Do you wonder how top brands outrun the competition? Content marketing may be the latest “it” tool for brand marketers, but look closer and you’ll find an old standby — the supply chain — being used to separate the best from the rest. 

Here’s how one top brand differentiates by combining great content marketing with a superior and sustainable supply chain.

Delivering on Brand Promise

As a self-confessed supply chain geek (bordering on obsessed fan), I have long maintained the singular importance of supply chain to brand performance:

“The best companies are increasingly finding new ways to compete by leveraging innovations that are informed by new customer data, which is being collected in new ways, and in turn made possible and practical by their high performing supply chains.”

No surprise then that each year I eagerly anticipate the Gartner Research Top 25 Supply Chain, an annual ranking of firms from the manufacturing, retail and distribution sectors based on performance plus analyst and peer opinion. This year, for the first time, Gartner created a new Masters category and recognized Apple and P&G for their long-standing leadership. According to Gartner research VP Stan Aronow, Apple “blazed new trails with its demand creation capabilities” and P&G was “one of the first to embed the concept of a consumer-driven supply chain.” 

To me, this Masters honor is a lot like being voted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for a remarkable body of work — much like this year’s legendary rock star inductees The “5” Royales. In this case though, we’re talking about stars that are known for their supply chain’s ability to deliver on brand promise

I have a nominee of my own to share with you.

While the Royales big hit is Think, I want to nominate a company whose mantra is “Just Do It” for my award. Yes, my rock star is Nike, and here is why I think it deserves the title.

Content Marketing Rock Star 

Nike is THE poster child for using content marketing backed by supply chain excellence to drive brand performance. 

Nike is not only a perennial Top 25 Supply Chain company that has risen to number 10 in the Gartner ranking, it also repeatedly appears on top brand lists, currently ranking number 18 on the Forbes Most Valuable Brands list. Academic research confirms the link between supply chain excellence and brand, yet few marketing and brand executives truly understand their company's supply chain. As brand strategist Joseph Benson said, “[Supply chain] is often regarded as either a nuisance or an irrelevance.” It's notable then to see a company that truly gets the connection between brand marketing and supply chain performance, and has integrated both in its go-to-market.

Nike's chief marketing officer Trevor Edwards is a rock star in his own right. At times touted as the next CEO, he is currently ranked number three on the CMO Top Exec list. As president of the Nike brand, Edwards “has directed some of the brand’s most substantial innovations.” In particular, Edwards has led Nike's utilization of social media content marketing to interact with consumers around the world. 

Nike has long been an advocate of content marketing, believing that traditional ads only interrupted people from what they wanted. "Content Marketing Goes a Long Way" highlights that “Nike has hundreds of social accounts that target specific sports, products, and locations. On Twitter there are at least 100 verified accounts, Facebook boasts roughly 20 verified profiles, and countless Instagram accounts.” Nike embodies the precepts of effective content marketing. 

“It’s not the action of pushing ads that encourage you to buy something, it’s the goal to inspire and communicate through the creation of sharable content that your brand is the best on every level.”

Edwards and team are also responsible for Nike+, a sports training experience that connects digitally enabled footwear with digital services. With the Nike+ app a small sensor in your Nike shoe connects with your iPhone and tracks your run or workout. You can upload the run or workout on the Nike+ website where you can join the Nike+ community. "How Big Data Is Blurring Industry Lines" makes the case that traditional product companies like Nike now compete directly on analytics with analytic-based products: “The end goal of all of this is to provide analysis back to customers. Nike is in the analytics as a service business.”

This approach clearly fosters long-term engagement and is a perfect example of how content marketing can leverage big data and social media to impact brand.

Brand Innovator

In "Four Brands that Will Dominate Retail," Goldman Sachs predicts that Nike will continue to grow and dominate the industry, largely due to their strong brand appeal to millennials, the most powerful group of consumers in the future. Nike is actually called out because of its success in segmenting its brand. Nike is all about the brand, but they are more than a single megabrand.

“The last thing we want is to be a big dumb company that feels we can put a swoosh on something and people will buy that” — Mark Parker, Nike president and CEO.

Nike has developed sub-brands like Jordan and Nike SB and markets them as smaller than they are in order to out-compete companies like Under Armour and New Balance. Nike uses content marketing to shed its megabrand perception, developing and marketing its sub-brands as well as “wildly successful and innovative products” like its Flyknit Racer. 

Furthermore, Nike ensures it can deliver on multiple new brands and products — just like the startups — but with a superior supply chain. The Flyknit Racer is a feather-light shoe created from knit threading rather than multiple layers of fabric that contributed to Nike's selection as the most innovative company of 2013. It required a complete rethink of Nike's manufacturing and supply chain process. The result was an environmentally friendly shoe with lower long-term production costs.

Nike did a great job highlighting this product on its web with “More Haste, Less Waste.” And I agree with NIKE’s sustainability VP that, "Flyknit could turn the [shoe] industry on its head." 

Sustainable Supply Chain

Combining smart content marketing with an intelligent supply chain might be enough to get placed on most top brand and supply chain lists, but you can’t get my rock star nomination without a conscience. 

Accenture’s report "The Sustainable Organization: The Chief Supply Chain Officer’s Perspective” reveals that the extended supply chain had long been a blind spot for many when it came to sustainability. However, organizations are now using their sustainable supply chains to capture market share, improve overall customer satisfaction and bolster brand appeal. Nike had a less-than-perfect track record in the past for supply chain sustainability practices, but over the last decade has emerged as a strong global sustainable brand. 

Sustainability is no longer about risk management for Nike; it is about growth. Leaders and employees of the company recognize the interconnection between sustainability, brand enhancement, capital efficiency, and profitability,” wrote Dr. Aarti Sharma, founder of the Sustainable Value Alliance. 

At Nike, sustainability is apparently not only the right thing to do, but the way to do things right. 

A Way of Life

Perhaps the foremost reason I selected Nike for my rock star award is its laser focus on the customer. It has raised the bar from being a products brand, albeit a stellar one, to a brand that serves its customers’ way of life.

“At Nike, everything we do begins with the athlete.” — Mark Parker, Nike president & CEO

Nike is clearly one of the top performing brands from a marketing perspective. Its use of content marketing is extensive and at times quite brilliant, cleverly integrating not only social media but also analytics and digital services. And, with the support of its high-performance supply chain, it delivers on its brand promise to outrun the competition.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  albularider 

Title image by albularider