Knowledge Bank Blog, Behaviour Change, New Product Launches, Shopper Communication

The Single Most Important Thing

In 1984, Nike was on the verge of shutting down its basketball shoe division due to low sales.

They decided to give it one last roll of the dice.

They had a €250,000 budget to promote their basketball shoes.  They were planning to spend that money sponsoring 3 established NBA players.

However, Sonny Vaccaro, Nike’s basketball talent scout, had a different idea.

A young rookie had just entered the NBA.  Someone that Sonny thought was a once-in-a-generation talent.

His name was Michael Jordan.

Sonny wanted to sign him.  But he had two problems.  Firstly, the budget was small and it would all have to go on Jordan.  Secondly, Jordan was being strongly pursued by his two preferred brands, Converse and Adidas.

So, Sonny broke the rules.

He convinced Nike CEO Phil Knight to assign the entire €250,000 budget to hiring Jordan.  Then he bypassed Jordan’s agent and travelled to North Carolina to speak to Jordan’s family direct.  He convinced Jordan’s mother, Deloris, that Nike would give her son the attention he wouldn’t get from rival brands.

The Jordan family agreed to meet with Nike.

For the meeting, Nike developed a prototype basketball shoe.  They named it ‘Air Jordan’.  It was red, black and white.  The colours of the Chicago Bulls who Jordan played for.

After the meeting Sonny received a call from Deloris Jordan.  She said that Jordan would sign with Nike.

On one condition.  That he earned a percentage of every Air Jordan sold.  This had never been done before.  Sonny didn’t think the Nike Board would go for it.

But they did.  Nike signed Michael Jordan.

In the first year of the deal, Air Jordan delivered €162m in sales.  The forecast was €3m.

In 2022 Air Jordan sales passed €5bn.  This earned Michael Jordan €150m.  Nearly double his earnings in his entire NBA career.

Nike decided hiring Michael Jordan was the single most important thing they could do.

They were right.

Why are we talking about this?  In our industry there are lots of things that we can do.  So we try to do most of them.

So we end up with a category strategy with too many growth drivers and actions.  That retailers have forgotten before you’ve even left the room.

A portfolio strategy with too many products.  That you have to defend range review after range review.

An innovation strategy with too many new launches.  That dive into the FMCG ocean and barely make a ripple.

It’s like Nike spending the original €250,000 on 3 average players.

Instead we need to focus on what is most important.

The single most important thing you can do to drive category growth.  The single most important thing you can do to drive your current portfolio.  The single most important thing you can launch.

Like Nike putting all their resource behind Michael Jordan.

So, in 2024 ask yourself the single most important thing question.

For instance…

What is the single most important shopper behaviour change you can make in your category?  Once you have the answer, look at your plans.  Do you need to do more of the stuff that will drive that behaviour change?  And less of the stuff that won’t?

What is the single most important thing you can say to shoppers to get them to buy your brand?  Once you have the answer, look at your communication.  Do you need to say that better and more consistently?  And say less of the stuff that distracts from that one message?

What is the single most important thing you can do to drive visibility?  Once you have the answer, look at how your category and brand shows up.  Are you focusing on the most disruptive thing you can do?  And doing less of the things that won’t get noticed?

What is your single most important new product launch this year?  Once you have the answer, look at your launch plans.  Do you need to do more to maximise the impact of that launch?  To make it bigger for longer?  And not launch smaller stuff that will get in the way?

These are just a few examples.  You can ask the single most important thing question across many areas.  Your channel strategy.  Your retailer strategy. Your pricing strategy.  Your promotional strategy.

Get better at asking it.  Then get better at following the answers.

Nike knew Michael Jordan would be big.  But they had no idea just how big.

They soon found out.

Feel free to forward. Have a great weekend. Speak to you in a fortnight.

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