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Nike’s Adam Sussman: ‘It’s important brands stand for something’

Nike had quite the memorable year. With the resurgence of brand purpose and retail becoming more direct to consumer, Nike led the way in both areas. As Nike’s first chief digital officer, Adam Sussman helped the 54-year-old apparel company commit to keep innovating.

At ANA’s annual meeting, nearly every marketer I spoke to or who presented mentioned Nike. What happened this year?
We think it’s been a defining year. The digital office is up and running and super connected to the commercial to physical retail and digital commerce. We’re focusing on leveraging what we offer at the customer level to the enterprise level. We started as a company that was wholesale that was powering a model based on seasons of product, and now we’re moving on seasonless, constant brand stories, constant inventory. That’s a huge transition and evolution.

Who’s the Nike customer these days?
You think about our mission: bring innovation and inspiration to every athlete. We say athlete with an asterisk. If you have a body, you’re an athlete. Over the last couple of years, we stand for more than selling product. We’re moving the world through sport, and we think the world could be a better place and you as an individual could be better if you do more sport. How could we make sport more a part of your lives and Nike a daily habit.

Colin Kaepernick and Serena Williams. You’ve had some impressive campaigns recently.
It was the 30th anniversary of the Just Do It campaign. The latest campaign was bringing it back to life in an amazing, impactful way. It was the marketing team that did it, and the idea of dreaming crazy.

But you made a choice with Colin Kaepernick and it caused some backlash.
That choice was not made by me, but I’m so proud of that choice. I think it’s important for brands to stand for something, and I think it’s super clear what we stand for. The thing that I love about sport is it’s the great equalizer. Everyone is equal in the world of sport. It’s about inclusion and participation, and it stands for all these values that I so believe in and are so important in our society.

You’ve had some big store launches. Melrose Place in July and Fifth Ave. in November. What’s unique about these?
The Melrose store was really designed to be a local membership experience that was of the community and for the community, and a lot of the services we built are driving experiences that we expected. Unlock Box is signing up so many new [Nike Plus] members. Sorting the store with local favorites is definitely resonating. And then speed of convenience, scan to try on and curbside check-in and especially the texting our athletes is exceeding some of our expectations. We brought a lot of the learnings [to New York] and added new. One of the key things in Fifth Ave. is the Speed Shop, separate entrance to go into the store, and Instant Checkout. You’re checking in on your device and on your Nike app, and you don’t need a store athlete.

That checkout experience makes me think of Amazon Go stores. But you aren’t just replacing your store employees with apps, right?
Our whole goal is to better serve our consumers. We believe enabling a deeper connection to our store athletes is important, they’re our most important brand ambassadors. It’s not a great conversation to say, “Do you have this item in stock?” Store athletes will tell you they love the Nike app. It’s a platform for conversation.

I remember when Nike Plus was the name for the device I put in my sneakers to track my runs. Now, it’s your membership community. What’s the goal?
We have 140 million Nike Plus members, the goal is to get to 300 by 2022. We formally launched it nine months ago. Nike Plus membership program is unrivaled access to our brand, first to know, first to get, first to experience. Because we have such depth and breadth, it’s hard for consumers to see everything. Nike app has become a central destination. You get customization in the app. If you want to follow, we’ll give you all this amazing access.

And it’s free. You don’t charge for other Nike app experiences like Guided Runs. Have you thought about trying subscriptions?
There’s basic inspiration and community we want to provide to our consumers. People aren’t buying every day, but we want them to be active and part of the brand so there are foundational services that our great value to the consumer. Is there an opportunity for us to charge for some services or experiences? I could tell you we’re taking a look at that, and we will probably try some things, but we won’t start charging you to use [Nike Run Club] as a tracking app. We’re looking into: Are there ways we can provide you with extra services for the more active athlete?

We’ve had a resurgence of streetwear and your SNKRS app has been a big part of that. How does that effort relate to the Nike customer?
Our brand is so powerful because it sits at the intersection of culture and sport. The whole premise of SNKRS app is 20 [percent] sneakerhead and 80 [percent] the new fans. We’re trying to use the hardcore users to help educate the casual and the new and show them the wonderful world of sneaker culture. This app has grown well beyond any of the metrics we’d ever imagine: 350 percent growth of monthly active users over the last 12 months.

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