencies to manage consumer connections. Without a platform to manage and nurture interactions with its consumer, a company has no spine."

Creating new digitally-powered revenue streams like Nike's Digital Sport division is not a job just for the IT department. To quote Stefan again: "Its about re-thinking the business with the consumer at the centre and then aligning technology, analytics and organisation to support it."

3. "Easier done that said"

This is a lovely quote that sums up a central thrust in the book about the need for SPEED and the role played in this by prototyping and "beta" launches (soft launching a product that's not 100% ready to iron out bugs via feedback from early adopters).

One of my favourite stories in the book is about pitching Nike+iPod to Steve Jobs, with a 164 page Powerpoint deck loaded and ready to present. Jobs interrupted and asked, "Before we start getting into details… Do we have a product?" He probed about details regarding accuracy and pricing, and when the team presenting explained that these details were yet to be finalised, he jumped straight into the detail of what the finished product needed to deliver:

"It needs to be 90% accurate for 90% of people, right out of the box. And it shouldn't cost more than $29. This must be a completely frictionless experience combinging the power of the two brands. Can you get it there? Because if you can't, we might as well adjourn."

Here was Jobs cutting through the strategic syrup and analysis paralysis, and getting straight into execution, encouraging the team to get prototyping to see if they could actually make a product that worked.

4. The best advertising isn't advertising

Back in 2006 I was quoting Geek Squad founder Robert Stephen as saying: "Advertising is a tax for having an unremarkable product". Seven years later, Stefan writes along the same lines, suggesting that creating branded services is a better way of promoting your brand and keeping it top of mind. A Nike example is the Nike Training Club app, that allows you to access professional fitness coaching on your phone or PC, wherever you are. This app has been downloaded millions of times and has accumulated 50million+ minutes of training. Ajaz comments, "That's 50 million minutes of connection for the same price as a 30 second commercial."

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Health warning

The book inspired me to think more about digital business. But on reflection, there is a watch-out if you are want to follow the Nike Digital Sport example. I can sum this up with this immortal line from the Wham! song "I'm your man": "If you're gonna do it, do it right". Creating a successful, meaningful digital service for your brand requires:

i) top talent, both creative and technical

ii) highlighting a genuine consumer need, and a service that meets this better than current offers

iii) a way to brand the service, and ideally charge for it, to create a viable business model

iv) siginificant investment to create the service, and then to drive traffic to it