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WHAT FASHION BRANDS CAN LEARN FROM NIKE

Fashion brands are finally getting serious about digital media. But so far, their strategies have mostly focused on marketing and communications initiatives like interactive advertising campaigns, fashion films and live-streamed runway shows. Integrating digital technology into the core product offering remains a largely unexploited area of opportunity. Here, fashion companies can learn a lot from one of the world’s most digitally innovative brands: global sportswear giant Nike.
Last month, to coincide with the start of the FIFA World Cup, Nike launched a three-minute film called “Write the Future”, featuring football superstars like Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba. According to web video analytics company Visible Measures “Write the Future” clocked a record 7.8 million online views in its debut week, underscoring the power of creating compelling digital content that consumers will voluntarily seek out and share with others.
Luxury fashion brands like Chanel have followed a similar strategy, creating their own digital content to earn attention and free media, and learning to think more like publishers in the process. But for all the recent buzz around “Write the Future,” Nike’s long-term digital strategy has focused less on marketing and communications initiatives and more on developing digital product and service platforms.
“Integrated digital technology will become what people expect,” said Mark Parker, President and Chief Executive Officer of Nike, in a highly insightful and wide-ranging interview with Berlin-based magazine 032c. Indeed, with online running platform Nike+ (which uses digital sensors integrated into running shoes to measure, analyse and share performance data) executives at the sportswear brand have moved decisively to make digital media an integral part of their core product offering.
Since launch, Nike+ has had a meaningful impact on the company’s bottom line. So far, more than 2.5 million Nike+ kits have been sold, many to people who also purchase new Nike shoes that have a special recess to house the digital sensor. But importantly, Nike+ has done more than drive sales; it’s helped Nike fundamentally recast the relationship between brand and consumer.
“The Nike+ story is about much more than the revenues generated from product and accessory sales. What is fascinating is how the new offering catapulted Nike from being relevant to just one aspect of the runner’s exercise regime to being at the very centre of it. For a Nike+ customer, the Nike brand is no longer about just the product attached to his or her feet; it’s about the total exercise experience,” writes Harvard Business School professor Elie Ofek in a recent article entitled “Are You Ignoring Trends That Could Shake Up Your Business?”
Significantly, at the start of the recent World Cup, alongside “Write the Future,” Nike launched a new football boot called the Mercurial Vapor SuperFly II. With techie-sounding product innovations like “Nike Flywire” and “Adaptive Traction Technology,” the shoes are designed to enhance player performance. But each pair of boots also comes with a code that unlocks access to Nike Soccer+, a digital coaching program — available via web, mobile internet or iPhone app — that helps players improve their skills with insights and instruction from world-class players and coaches.
“We are creating the best performance boots available today,” said Nike Soccer general manager Bert Hoyt. “But combining this technology with the Nike Soccer+ digital coaching program means you are not just buying a boot, you are buying a total game improvement package.”
In the fashion industry, Louis Vuitton made an interesting move into digital products, back in 2008, with Louis Vuitton Soundwalk, a unique experience that activated the brand’s heritage and dedication to “the art of travel.” Designed to be played on Apple’s popular iPod and launched just before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Vuitton’s Soundwalk was a perfectly synchronised audio journey through the physical streets of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, narrated by three icons of Chinese cinema.
But while Nike’s digital platforms endure over time and complement the brand’s primary revenue driver — shoes — Louis Vuitton Soundwalk was a more tactical initiative that was never integrated into Vuitton’s primary product: their bags.
Louis Vuitton’s on-going “Journeys” campaign — which currently features football greats Zidane, Maradona and Pele alongside Vuitton’s monogrammed luggage — suggests that travel can be an emotional and personal journey of discovery. But what if Louis Vuitton was able to integrate digital technology into its travel bags to actually make this promise a reality, enabling frequent travelers who own Vuitton to turn routine business trips into meaningful journeys through luxury digital services?
In the market for luxury fashion, the dream is most important. But today’s affluent consumers live active and digitally-enabled lives. Increasingly, there is an important opportunity for forward-thinking luxury brands to leverage integrated digital technology to help their clients experience things, not just dream them.
by Vikram Alexei Kansara, Managing Editor of The Business of Fashion