Nike CEO: Embrace digital transformation with vigour and end-to-end CX thinking

Chief executive of iconic sports brand shares latest digital innovations during the COVID-19 crisis and his thinking on how to better harness digital

The companies winning the consumer race are the ones proactively engaging in digital transformation with aggressiveness, vigour, rigour and a commitment to continuous improvement.

That’s the view of Nike CEO, John Donahoe, who spoke at this week’s Twilio Signal event on the COVID-19’s acceleration of digital engagement, and how the iconic sports brand is responding in kind.

While Nike has clearly invested in digital for years, rapid acceleration of digital during the crisis has made it vital keep innovating. One key area has been in commerce.

“We have been on a path where our digital channels would be roughly 30 per cent of all business by 2023. Then in March, we closed 100 per cent of our retail stores globally and digital became our ‘100 per cent open for business, business’,” Donahoe said. “All of a sudden, it was the only way we were connecting with consumers. We saw more and more consumers engaging with our digital commerce, through to our Sneakers mobile app, plus all of our activity apps.”

At the same time, with 35,000 retail store employees suddenly stuck at home, digital platforms stepped centre stage in order to keep Nike’s frontline staff connected to consumers. To do this, Nike built an app on top of the Twilio’s communications platform so that if a consumer shopping on its mobile app had a question about a product, it would immediately be sent via text to retail store employees at home to answer.  

“Our staff loved the fact that even though stores closed, they could help our digital customers by providing insights, advice and education,” Donahoe said. “This again allowed us to stay connected with our consumers.”

Even as physical retail is back open, digital continues to grow and Nike’s ‘store athletes’ continue to serve not only consumers in-store, but those digital consumers, Donahoe said.

“Every organisation is embracing digital transformation – we have no choice. It’s about how to digitally engage with consumers, employees, and use digital technologies to drive greater levels of efficiency to invest more in consumers and employees,” he continued. “That’s intimidating and hard.”

Yet Donahoe advised brands not to get too intimated by the technology and instead see it as the enabling factor. He recommended referring to end-to-end customer experience for how to employ digital in a way that will help your brand succeed.

“Look at the entire experience your consumer has. Part of that is direct engagement with products, but a lot is a step before and after that product engagement,” Donahoe said. “Look at digital as an opportunity to transform that experience end-to-end. Prioritisation should be not just in what you do around your direct product, but how you serve it, provide help and support, how you get products and services in the consideration set.

“Look at full end-to-end, then prioritise areas where digital tech and platforms can make the biggest impact in improving consumer experience.”

Donahoe said the other key to digital is to remember it’s a marathon. “You are never there – as we say internally, there is no finish line,” he said.

“Our digital channels are doing very well yet I look at it and say there is so much opportunity to get better. Then companies winning are the ones engaging in that digital transformation journey and do it with real aggressiveness, vigour and rigour, and accept it’s not going to happen overnight. And they are the ones that have commitment and resilience to stay with it.”

According to Twilio’s fresh research across 2500 senior global leaders, 97 per cent report the COVID-19 pandemic has sped up digital transformation and plans by six years on average. And 95 per cent are seeking new ways of engaging customers off the back of the COVID-19 crisis.

Twilio co-founder and CEO, Jeff Lawson, cited three major emerging trends in digital acceleration as a result. The first is that all types of business models are moving from physical to digital.

“This trend has been happening for 20 years but it’s massively accelerated in year of lockdown, social distancing and shutdowns,” he said.

A second trend is further modernisation of the contact centre from on-premise to cloud, fuelled by the urgency to keep employees safe and to support new channels like messaging, Lawson. Thirdly, the company reported more organisations taking advantage of opportunities created by new agile workforce.

“Now we’re all digitally connected, we can reimagine front-line customer engagement,” Lawson added. “These three trends are setting up businesses for an even more of a digital future.”

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