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Wrapping Your Mind Around Brand Architecture – A Nike Case Study

Updated: Jan 2

It’s alright to be Goliath, but always act like David. ―Phil Knight

Building a brand is a complex and challenging endeavor, but managing a brand's structure and continuity with multiple sub-brands can be even more daunting.

That's where understanding brand architecture comes in. At its core, brand architecture refers to the relationship between a parent brand and its sub-brands, and how each sub-brand fits into the overall brand strategy.

In today's highly competitive business landscape, it's not enough to simply have a strong parent brand. To achieve sustained success, companies must develop a brand architecture strategy that supports the parent brand's macro vision while also differentiating each sub-brand and targeting specific customer segments.

Nike, one of the world's most recognizable brands, is a perfect example of effective brand architecture. Their vision statement, "To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world," serves as the ultimate macro brand mission.

By examining Nike's sub-brands, such as Nike SB, Jordan, Nike Free, Nike Golf, Converse, Hurley, and NikeLab, we can see how each sub-brand has a unique identity that resonates with its core customer while still supporting the parent brand's overall vision.

Through this article, we will dive deeper into Nike's brand architecture and explore how the company's sub-brands differ from one another while still contributing to the overarching brand strategy. We'll also discuss the history, target audiences, product offerings, brand partnerships, market performance, innovation, global reach, brand loyalty, and the future outlook for each sub-brand within Nike's vast portfolio (including a look into the cultural phenomena surrounding the Air Force 1).

Nike: The Parent Brand

Nike, Inc. is a global giant in the athletic footwear, apparel, and equipment industry. Founded in 1964 as Blue Ribbon Sports by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight, the company officially became Nike, Inc. in 1971. From its humble beginnings, Nike has evolved into a household name and an emblem of sporting excellence.

Brand Identity

Nike's brand identity is built on a foundation of inspiration and innovation. Its mission is to bring these qualities to every athlete in the world, emphasizing that everyone, no matter their skill level, is an athlete. This inclusive approach has been a driving force behind the brand's global appeal.

Brand Strategy

Nike's brand strategy revolves around delivering cutting-edge performance products, leveraging athlete endorsements, and continuously innovating in design and technology. This approach has enabled Nike to maintain its leadership position and strong brand recognition for decades.

Nike Sub-Brands: A Comprehensive Analysis


Nike SB is a sub-brand of Nike that was launched in 2002, and it stands for Skateboarding.

Nike SB is a great example of how a brand can effectively segment its products to cater to different consumers' needs.

With a unique vibe that distinguishes it from the other sub-brands such as Air Jordan and Nike Free. Free-living and alternative. It embodies the culture of west coast skateboard life and the youth that support it.

The brand has everything from footwear, clothing, a signature line, accessories and even a kids line that speaks to the skateboard culture.

Nike SB has a loyal following that identifies with its free-living and alternative lifestyle. They even have their social media platforms that feature athletes within this arena, the fashion, and the culture that skateboarding has come to embody.

What ties Nike SB back to its parent brand is the dynamic nature of its content that shouts innovation.

Despite the brand targeting a different market segment, it still transmits that same Nike energy.

This approach allows Nike to diversify its offerings while maintaining a consistent brand image across its sub-brands. By doing so, Nike can appeal to different consumer groups without diluting its brand equity.

Read More About Brand Innovation


The Jordan brand is an iconic name that is synonymous with high-fashion athleisure and performance apparel.

This brand has evolved over the years, starting with a gamble taken by Sunny Vicaro in the 1980s when he allocated Nike's entire $2 million endorsement budget on the back of Michael Jordan.

As we all know, Michael Jordan is a legendary figure and one of the most influential athletes in the world. He has built a brand that is renowned for its quality, style, and performance.

The Jordan products are not just clothing or shoes, they are considered art within their circles and attract top athletes and music producers.

Unlike Nike SB, the Jordan brand has a more sophisticated and upscale appeal, attracting consumers who appreciate high-end fashion and sportswear. But despite the difference in the target audience, the brand continues to produce innovative products that appeal to both the fashion-conscious and performance-driven.

Nike has done such a good job with their branding that many customers that identify with more than one of its sub-brands likely feel a higher level of affinity towards the brand as a whole.

The success of the Jordan brand is a testament to this strategy, as it has become one of the world's most valuable brands.


Within Nike’s overall brand architecture, they also have the Nike Free brand.

Aimed towards the runners of the world, this brand and product line focuses on a very different segment than Nike SB or Jordan.

With a spirit built around natural movement and how it relates to running and training, the campaigns they run focus on freedom and functionality for athletes.

As you can tell, there is more of a focus on performance and training in the Nike Free universe.

Nike's commitment to performance is reflected in the design and production of their footwear. The company is supplied by 122 footwear factories located in 12 countries, each dedicated to delivering high-quality products that meet the needs of athletes worldwide.

Nike Free is no exception, with shoes that are designed to provide the support, comfort, and natural movement needed for runners to perform at their best.

Whether you're a professional athlete, an aspiring runner, or someone who values comfort and performance in their athletic footwear, Nike Free offers a unique brand experience that is focused on delivering innovative products designed to meet the needs of runners worldwide.


Another sub-brand that is important to understand in Nike’s brand architecture is NikeLab. NikeLab is an exclusive brand that focuses on innovation and design.

It is a collaboration between Nike and leading designers, stylists, and artists from around the world, who work together to create limited-edition products that are available in select locations around the world.

NikeLab products are designed with premium materials and are often handcrafted to ensure the highest level of quality.

The brand is known for its unique and experimental designs, often exploring new ways to incorporate technology into fashion and performance wear.

NikeLab has collaborated with a range of designers and artists, including Riccardo Tisci, Virgil Abloh, and Jun Takahashi.

One of their most successful collaborations was with the Italian luxury fashion brand Stone Island, which resulted in a collection of highly sought-after garments that incorporated advanced fabrics and construction techniques.

NikeLab products are not widely available, and the brand maintains an air of exclusivity around its releases. This approach has helped to create a strong following among sneaker enthusiasts and fashion-forward consumers who value limited edition products and cutting-edge design.


Established in 1998, Nike Golf initially aimed to cater to golf enthusiasts by offering golf clubs, golf balls, footwear, and apparel designed to enhance performance on the golf course.

Nike Golf's initial offerings included clubs, golf balls, footwear, and apparel, combining style and performance for golfers at various skill levels.

Similar to other Nike sub-brands, Nike Golf partnered with top professional golfers to showcase its commitment to excellence in the sport. Most notably the GOAT himself, Tiger Woods.

Nike Golf introduced groundbreaking golf technology, such as the Vapor Fly driver and RZN golf balls, demonstrating its dedication to advancing the game.

However, Nike Golf later shifted its focus solely to golf apparel and footwear, aligning more closely with its core strengths in sports apparel and ensuring a consistent brand image. Today, it continues to offer stylish, high-performance golfing options for enthusiasts worldwide.


Converse, acquired by Nike in 2003, has a rich heritage in sneaker culture, dating back to 1908. It's known for iconic designs like the Chuck Taylor All Star.

Converse appeals to a broad audience, spanning generations. Its classic sneakers are worn by individuals of all ages, from teenagers to adults. Converse offers a wide range of sneakers, apparel, and accessories, with a focus on classic and timeless designs.

Converse holds a special place in pop culture, symbolizing rebellion, self-expression, and artistic creativity. While Converse maintains its classic appeal, it has also adapted to modern trends, collaborating with artists and designers to create unique collections.


Hurley, acquired by Nike in 2002, is deeply rooted in surf and skate culture. It was founded by Bob Hurley, a passionate surfer and entrepreneur.

Hurley's target audience includes surfers, skaters, and those who embrace the surf and skate lifestyle. It caters to individuals who value both performance and style.

Product Range: Hurley offers a range of surfwear, swimwear, apparel, and accessories designed for active lifestyles.

Like other Nike sub-brands, Hurley collaborates with athletes and influencers who embody the brand's ethos.

Hurley has taken steps toward sustainability, launching products like Phantom Boardshorts made from recycled materials.

Air Force 1: Cultural Icon of Sneaker Fashion

No comprehensive study of Nike's brand architecture would be complete without mentioning the Air Force 1. This iconic sneaker, first introduced in 1982, has transcended its role as athletic footwear to become a cultural phenomenon.

The Air Force 1, often referred to simply as the AF1, is known for its timeless design and versatility. It has found a place in the wardrobes of athletes, musicians, streetwear enthusiasts, and fashion icons alike.

The sneaker's sleek silhouette and distinctive features have made it a canvas for countless collaborations and customizations, further solidifying its status as a cultural icon.

In urban and streetwear culture, the Air Force 1 holds a special place. It has been featured in songs, films, and art, becoming a symbol of self-expression and style.

Nike has continuously reinvented the Air Force 1, releasing new colorways, materials, and limited-edition versions to keep it fresh and appealing to a diverse audience.

Global Expansion Strategies

Nike's global expansion strategies vary by sub-brand, reflecting the distinct needs and preferences of different markets. While some sub-brands have a more widespread international presence, others maintain exclusivity in select locations.

Innovation at the Heart of Nike's Brand Architecture

Innovation has been a cornerstone of Nike's brand strategy from its inception. This commitment to pushing the boundaries of design, technology, and sustainability extends to all its sub-brands.

Technological Advancements

Nike has been at the forefront of technological advancements in athletic apparel and footwear. Across its sub-brands, it has introduced groundbreaking technologies like Nike Air, Flyknit, React, and Dri-FIT, enhancing comfort, performance, and style.

Sustainable Initiatives

Nike has also prioritized sustainability across its brand architecture. Sub-brands like Nike Free and Hurley have launched products made from recycled materials, contributing to environmental conservation.

Emerging Technologies

Innovation extends beyond products to emerging technologies. Nike has embraced digital platforms, augmented reality, and data analytics to enhance the consumer experience and personalize product recommendations.

Brand Loyalty and Community Engagement

Nike's sub-brands foster brand loyalty through various initiatives, including loyalty programs, brand communities, and events. These efforts create a sense of belonging among consumers and enhance their connection to the brand.

Loyalty Programs

NikePlus, the brand's loyalty program, offers members exclusive access to products, early releases, and personalized recommendations. It incentivizes repeat purchases and engagement with the Nike ecosystem.

Brand Communities

Each sub-brand cultivates its own community of enthusiasts. Whether it's skateboarders embracing Nike SB, runners joining the Nike Run Club, or sneaker collectors following NikeLab collaborations, these communities strengthen brand loyalty.

Events and Collaborations

Nike regularly hosts events and collaborations that bring consumers closer to the brand. These include product launches, athlete meet-and-greets, and special releases that create excitement and engagement.

The Future Outlook for Nike's Brand Architecture

As Nike continues to evolve in a rapidly changing global landscape, several trends and developments are shaping the future of its brand architecture.

Sustainable Innovation

Sustainability will remain a key focus, with Nike striving to reduce its environmental footprint and create products that align with consumer values.

Digital Transformation

Nike will further embrace digital channels, leveraging data and technology to enhance the consumer experience and drive online sales.

Inclusivity and Diversity

The brand will continue to champion inclusivity and diversity, recognizing that the world of sports and athletics is rich with diverse talents and stories.

Emerging Markets

Nike will explore opportunities in emerging markets, targeting regions where there is potential for growth and market expansion.

Collaboration and Partnership

Collaborations with high-profile designers, athletes, and influencers will remain a core strategy, driving interest and innovation.


We've explored the rich history, diverse sub-brands, target audiences, product offerings, and innovative strategies that have propelled Nike to the forefront of the global athletic apparel and footwear industry.

Each sub-brand within the Nike family contributes to the brand's overarching mission of bringing inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.

As Nike continues to innovate, adapt, and expand its brand architecture, one thing remains constant: its commitment to excellence and its status as a symbol of athletic prowess and style. Whether you're a skateboarder looking for the perfect deck, a runner seeking natural movement, a golfer aiming for excellence, a fashion-forward individual embracing iconic sneakers, or a sneaker collector

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