A shift: Women enter the game and succeed

In 1993, Nike managers expanded their marketing strategy to focus on growing audiences, such as women. In conjunction with New York Based Conde Nat Publications Nike has created in store events, called “Dialogue” that has taken place in major retail outlets across the country. “Dialogue” events include fashion shows of Nike sports apparel and feature motivational speakers such as biathlon champion Liz Downing and marathon runner Priscilla Welsh, These endeavors are designed to further increase Nike sales to women, which had already increased 25 percent in 1990 and 1991 and 28 percent in 1992.

Target marketing to women reflects the Nike managers’ understanding that the marketplace is changing and that they must rethink and expand their strategies. According to Nancy Woodhull, president of Nancy Woodhull & Associates, a Washington, DC based company that specializes in helping organization understand women consumers. These campaigns [such as Nike’s] work because you have to bond with women on an emotional level, no matter what type of product you are selling or what type of program you decide to launch.

The decision to focus on women was not made haphazardly. Getting support for this strategy took a lot of effort, particularly on the part of then women’s marketing director Kate Bednarski, who was part of a team working to increase Nike’s share of the women’s athletic shoe market. Some managers were concerned that such a move might cannibalize sales in the men’s market. According to Bednarski, many seemed to fear that growing the women’s business would somehow undermine the company’s image and decrease its appeal to men.

Once Nike was convinced that a viable market was available through the women’s team set to work. Through long hours of brainstorming, the team eventually arrived at a series of ads featuring women as powerful, capable people. They address the issue of what it feels like always to be told that you can’t do something simply because you’re a woman, said Bedbnarski.

The immediate response within the company was not particularly favorable. However, the advertising team convinced management that considering the low initial investment, the campaign was worth at least trying out. The campaign represented a departure from Nike’s successful strategy of linking products with stars like Michael Jordan. Through persistence and creativity, however, Bednarski and her team were able to convince her supervisors to take a chance.

The women’s marketing and advertising team, their supervisors and their “competitors” within Nike’s organization are all making decisions in the context of each other’s making decisions. BY game theory, the decision to proceed with Dialogue is the joint result of their individual decisions. At the same time, this resulting decision is being played out in a world where forces of turbulence are at work. Jordan’s retirement is one manifestation. By chaos theory, Nike managers must see themselves as adapting and adapting some more. As they move from what looks relatively stable Air Jordan and now Dialogue to what looks relatively unstable life after Air Jordans they do well to understand their own satisficing, heuristics, and biases. That is what modern decision making has become.

Businesses are going global, it is not just long hours at the workplace anymore. Though communication, through advance technology tools such as laptop, Blackberry handsets have reduced ‘workplace hours’, the new challenge is managing time away from home when on an overseas assignments. Mentoring is the best way to motivate and encourage young woman managers to reach their full potential and help them through the challenges of balancing a demanding career and a family.