Nike & Canlis: The Power of Brand Agility in Times of Uncertainty

As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced nonessential businesses nationwide to close some or all of their services, many have found their worlds upended nearly overnight. From Main Street shops to big chains, brands have had to pivot their business models to survive—but it’s been harder for some sectors than others.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, retail—the nation’s largest private-sector employer with over 50 million employees—will be among the sectors hit the hardest. This is especially true for stores selling “wants, not needs,” like apparel. The food industry is another sector imperiled by closures—particularly full-service restaurants that had to shut down dine-in services. 

As the struggle to stay afloat persists in these sectors of the economy, some brands have risen above the challenges to reinvent their business approaches practically from the ground up. Nike and Canlis are great examples of this. In this article, we’ll explore how these two brands pivoted with agility to support not just their business, but their communities and consumers’ needs, too.  

Nike Tapped into Consumer Needs During a Crisis 

The global fashion industry is experiencing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic at significant scale. Couture labels missed their usual Met Gala publicity. The J. Crew Group filed for bankruptcy due to lost in-store sales. Suppliers and manufacturers worldwide—especially in developing countries—face canceled orders and devastating loss of income.  

As the industry has had to reimagine its business practices, there has been an opportunity to shift toward more sustainable and resilient strategies. Many apparel brands have even taken on the responsibility of protecting the consumers they depend on by promoting public health measures. Nike’s approach stands out across the industry.  

Nike is known for having its finger on the pulse of what its audiences want. This has been a boon to them as they’ve shifted to meet consumer needs during the pandemic. Alongside a drive to sell its products with discount codes and product launches, Nike put the consumer experience front and center to develop an enhanced holistic approach to the public health response. The brand also adjusted to meet its stakeholder needs. 

Nike’s #PlayInside campaign meets consumer needs 

Nike’s consumers need to feel healthy, in control, entertained, and part of the solution. In response, Nike launched its #PlayInside campaign. #PlayInside supports two public health initiatives: encouraging all nonessential individuals to help flatten the curve of the virus by staying home, and helping them stay active inside to maintain both physical and mental well-being.  

The campaign taps celebrity athletes to spread the message that you can still have fun, stay in shape, and help keep communities healthy from inside via earned, owned, and paid media. Nike also increased its content marketing efforts to provide resources that promote the lifestyle the brand is built on. These resources include mental health tools and free workouts from master trainers for beginners, athletes, and the family. They are available on the Nike App, the Nike Training Club app, and the Nike Running Club app.  

Nike’s three-pronged approach helps stakeholders be good corporate citizens 

Nike’s stakeholders want and need to be responsible (socially and operationally), resilient, and innovative. To meet these needs, Nike has taken a three-pronged approach by supporting healthcare workers, global and local organizations, and its own suppliers.  

Nike puts its support for healthcare workers front and center through both earned and owned media tactics. They have outlined how the brand is leveraging its manufacturing facilities, product teams, and networks to develop and donate personal protective equipment (PPE) for local medical institutions across the U.S. The brand is also donating shoes and clothing to healthcare workers to keep them going during their tireless hours of service. Additionally, Nike has emphasized its commitment to pay suppliers in full for finished products developed by suppliers globally. 

Canlis Transformed from Fine Dining to Community Culinary Hub 

In the fine dining world, the relaxing environment and superb service is almost as much a part of guests’ experiences as enjoying dishes from renowned chefs. So what’s a James Beard Nominee, “jacket only” fine dining restaurant to do when dine-in services get suspended? Seattle’s Canlis has shown us all how it’s done. 

Canlis, a third-generation Seattle tradition with an elegant dining room overlooking Seattle’s Lake Union, completed an almost overnight transformation in response to COVID-19. In the middle of March, owners and brothers Mark and Brian Canlis anticipated the need to become something different for regular patrons given the new and unknown environment. Armed only with the knowledge that filling a dining room would not be an option for the next several months, the brothers quickly reimagined this important family heirloom.  

They transformed their establishment into several new businesses that would fit the updated needs of their established Seattle clientele under these unusual circumstances. They reinvented Canlis into a meal delivery service, a casual bagel shop, and a “drive-thru” selling burgers, veggie melts, and their famous Canlis salads. They even enlisted Tock, the site that normally handles their reservations, to fill a new role as their delivery service.  

The transformation included updated brand looks and a new website introducing the updated services transformation to their legacy clientele through the following introduction:  

In early March, we shut down our dining room. Fine dining is not what Seattle needs right now. Instead, we’re bringing the food to you. We’ve got this, Seattle.

In addition to offering family meals, customers can purchase community support agriculture boxes, cocktail kits and bottles of wine, and livestream the restaurant’s dining room music for the full Canlis experience at home. They can also join a virtual Bingo night or buy merchandise at the “general store” to support the charity, Big Table.   

Big Table offers financial support to service industry employees who have lost their jobs as a result of closures due to the pandemic. Using the hashtag #WeGotThisSeattle, they’ve also created a series of branded Instagram stories dedicated to their COVID-19-related transformation.  

Nike and Canlis both illustrate the power behind making quick shifts to remain relevant and useful to consumers’ immediate needs—while helping to keep the business viable. Both brands took holistic, human-centered approaches to the pandemic and economic crisis, stretching beyond a concern for profitability to ensure they give consumers what they need—all while staying true to the brands’ missions.  

Both brands have also used social media to engage their audiences with content that feels emotionally supportive during uncertain times. Nike and Canlis are just two of many businesses leading by example. Although we recognize it requires access to significant resources to implement pivots like these, the core lessons can be applied to businesses both large and small: shift your services to match your consumers’ needs, and you can both add value during a crisis and reap the benefits of a stronger customer base post-crisis.  

Is there another brand you think is doing a great job shifting its services and messaging in response to COVID-19? Tell us about them on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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