Nike vs. Skechers: How to battle a brand titan

What does the Marketing 101 tell us about fighting titantic brands?

We have several options.

One is to to play the "size" card.  We use our smallness to be more nimble.  As trends in consumer taste and preference change, we change too…faster than the titan can. If we’re really lucky, we will catch one big trend, early, and ride it to market shared.  (Think Snapple.) 

Another option is to play the "intensive" card.  The titan is trying to be all things to all people.  We try to be one very particular thing for one particular niche.  

The last is to create a competitor so unprepossessing, unattractive, and dubious that no us takes you seriously…until it’s too late.

This appears to be the Skechers strategy.  I haven’t done a thorough search, but it looks like Skechers took the low road.  Product design, the advertising, naming, the product proposition, they all scream awkward and untutored.

Now, of course, this could be an expression of the limits of the Skecher team.  But it could be something craftier.  I mean, it’s almost as if Skechers is being deliberately gauche. 

What a good strategy.  This is the only way to take Nike on.  Talk about a formidable marketing team.  Yikes.  The chances of competing face to face, well, you’d have to get up pretty early in the morning.  Actually, you wouldn’t be allowed ever to go to bed.  No sleep ever.  And you’d still lose.

Not to get too "little grasshopper" about it, but the only way to take on Nike is to use their strength against them.  They expect the competition to look like them, to hold to the same standards, to exhibit the same formidable professionalism.  So when Skechers comes shambling into the arena in sweat pants and throwing around dubious fitness claims, the Nike people must have said, "Please."  It was like a Double A baseball team wandering into Wrigley Field.  Clueless was the perfect Trojan horse, the way to sneak into the market without setting off alarms.  

This is always the weakness of a formidable enemy.  Their self love prevents them from taking certain enemies seriously.  It’s said that one of the reasons the German mercenaries fighting the American revolutionaries lost the first few engagements was that they had a hard time taking seriously farmers wielding ancient weapons and pitch forks.  By the time they summoned their professionalism, the Americans had won just enough engagements to create the impression that they could take the whole thing.  (Which I believe they did. Check your own particulars.  I’m a Canadian.)

Again, I haven’t done the research.  I am just judging things from the externals only.  I mean Skechers stealing a market from Nike.  It’s like learning the Bridgeport Bluefish just gave the Yankees a whipping.  It seems not just unlikely.  I would have said it was statistically impossible.  But it is precisely when things are impossible that hidden assumptions give the cunning competitor a way in.


Townsend, Mike. 2010. “’Toning’ shoes gain traction.” MSNBC. September 6. (Accessed September 30, 2010).

1 thought on “Nike vs. Skechers: How to battle a brand titan

  1. Indy

    A (very) little history is worth injecting here: both companies are in the sneakers (or as we say over here, trainers) market – but they aren’t serving the same cultural segments:

    Nike – athlete’s shoes for athletes – began as a very male brand – emphasis on performance – became fashionable – but didn’t engage with the fashion side directly very much. Important note – they made huge efforts to expand their female audience after Reebok – but did so mostly as a brand producing athletic/activity shoes for women.

    Skechers – fashionable sneakers for women – colours – styles. Yes they sell a lot of shoes to women for aerobics/gym work – but the key is that any of their shoes can be worn elsewhere, without committing to an athletic identity.

    “Toning shoes” – fitness shoes for people who aren’t fitness freaks. Which company do you think is going to see this cultural trend first?

    There’s a certain element of history repeating here – Reebok’s rise in the early 80’s seemed to involve a similar disjunction between Nike and the culture of many women regarding fitness. There’s a couple of ways to view this – as a deficiency in the CCO setup there (Wieden by default?) – or as a conscious brand choice, not to lead in fitness for the female demographic that Tag just never reached.

    As a write, a quicker way to say it comes to mind:

    Nike is a sport brand – fitness has always been secondary for them.

    Skechers, like Reebok before them, looked at the lives of (primarily women) who were seeking fitness and tried to produce products that helped them do that.
    (At the same time as tapping into the fashion conscious nature of the demographic to sell them pairs in different colours and styles.)

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