Recently I heard Greg Hoffman, VP, Global Brand Creative & Marketing Innovation at Nike speak at the Walker Art Center’s annual lecture series: Insights. As you can imagine it was an inspiring evening, oozing ideas and creativity.  I walked away reflecting on how brands, no matter their size, face a similar problem: how to stay engaged with their audience in a rapidly changing marketplace. Greg shared many insights and examples of Nike’s approach to branding and marketing.  As a designer, here are the three that stuck with me most: story is foundational, content creation is changing and the key to success is authentic connection.

Greg reminded us that it’s easy to get caught up in the latest technology and trends, but a strong foundation of storytelling remains essential. Start with a story, and then use technology to amplify your message. If the order gets swapped, brands can end up spending a lot of money, time and energy on something that may not engage the right audience.

Greg also talked about redefining the idea of premium content. Premium content used to mean something shiny, sleek and packaged just so, but that doesn’t always connect today. In a fast-paced world where attention spans continue to decrease, audiences demand content on their terms: “I get what I want, when I want it, and its real.” This means something like a high-production film isn’t always the right solution – easy iPhone videos offer a faster, more authentic communication solution.

Finally, though Nike is affiliated with a host of razzle dazzle celebrities on a global scale, making the right connection, with the right audience at the right time is where Nike wins. Greg summed it up in a simple word choice – communication. He never talked about “marketing” or “advertising” or a “campaign” – he put everything in terms of “communication.” This is a distinctive way to think and talk about creative delivery. It shifts the perspective away from “how does this look?” to “what does this say?”

Ultimately designers need to remember that we create in order to deliver a message. We’re visual communicators. The designers at Beehive are thinking about our roles shifting from design toward visual communication. We’re partnering more closely with our account teams, and we’re meeting the marketplace need for brands to be channel agnostic. This approach gives us richer, more engaging strategies that connect with audiences using stories to share messages that inspires action.