Why Nike has finally hired a chief digital officer

Nike has named its first digital officer, quickening efforts to adopt a digital mindset at the heart of the brand for the first time.

Head of global strategy and development Adam Sussman takes on a role that will see him run all products and services across Nike.com, Nike+ as well the brand's other digital platforms. He reports to president of the Nike brand Trevor Edwards, who said the hire is “just the beginning” for what he promised will be a “big year for the world of Nike digital".

To most casual observers, Nike sits at the forefront of digital innovation, certainly among its peers. But scratch at the perfectly stitched surface and its clear to see why it’s so important the business finally appointed a chief digital director.

Firstly, the threats – and there are many. Brands such as Under Armour in the US are playing Nike at their own game and making gains quickly. Under Armour has been ploughing serious funds into the wearable space, an area Nike exited in 2014 having pioneered years before the marketed had exploded. There’s also competition from an industry rapidly adapting to the impending end of the manufacturing economy and the rise of the network one. Nike is reinventing itself as a service design company rather than apparel brand, which in will take it into markets where consumer, weaned on services such as Uber and Airbnb, expect more.

“There are big opportunities too,” claimed Dom Waghorn, customer experience director at digital agency Syzygy.

"It’s an Olympic year, Nike’s traditional time in the sun, while their long-held plans to further integrate their on and offline stores and build out their mobile offering promise to incrementally improve the purchase experience," he continued.

"So Nike need their MVP chief digital officer, but it’s questionable how long for. As a generation of digital natives reach exec positions, the idea of segmenting ‘digital’ could seem as retro as a pair of classic Air Force 1s. But in the meantime, Nike have a game to win."

Sussman reports to president of the Nike brand Trevor Edwards, who said the hire is “just the beginning” for what he promised will be a “big year for the world of Nike digital".

“Adam’s wealth of experience in digital, consumer technology and strategy leadership makes him the perfect person to tackle tomorrow’s challenges today,” Edwards added. “Adam is just as passionate about solving a problem for one athlete as he is introducing that innovation to a global community.

Sussman joined Nike in 2014 from Zynga where he was senior vice president of global publishing. Prior to that, the digital veteran has held senior positions at Disney, EA Mobile and video game studio Take Two Interactive.

With a strategy in place that touches many parts of its business, Nike is expanding how it uses digital. The sportswear manufacturer currently makes just over a billion dollars annually through its ecommerce channels and expects upcoming investments over the next four years to push it to $7bn. Given China’s emergence as one of the most connected markets, a robust digital strategy could turn it into a key driver for Nike’s future revenues as it became the fastest growing region for the business in the six months to last November.