The Alleghany Brand – Part 1

Nike has one of the world’s most recognized commercial brands.  The company was founded in 1971 by University of Oregon track and field coach, Bill Bowerman, and one of his runners, Phil Knight.  Coach Bowerman envisioned a light weight shoe that would increase a runner’s grip on the track which would lead to faster times.  Using his wife’s waffle iron, Bowerman poured the prototype soles for the innovative track shoes.  The company was started with $1200 in the bank.

Nike’s brand stems from the founders’ approach.  They valued risk taking, they rebelled against conventional wisdom and design, and they produced a shoe that was “edgy.”  They took those characteristics and coined the term, “Just Do It.”

But what does that phrase really mean?

To reinforce that brand, Nike began a marketing campaign in 1988 that strengthened the notion that the company stood for risk, rebellion and living on the edge.  The first commercial showed an 80 year-old man running across the Golden Gate Bridge.  “Just Do It” began to make sense.

Over the next 25 years, the brand was solidified with athletes such as Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, Andre Agassi, LeBron James, and Tiger Woods.  Musicians such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and OutKast provided soundtracks for the commercials.  Actors Dennis Hopper and Spike Lee showed up in the ads.  And in one famous commercial, an overweight teen hammered home the message that we are all capable of greatness.  The famous – the outrageous – the common seeking to do the uncommon.  Risk-taking rebels living on the edge – Just Do It.

And now, almost 30 years later, we don’t even have to hear those words.  The Nike swoosh has come to symbolize the term and when we see that swoosh on a cap or t-shirt we know exactly what it means.  In fact, when we wear that clothing we begin to feel like risk-takers and rebels.  We “feel” that we are in the game – that we can be great.

Can we apply that same concept to Alleghany County?

A question I often ask people who live in our community is “Why do you live here?”  Whether it someone whose roots run deep or someone who has been recently transplanted, virtually everyone is in our county by choice.  They could live anywhere, so why here?

While we may give many different responses to that question, those answers can be distilled down to a few basic values.  Those values are our brand.  I believe we can sum up those values up in a few words or a short phrase. That phrase or even a symbol can then communicate what means to live, work, and do business in our community.

But, can we market that brand in a way that creates economic vitally for our county and generates jobs?

The answer to those questions is a definite yes.  But it will take work, time, and collaboration throughout the community.  We have to deliver a consistent message that inspires people to want to open businesses, buy homes, visit, and invest in our county.  We have to become a destination of choice.   We have to identify and communicate what sets us apart from every other mountain community in North Carolina and Appalachia.

Nike has spent 25 years building its brand into what it is today.  It’s time for us to get off the sidelines, get in the game, take the long view, and just do it.


In Part 2 of this series, we will take a look at the internal communication component of branding.