B2B Brand Storytelling: Learning From Nike


August 23, 2016

by Carla Johnson

When it comes to consistently telling a brand story, few brands have the sustainable track record that Nike does.

From its inception in 1971 (previously known as Blue Ribbon Sports), founders Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman have been unwavering with Nike’s mission: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.

What defines and athlete?  Co-founder Bill Bowerman once said, “If you have a body, you are an athlete.”

Nike Mission

Nike sees sports as a universal language. It transcends cultures, borders and barriers. And that’s exactly how it approaches its storytelling.

The Nike story is based on a hero archetype. But instead of its audiences competing against outside forces, Nike knows who all of us battle – our inner self. The part of us that wants to sit on the couch instead of go run. The part of us that wants to hit the snooze button instead of hit the gym. It’s something that we can universally relate to and it hits a strong emotional pain point for us. Are we going to pursue our dreams?

That’s where the swoosh comes in – Just do it.

This is where Nike builds brand loyalty. We all have an excuse not to do something, but they make it plain and simple. Just do it. Even when you don’t feel like it. Even when you’re tired. Even when you don’t want to. Even when it’s hard. Just do it.

Then they infuse that ethos in story after story after story.

Nike released its latest video a few days ago. It’s the story of 86-year old Sister Madonna Buder. She has a body, so she’s an athlete. But in case you think it’s going to be a feel-good story about a grandma like character, you’ve missed Nike’s point about everyone’s an athlete. Sister Madonna is a triathlete. Actually, an Ironman triathlete. And she didn’t start competing until she was 65 years old.


It’s just another underscoring of Nike’s mission to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world…even if that athlete doesn’t meet our stereotype of what an athlete should look like.

Storytelling for B2B

What Nike has been able to create and sustain for decades is something that every B2B brand can learn from. Nike’s brand story continues to charm and delight year after year because…

  • It’s stays true to its roots. The words of the founds still echo in the messages that Nike shares inside and out. So can yours. Every company was started for a reason, and it’s the foundation of every company’s brand purpose. Do you know yours? Getting this right is foundational for everything else you do, from marketing to hiring to operations to R&D. Your company’s history is what led you to today and what should continue to inspire you going forward.
  • It has many ways to express it. The swoosh has been an icon since Caroline Davidson created the design in 1971. It represents Nike, the wing of the Greek Goddess of victory. From amateur athletes to professional ones, from stereotypically young and virile to the aged and unexpected, Nike brings its story alive across all generations and sports. When your brand story is true to who you are, creative ways to express it won’t come only from marketing. It will come from employees who believe it and have fresh ways to make it come alive. Whether that’s how to take care of a customer, thinking about new product develop or even how business is done. A great brand story has no limits on expression.
  • It’s emotional. The very essence of “everyone’s an athlete” is emotional. You don’t have to be a star on the court or the field to earn that label. It’s what you believe in your heart. What emotions does your audience struggle with? Fear? Angst? Frustration? Digging deep into what matters to customers is the only way you’ll develop empathy for them. And your marketing can never be emotionally driven unless you have empathy for your audience. B2B doesn’t have to be intellectually and sterile. Believe it or not, B2B buyers are people, too. And they have emotions just like everyone else. Acknowledge that.
  • It’s unexpected. And 86-year old nun who’s an Ironman athlete…you’ve got to be kidding me? People love the unexpected. And you should, too. Because it’s by showing up in unexpected ways that you’ll cut through the attention clutter and show up differently from everyone else your audience hears from every day. And that is absolutely delightful.
  • It’s sustainable. Nike started down this path in 1974 and they’re still at it decades later. They haven’t done anything that B2B brands can’t do, but they’re doing a lot that B2B brands choose not to do. That means committing to tell the story day-in and day-out, year after year. It’s this consistency and rigor over time that helps B2B brands connect with audiences during long, complex buying processes.

As Nike says, life isn’t about finding your limits. It’s about realizing you have none.

Begin your story here.

Are you interested in creating a culture of storytelling in your business? Contact me and let’s talk about how we can help. Or follow me on LinkedIn, and  Twitter, and if you like what you see, Subscribe here for regular updates.

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.