Erin Patton Interview - Original Architect and Director of Product & Marketing, Jordan Brand

Joined Feb 15, 2000
[h1]The Mastermind: Erin Patton Interview Part1[/h1]

Like the conductor of an orchestra, Erin Patton has been in charge of arranging the proper beat, dynamic, and tempo for numerous brands, mostnotably as Nike's lead architect in the creation of the Jordan Brand, in 1997, and directing the launch of Stephon Marbury's Starburybrand, in 2006. Patton currently serves as Adjunct Professor of Sports Marketing in the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, is thePrincipal of his own brand management firm, and has written a just-released book, Under the Influence: Tracing the Hip-Hop Generation's Impact on Brands, Sports, & Pop Culture, detailing by first-handexperience the workings of the athletic footwear industry and the inner workings of a marketing mastermind.

Project Bluefoot: Most people in the footwear world know you as the original brand architect for Jordan Brand. Can youtell us how you got into that position?

Erin Patton: I would love to say it was my own unique design but it was really a matter of being in theright place at the right time. And being prepared and qualified to begin to engineer a process that had evolved more than 10 years prior with the Air Jordanand what it represented within basketball and popular culture. And for me, having been one of those Alpha-early adopters that as a teen, growing up inPittsburgh in the inner city in the 80s, the mid-80s in particular, when I was in high school when the first Jordans were released, you know, it wasrevolutionary. And of course, as consumers at that point looking to identify with certain brands and certain products that would validate our status and giveus an opportunity to turn ourselves into a canvas and express ourselves through fashion.

The Air Jordan, you know, was the badge at that particular time. And so I came of age with the Air Jordan phenomenon, being influenced by it, and soas I continued in my journey coming from that place and coming from an urban environment where the Jordan product was held in an even higher regard, then,perhaps, in other places, when I came into Nike I brought with me an understanding of the product and how it was positioned and even its unique attributesrelative to it being a fashion-first, performance-second, you know, things that didn't necessarily register with Nike.

Clearly, Nike understood that Jordan gave a lot of creative license to do things from a styling standpoint and with the aesthetics of the shoe to push theenvelope a little bit. But I think I was able to help accelerate the pace at which we were able to take the insights and understanding from the consumer andtheir style and their preferences and their attributes and build that into product and also in the way we articulated the brand positioning.

So the fact that I came into Nike at a time where the company was looking to carve out a separate business for Michael, I brought with me the uniqueunderstanding of not just the urban market, but overall, had some ideas and some creativity and just kind of chompin at the bit to get my hands on that kind ofbrand and product and ran with it.

The launch of Brand Jordan, inside Niketown New York, 1997. (From left: Ahmad Rashad, Erin Patton, Tinker Hatfield, Michael Jordan)

PBF: At that particular time, around '96-'97, was Michael Jordan talking more about trying to separate or segmentoff into his own brand or his own division? Or where within the company was it decided that all of a sudden this was the point where you wanted to branch outinto a larger Jordan Brand?

EP: I believe it was mutual as Michael was looking beyond his playing days and starting to think about longevity for thebrand. I think he was certainly wanting to sort of spread his wings a little bit and create more opportunity for other athletes. You have to remember theJordan product and the Air Jordan, you know, every - certainly all the elite amateur players to college level and in many cases even in the NBA, you know theywere all rocking the Jordan or they'd come up to him and say "Hey, tell your Nike folks to send me those!"

You know, when you're watching the NBA, on NBC or wherever and you see cats talking to Michael, they weren't just talking about the game - they weretalking about getting on the list to get the new J's when they came out. So he had a strong desire to also bring some other people into the franchise, andcertainly for Nike's strategic purposes, the folks within the Basketball category and some very smart, bright people like Peter Ruppe,David Bond who was the Category Business Director of Nike Basketball, certainly Mark Parker, who obviously rose to now bePresident over there, Tinker Hatfield as well on the creative side and design obviously, and [Howard] "H" Whiteand, you know, the real strong brain trust within footwear realized it reached a point where it made sense to figure out a way to differentiate Jordan andseparate it from Nike even though they were sort of inextricably linked in many cases between Jordan and Nike but there was also a positive inherent separationbetween the two and I think that became clearly understood and as we were looking at the overall Basketball category and Nike Basketball obviously enjoyed asignificant market share - at that particular point you had Penny and Barkley and everyone inbetween in the Nike Basketball category, so the thought was"How do we grow the pie?"

So the "Jordan Brand" created a great value proposition for consumers who certainly wanted to have the very best in terms of technology andeverything else, but also the aesthetic that came with the Jordan brand and seeing how we could effectively take that and roll it out and create somearchitecture around it within different categories, and so we focused on Team and brought in some of the colleges like Cincinnati, St. John's, NorthCarolina A&T, and on the professional level, carved it out with the Jumpman Pro, and then eventually a couple products for guys like Eddie Jones and VinBaker, being two of the guys that first came into the fold. So that was really from a strategic standpoint, especially with Michael preparing to transitionfrom the sport and knowing what the opportunity was, we wanted to make sure that we created a strong brand architecture that would be sustainable over the longhaul.

PBF: On the Jumpman Pro, the Eddie Jones shoe, the Vin Baker shoe, who designed those?

EP: The Jumpman Pro was designed by Tinker Hatfield and his crew. There was the Jumpman Pro Quick and the Jumpman ProStrong. So, the Quick was Eddie Jones and the Strong was for Vin Baker and those came out of the [Innovation] Kitchen with Tinker being involved, as well asthe Jordan Team. Tinker had a group of designers over there that was working with him to bring some of those products to market.

The first women's Jordan shoe that we did was actually designed by Wilson Smith who was over in Nike Tennis, and so Wilson came over anddid that particular shoe. And Chamique Holdsclaw was about to come out and we were really starting to figure out how to carve out some women's business soWilson came in and designed that. And that was similar on the design side - a lot of the designers were interested in being able to get involved in designingon the Jordan product.

PBF: In your newbook
, you mentioned you were carving out this original business plan for Jordan Brand and you'd lobby heavily within thecompany to get resources and support. What was the initial pushback within Nike from the people showing resistance to the idea?

EP: It was certainly, you know, based on business instincts where some felt that we could potentially cannibalize withinthe Basketball category for one thing. So some of it was real thoughtful and deliberate debate that went on. Clearly, everyone understood the opportunity andcertainly recognized that there did exist a desire for consumers to gravitate to products other than the Air Jordan.

There were some who questioned if after [Michael] walked away, when we wasn't on Sportcenter every night or hitting game-winning shots and all those kindsof things, would the product be as relevant when he was no longer playing. There were certainly a few in the room that shared that. But by and large, everyonefelt that it made sense to do it, it was just how to do it.

And what did it mean for Nike…you have to realize that across the organization that's a pretty strong ripple effect if you think about what that means forthe sales guys who traditionally carried a Jordan in their sales bag as sort of their trump card, as they're out there interfacing with their customers.For the advertising agency - what does that mean for a different approach for advertising. And merchandising. I mean, no matter where you turned, it wassomething that was a paradigm shift, and whenever you shift a paradigm, there's going to be some who are on the front of that paradigm shift and there aresome who will be behind it.

But really we were just focused on trying to get folks to zoom out. Because sometimes, and not just at Nike, but at any corporation, you can get so close towhat you're doing that you can't take the time to kind of zoom out and look at the full landscape and make quality strategic decisions becauseyou're so focused on what's right in front of you. And a lot of times that's where companies trip because they don't see the bigger picture.It's purely a function of comfort level in some cases, and whenever you're trying to bring forth new ideas, new innovations, it's something thatdoes require lobbying, shaking hands, kissing babies.

We had a strong group of leaders within the organization who committed to it and certainly Michael was very vocal in terms of what he wanted to see happen andwhat he believed could happen. And of course he understood that and I understood that, especially looking at different points and being able to attack incertain areas like the "Kill Zone" in pricing, below $100, and certain things that we'd be able to do. But again, strategically that makes sensefor Jordan, but if you talk about bringing a Jordan product into a Kill Zone price point, what does that do to the other product?

So, some of the anxiety was based on numbers, based on facts, and some of the unknown. We were able to articulate this brand position through the business planand through our various meetings, both here in the U.S., also internationally. I remember being in Europe and other places where we were going to communicateto them we were creating a separate brand for Michael and, you know, even globally that represented a totally - talk about paradigm shift - that was a newworld for them literally because the Jordan product was it for them. And so anything outside of what their business was built and based on, took alittle bit of politicking.

PBF: We did an interview recently with Peter Moore, Nike's original Creative Director and designer of Air Jordan I,and he mentioned right from the start back then that there were people within the company that didn't think Michael could support a brand on his own. Orsay with badging issues, you'd have the Nike Swoosh on a Jordan shoe and if you took it off what would happen? The discussions that took place internallyin the company is kind of fascinating.

EP: Yeah, it was a very dynamic time.

I'd go from one meeting where everyone was a consensus, "we're behind you," "let's go," "let us know what we need to doand we'll execute," then you go in another meeting and it was a lot different. So I've got some battle scars that I wear proudly from those daysand at the end of the day, Nike is a very competitive place and there's a great deal of passion. And you're talking about the best and brightest theindustry has to offer.

So one has to expect that sort of push and pull but when you have a vision and you're committed to making something happen and that's going to enhancethe growth of the company, the position of the company, the earnings, the market share, and at the end of the day believe serving the consumer in the properway. You just keep pushing.

Michael always said, "success occurs when preparation meets the opportunity," and we were prepared.

We had lots of equity behind us and we had a good, solid gameplan in terms of how to grow the brand and go and evolve into other sports and categories liketraining. At that time, just to give you a sense of, you know, paradigm shift, as I use that term, you'd go to a meeting and they'd say, "what arewe going to do in terms of other athletes," or "what does that look like," or "are they even going to want to wear Michael Jordan'sshoe - will they feel somehow less-than?"

You know, the guys that fit this brand DNA will see that as an honor, and that was really the strategy. That he was literally bestowing upon certain guys, hewas knighting them, so to speak. We would say in that context, well certainly just basketball, so you can think of a lot of athletes who aspire to the samelevel of professionalism or if it was just how they prepared, the tenacity, all the things that Michael had, there were clearly some basketball players in theNBA and on the college level that we felt, "ok, that lines up well," but we would go into the meeting and say "we don't have to stopthere."

There are athletes in baseball, athletes in football, who are Jordan-esque, so then it's like "whoa - you mean you're going to put a Jumpman logoon a baseball players hoody…are you kidding?" So in other words, that kind of paradigm shift. But in our mind, it's like why wouldn't you?

Jordan represents excellence and here are the core brand values. And you'd line that up with the core brand values of these individuals, there's amarriage there, right? And what the symbol and that logo represents, is equated to that more so than an actual sport.

Certainly it's a mark that lives within a boundary of a sport, but the values associated with that iconic logo transcend those very boundaries just as hetranscended those very boundaries.

So that's the sort of paradigm shift in some of the conversations that we were having.

The Mastermind: Erin Patton Interview Part 2

In Part2 of our in-depth interview with Erin Patton, we launch into his journey at Nike, where Patton became the first Director ofProduct and Marketing for Jordan Brand. He discusses the footwear design process, working with Tinker Hatfield on the Air Jordan XIII,the concept of marrying footwear and apparel divisions, spending time with Michael Jordan, the initial marketing and seeding strategies for launching AirJordan product to the consumer, and simply, why it's important to have friends.

PBF: When you were Director of Product and Marketing for Jordan Brand, can you explain what the job entailed back then at theformation of the brand?

EP: Essentially, I was the brand director. So my primary thrust was to work across the organization to sell-in the idea,and to sell-in the concept to communicate a coherent strategy for the brand and how we were positioning it. And because of the way Nike is structured, with itbeing a Matrix, we were forced to work across the organization to get support, and that support came by way of actual resources. You know, I would go aroundand have my tin cup in hand, as people would joke, because I would normally come in seeking not just their buy-in and support, but their budget, for the retailfolks to commit to separate real estate for Jordan so that we could merchandise a full footwear and apparel story within U.S. advertising and marketing. Thoseorganizations that had their own set of initiatives planned, I had to get Jordan on the radar. I had to give it some strong emphasis as an initiative forpeople to get behind it. Because at Nike that's what people get behind - they get behind initiatives.

So my job was to really lobby. I was part lobbyist, I was kissing babies, shaking hands, and building as many allies as I could to support what we were doingto buy-into the concepts and the philosophy. I spent a lot of time in meetings presenting an articulate, coherent strategy but also addressing the questionsand the issues certainly within the U.S. but also abroad. I traveled over into Europe and into Asia and the other regions to also get them on the bus, and thatwasn't easy, because the Jordan business globally was different than here in the U.S. And so they had a lot of anxiety around what was happening with thissort of separation with the Jordan Brand and Nike Basketball. A lot of it was just that.

From a pure, functional standpoint, I was working to move product along for all the seasonal line planning, working with Tinker and the design team, briefingthem and making sure that their product was moving on time and presenting that internally. Also working with the developers - I spent a lot of time over inAsia at the factories in terms of keeping our process moving forward. And then the sales organization, working with them on our allocations and just planningthe business. And you know, writing the business plan initially was one of the first things I did obviously to get people to see the scope of the opportunity.

But another key responsibility I had was also to marry and sync up footwear and apparel. The apparel opportunity was so significant and one that we felt wewere underperforming in. I was looking at all these things and said, you know what , hey, let's have footwear talk to apparel, because no one wasco-located at that time. Everyone was basically - U.S. footwear was over here, apparel was over there, and so I was trying to bridge those two worlds andgetting everyone to line up so that we could ultimately deliver seasonally. You know, product and apparel that linked up, that made sense, so that your teamshoe for the Bearcats - lets see what's happening over in apparel and hook it up, etc. I spent a lot of my time trying to engineer also a product designand development and retail timeline that allowed us to maximize all the great creativity and the product development and everything else, and then even throughmarketing and advertising being able to tell a story.

So a big part of what I was doing was making sure that footwear and apparel were in sync in terms of the line plan itself - because we were a true brand, andwe didn't want to be just viewed as independent, with footwear doing this, and apparel doing that, and it reaches the retail floor and there's adisconnect. I was making sure that the right hand knew what the left hand was doing. And the designers were talking about stories about inspiration anddeveloping a line that, you know, allowed us to carve out a greater stake relative to the apparel business and we really felt we hadn't quite reached thatceiling.

Basketball was just one but there was an entire lifestyle proposition that was out there. So that was part of it in terms of what I was doing on a daily basis.With the sports marketing aspects, I was working with the sports marketing group to bid for athletes: "Get me Vin Baker!" "Get me EddieJones!" I worked with those guys to develop the marketing strategy. And so that's really where I gained my real learning ground for brand management.In that role - brand management - that was it, because I started from the insights, and worked with our insights group and how we were planning and ourstrategy and our positioning into the marketing mix and the things that we were doing there.

And with the advertising piece - Wieden+Kennedy and our U.S. advertising group - to get them trying to look at it creatively, because some, you know, when yougo brief someone and you say, "Ok, we're going to do a Jordan Brand ad," they're used to doing a Michael Jordan ad - an Air Jordan/Nike ad.So to try to get them to recognize that we wanted to do something a little bit different here based on what our brand position and strategy was, you know, ittook some good six months of good discussions and everything and so that's where I spent a lot of my time.

Erin Patton & Michael Jordan receiving the American Marketing Association "Best New Product" Award

Then of course, within product - the design and development and pricing. It really was a holistic day-to-day experience that I was very fortunate to have,because Nike is a brand, but most people at Nike were working in specific silos and functional areas. I had an understanding at a very young age, and you haveto remember I was very young and I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned so much about branding and brand management by making those mistakes that have servedme well throughout.

I was in my mid-20's when all of this was happening and if you think about what that means for that type of business with everything that goes with it, Iwas constantly learning and soaking up from the leadership within the organization.

And obviously the other piece is I was working with Michael a lot, in terms of catching up to him on the road, on the phone, in the hotel after the game, onthe golf course, or wherever. He also came up to Portland a lot, and just getting his feedback, input, and direction on product or advertising, and oncampaigns, and just making sure that he was understanding what we were doing. I was spending time with Michael getting his insights into what he thought weshould be doing and then carrying that forward within the organization.

PBF: What was your favorite aspect of the footwear design process when you were at Jordan Brand?

EP: It was always just going by Tinker's office. You know, Tinker is an amazing person, and obviously as acreative person in architecture and design. He looks at things in a very unique way and articulates things in a very unique way. He's just a very goodindividual. So I enjoyed just going by his office and talking, learning, absorbing, and seeing Tinker sketching and sort of trying to get him to lift the hoodup. My visits to Tinker were sort of like, "Ok, Erin, go see how he's coming on the [Air Jordan] XIII…let's see how that's coming." Andthat one in particular I think was probably one of my favorites - the Air Jordan XIII, the hologram, the Black Cat shoe. I remember going over intoTinker's office and he had sort of this sketch of the outsole and it looked like a little paw print and of course Michael's nickname was "BlackCat".

PBF: In Michael Jordan's book Drivenfrom Within
,Tinker says he came up with that whole Black Cat backstory for the sneaker design but didn't even know it was Jordan's nickname until he presented theshoe to him…

EP: Exactly. Yeah, that's one of those things that I loved. Just having a conversation with Tinker about what inspiredhim. When you think about product creation and you think about product design - the abstract nature of it, the personal nature of it, the process of where adesigner goes for inspiration, that's just fascinating to me. So to hear him describe and talk about, well you know, "Michael, he's like a cat,and he prances…" and then he found this picture of Michael I think when he was D-ing up Magic Johnson, if I'm not mistaken, there's a classic shotof Michael and his eyes were just locked in on Magic, like, "I'm about to just put you on lock, it's a wrap, you're not going anywhere."And so he took that and superimposed it with a picture of a panther, you know the eyes, and that's where the hologram came from on the side of the shoes.It was like, if you'd catch a panther's eye with certain light, you'd get that kind of hologram look. You'd see those kinds of little images onthe desk and I'm trying to put all these pieces together and so he gives you a little bit, and you come back and you start to see it play out.

So yeah, that's probably the thing that I'll always takeaway and one of my favorite things to do because we were obviously focused on timelines andplans and strategies and allocations, and all these other things. Then you go into Tinker's office and it's like: You know what? This is really thetail wagging the dog, because nothing happens until this man gets inspired and goes into the lab and chef's it all up.

And so it was a good departure for me, and actually because I was so fascinated with it, it created challenges for me becauseeveryone else in the U.S. was like, "Erin, you got delayed on your timelines," and that was because Tinker and I were just in there vibing in thelab, so to speak, but yeah, that was one of my favorite things to do.

PBF: You've got the flagship Air Jordan product coming out every year, and then all of a sudden you've got this wholebrand thing going - as far as marketing it to the consumer, to the public, what was the strategy for that?

EP: Grassroots was a big part of it. We wanted to make this - you know, before viral marketing was an operative term inmarketing - everything we did we wanted to keep it very authentic and connecting the brand and the products at the right touch points in terms of where theconsumer was. I detail in thebook
what we did with the barber shops for example, before those products came out.

PBF: Right, that was an important part of the book, where early on you got the idea of "seeding" limited and unreleasedAir Jordan product on barbers in Los Angeles.

EP: Yeah, making sure that we seeded the product first on the barbers and recognized that they were key influencers. Thosewere impressions, as far as I was concerned. And there was frequency there with folks coming in saying, "Wow, that's what's coming!" Youdon't need to spend a whole lot on the TV commercial when you're doing things like that. It keeps it authentic, it keeps it viral, it keeps the productwithin the laboratory of the consumer experience. We were very much focused on that.

Erin Patton & Eve

There was also a strong entertainment tier to it, so we would make sure that all the artists and celebs that wanted the Jordan product got it for movies, andtelevision, and videos, and everything else, so that was kind of a halo that we tapped into. I believe that we can rightfully claim ownership to being one ofthe first brands to really focus on product seeding, which is something that became ritual much later but we really got product seeding down to a science at anearly age. We worked closely on making sure we got the product on the right people, you know, that they sneeze and everybody else catches a cold.

Then obviously from a sports marketing standpoint, get the product visible on the court from the elite amateur level to collegiate to professional, and makingsure the brand was well represented in those particular sports marketing channels. And of course with the television advertising, we were able to articulatesome of the brand positioning as I was mentioned through commercials such as the "Jordan CEO" commercial, and later the Mos Def "Umi Says"commercials, that demonstrated the intersection that the brand had and enjoyed within the hip-hop community. I did sneaker launch parties which were kind oflike record music releases.

PBF: You see that's so common these days, with the launch of a new shoe debuted at a party event, like with the launch of anew Carmelo Anthony shoe or what have you.

EP: Yeah, so we kind of innovated in that area and said, "let's turn this sneaker into a release." Let'scelebrate it just as a new artist does with a CD that comes out, so we'd link up with Vibe and do an event. We had a couple of really cool ones and justtried to create the right level of excitement and anticipation. And then for me, too, it was looking within hip-hop and recognizing the unique position thatJordan had within the culture.

You know, I heard all the lyrics on our product from the hip-hop generation and I understood the place that it held. But at the same time, I didn't want tojust do hip-hop for hip-hop's sake. I wanted to attach Jordan to the right currency in hip-hop and the right artists.

Representative artists like what Michael represented in sports, and guys that were moving the culture to the highest expression. People like Common, who cameout to [Nike] Campus a lot; The Roots, we took care of them and brought them into the fold; A Tribe Called Quest, which was at the original Jordan Brand launchevent. So we were also looking at those artists who were positive and could uplift the brand in the sense of attaching it to the most positive, highestexpression of the music just as Michael did for the game.

PBF: Going back to the whole concept of seeding Air Jordan product on the barbers - in your book, you say that the notion oflimited edition product and influencer seeding is the single most important aspect that a lot of brands overlook when targeting the urban market.

The footwear industry right now is so much about limited product, it almost seems saturated to a point, where everything becomeslimited. Does that nullify the entire point of being a 1-of-1 product, or are developments like Nike iD where every piece of product is kind of like anoriginal piece, is that where this is all going to? Is that the endgame?

EP: That's a great question. You know, we were operating in a different environment at that point where basketball andNBA athletes were the aspirational values of the shoes and products they represented.

We're now in a digital age where a kid is choosing between a $150 pair of sneakers or an iPhone. So I think in terms of where the industry is now, inmaking everything look and feel limited, at a certain point it does become saturated - you lose some of the special-ness and the authenticity. That'sprobably an area where the footwear industry needs to take a step back and really focus on what the consumer is really looking for.

You can go and create a bunch of different technologies or you can create a bunch of different stories that you think are relevant, but if in the mind of theconsumer there's no extra reason to believe and it's not something that they value, then it's not going to be special to them.

So what we were trying to do was to bring that consumer into the process of product design and development with taking the shoes out early, before they managedto glean input, not just sitting in the focus group room with two-way mirrors or whatever, but being out in the places where the consumer was. Where they wereliving, where they were breathing, becoming a part of the culture and becoming a part of the currency. That to me is R&D. Being in that laboratory of theconsumer's experience where you can identify what is special to them and making that part of the equation. I think in many cases that's oftenoverlooked, not just in the footwear industry but also across the board.

When you think about products, those that are kind of user-generated, should begin with the consumer in mind. If you begin with the end user in mind, thenyou're going to be in much better shape when that product reaches the marketplace. And that's one of reasons why, for example, Starbury becameimportant. It's wasn't just the aspirational aspect, it was the inspirational aspect and recognizing that there was a need and desire for price valueproposition and someone who was authentic to carry the message.

So whatever that next movement is, to the extent that it can become kind of user-generated, I mean, we're just in a user-generated paradigm rightnow and there's a lot of power that the consumer has to create and innovate. This particular market, culture, sneaker culture, it's real-time andit's about brand creation and connecting your brand and product with those that have the ability to create your brand so give them a paint brush and acanvas and let them go at it. That's really how I look at it.

PBF: Tinker Hatfield gave a speech where he said the secret to getting resources and doing special things is to wield clout fromthe company you keep. Within the footwear industry and especially within Nike which is so competitive internally, would you say that getting things done withina big company, a big brand, you need to basically make friends and get things done through the people that you know?

EP: Definitely. And that's one of those lessons I learned, and probably one of the mistakes that I made at a youngage, or at a young point in my career I should say. You can only accomplish things through people, and building consensus is so critical.

Clearly, for me coming into a meeting as the head of the Jordan Brand at that time, you know, people were listening. Because of the clout of Michael, the haloof Michael, people like Tinker, people like Peter Ruppe, David Bond, Mark Parker, Keith Houlemard, a lot of these guys that were my colleagues and my supportand peers and superiors and everything else. And ultimately, people knowing that I did have a very good relationship with Michael and that helped me a lotbecause I had his trust and so that allowed me to sit a lot taller in meetings and allowed me to get a lot of things done.

But at the same time, as Tinker is saying, it's so critical to build your internal resource - or mastermind group, if you will - with folks that you knowyou can go to and they have your back when you're not in that meeting, who are going to say what you want them to say, who are going to get people to movein a direction you want to move. To me, that's the greatest sign of leadership - when you're not around, what are people doing? Are peoplebehaving and acting in the way that you would have them if you were there? And the only way to really affect that is to establish those very closerelationships to have people that you know are clear in terms of what your vision is, they're clear in terms of what they are empowered to do, and the roleand importance of their contributions and having the trust and loyalty to be able to carry forth that in your presence or in your absence. That'sabsolutely true.

So I was able to achieve that to a large extent, but I also probably didn't do that enough or build a strong enough - you know, when you're in anenvironment like that, some people are just going to want to be difficult because you're doing what they want to do. There's just going to be certainthings like that, or people who don't want to support something because it wasn't their idea, or their guy or gal, or whatever, so you gotta be able towork through that and still get people to move toward a consensus and you can only influence to the degree that you're able to influence others to carryout your influence, if that makes sense. It has to be that kind of dynamic to really be successful.

The Mastermind: Erin Patton Interview Part 3

In Part 3 of our exclusive interview withErin Patton, the original Director of Product and Marketing for Jordan Brand tells us what he thinks about the current Retro driventrend in the footwear industry, the internal discussions within the Nike organization on Retro product, whether Jordan Brand was setup as a lifestyle-centeredor performance-oriented brand at the formation of the company, and the key element to the original Jordan Brand business plan.

Project Bluefoot: The past several years, the footwear industry has been all about Retro product. What do you think about theintensity of it? Do you think that's a good thing? There's a lot of product coming out now, but even if it's not retro, it's retro-themed. Ifyou're looking 10-years down the line, 20-years down the line, what are you going to retro from this period if it's all kind of the same stuff?

Erin Patton: That's is a dilemma that the industry faces. And I think what it means is the consumer is saying,"if ain't broke, don't fix it," in some respects. Time is constantly moving, and certainly you have to have the ability to time travel whenyou're designing product, when you're creating product. But at the same time, the Retro fixation I think is - some of it is generational. You know,because when I think about hip-hop, I think about the golden era, I think about the 90s. Culture creation occurs on so many different levels, and when youlayer all of the different pieces of culture creation that were occurring during that time period - late 80s into the 90s - there's a whole lot there, so Ithink it's just going to take a while to peel all of that back, from the music, to the looks, to the style, because there was so much innovation occurring.

That's why I say it was like Silicon Valley in the book. It was in New York and places where culture was being created on the East Coast and then it pushedout in other places around the country of course. But it was a constant laboratory - the language, the clothes, the gear, the music - so when you'relooking for innovation and inspiration and you don't see and feel that kind of movement - and that was really like a Renaissance, those things only occurevery so often. So that period that these retro products came through, it's a moment in time, it's a snapshot in time that people hold onto because ofwhat it represented to them consciously and sub-consciously. So I think that's just something that's going to have to run its course. But it'sstill, the essence, the original article, as The Roots like to say. You always come back to that original article and those products back then.

And a lot of it has to do with the innovators within, even those Retro products, with people like Drew Greer who was my colleague at Nike who I mention in thebook was holding down the limited edition category. It was something at Nike that was just kind of over there; it was just that category for the retrostuff. And Drew would say, "lets get into the lab," because again, he came from that place, that moment in time, and recognized what those productsmeant to people like him and his generation and he said, "no, no, no, this is a goldmine," you know what I'm saying? So I think that's a lotof what happened too. You had certain catalysts and culture creators who came into product positions and they just started flipping it just based on thebridging of the classic with the contemporary mindset and where they are now.

Eventually, it's going to be very necessary to evolve and move forward. You know, I still like, but a lot of people dislike, clean sneakers. Keep itsimple. Keep it clean. Pop some colors on it so I can hook it up with my apparel and it's over with. It doesn't matter to me what the technology is orif it can link to my iPod or all this other stuff - that may not be important to me. I just want something that's clean, something that can represent meand my cipher and hook up to my apparel and keep it moving. So I think there will always be that element within sneaker culture that should not be lost on themanufacturers. Keeping it simple is a good thing.

PBF: But on the grander scale right now, with so many Retros coming out, is that just a fashion trend? For example, if you lookat the LeBron line, or the Kobe line from this past year, it's all just retro, Air Force 1-looking kinds of shoes. Is it just a cycle when moretechnology-focused shoes will come back into play?

EP: Yeah, for sure. I think innovation has to be the hallmark. And when I say keep it simple, I mean, you have torecognize that there will be a piece to the consumer's mindset that will always gravitate towards that, but you still have to keep simple special. not Keep It Simple Stupid, it's Keep It Simple but Special. So the moment when you start to commercialize it - that's what kills alot of brands. That's what kills a lot of products, not just in footwear but in music as well. They see a formula that's working and it's like, ok,now let's put that T-Pain on everybody. Let's have T-Pain singing on everybody's song. Where's T-Pain and Celine Dion? I guess that'scoming, you know what I'm saying? So when you commercialize something that is very authentic and taps into a specific insight, but then you try to attachthat same currency to something that is maybe more deserving of a broader technology platform or distinct aesthetic or whatever, like a Kobe or a LeBron, thenyou begin to dilute, without question.

PBF: Just as a consumer back in '98-'99, the start of the Retro craze in my mind, if I had to pinpoint a moment, was there-release of the Air Jordan IV. What was the perspective internally within the company - were there release numbers or things that you saw from the Air JordanIV release that made you think more about that type of product, because from that moment on you were releasing Air Jordan V's and VI's and you broughtmore shoes back out from the past. What was the thinking behind that?

EP: Some of it was qualitative feedback and insights from the traditional focus groups and stuff like that. But thegreatest inspiration for that was just within the walls of Nike. Having people that had a lot of time, experience, and years at Nike, and knowing and beingable to recall numbers, and sales, and reactions for certain models. We had a lot of that built up within the company. People like Gentry Humphrey, who cameinto the Product role in the Jordan Brand, and was someone that had been in the Nike Basketball category for a while and been at Nike for a while.

Gentry came over and started to really push and emphasize the Retro movement in product, and at that time it was something we felt that was very necessary,even as we tried to dimensional-ize the brand with other athletes and new products, you know, there was a vault we were sitting on that we recognized. Weneeded to start to release the website and information around the world, over in Asia, in Tokyo, and places where the Jordan Brand was at a fever pitch. So itwas that collective insight, but also to add a contemporary element to the design so that it felt current and classic at the same time.

PBF: In yourbook
, you said you felt rewarded beingat the launch of the Jordan Brand inside Niketown New York, in 1997. Looking at the sales of Jordan Brand today, where it outsells brands like Nike Basketball2-to-1, did you ever envision the brand to be where it is today?

EP: In terms of the business, we understood we had barely scratched a surface on the sales opportunity, particularly inapparel. We realized having primarily basketball product on the apparel side, we hadn't even come close to a ceiling in terms of what we could do inapparel for one, and we realized that because of the lifestyle positioning for the brand, that apparel held great, great promise in terms of the overall growthof the brand through the years.

There was a friendly competition between us and Nike Basketball to see who would ultimately rule and certainly our position was having the top two brands inBasketball, as where Nike wanted to be. But there was that friendly competition and we would tell them that one day, soon, Jordan will be coming for thatnumber 1 spot. So we definitely believed that on the footwear side, we knew that once we were able to establish some brand architecture and differentcategories and different athletes - and even categories like outdoors, that we knew held promise. So we certainly saw it, and I think it's been proven justin terms of where the brand has gone, in terms of sales volume. But, you know, I can't say I envisioned where it is, but we certainly had conversationsthat it could be a $1 billion dollar business.

PBF: As far as products, when Jordan Brand first launched, you had the taglines, "engineered to the exact specifications ofMichael Jordan" and so forth. But did you try to position the brand as more of a lifestyle-centered brand as opposed to a performance-orientedbrand?

EP: Product is king at Nike and Air Jordan was the crown jewel, so no question, performance was a key attribute for all ofthe product that we developed. It was kind of like a Ferrari, which happened to be one of Michael's favorite cars. The performance is absolutely amazing;the way it's engineered for maximum performance is what carries the day. But, when you look at that thing on the showroom, you're not necessarilythinking about what's under that hood at the moment. It's almost a given, and you just understand that its got some horses.

The Jordan product was much the same. The consumer understood that if Michael was playing in it, it was equipped, and that it was engineered to his specs. Butwe also knew that we have to communicate brand attributes and product attributes that spoke to the design aesthetic of the product to be able to branch intolifestyle. That was very important to us, when you're talking about growing a business to be a billion dollar business, you're not going to do it justwith performance basketball footwear.

The pie is only so big. So to grow the pie, the thinking was to bridge from performance into lifestyle and knowing that apparel was a key piece of thatequation, we knew that we had to lead with footwear to give the consumer more reason to believe that Jordan could stake a position in lifestyle. Because forthe most part, the consumer was not looking for Jordan when it came to lifestyle apparel or lifestyle clothing. They thought of it as just stuff you wear onthe court, but it's not something they were trying to rock to the mall, or going out on a Friday night, or just lounging, whatever the case may be.

There were brands that were starting to come into that space, particularly speaking to the lifestyle of athletes. Sean John, for example. You know, a lot ofthe athletes were running around rocking Sean John, and so we were like, "they need to be wearing Jordan," but they saw Sean John as sort of thatelite, kind of upscale urban feel, and so we certainly saw that type of opportunity for Jordan, as players were going back and forth to practice, or justhaving the lounge-wear, the fleece, velour, whatever - we felt that Jordan had a unique, ownable space that it could carve out as it related to lifestyle butfootwear had to be the driving force to help us get there. So as much as we were touting the performance, we were also communicating the lifestyle. It was anatural marriage between the two.

I recall a particular sales meeting where I wanted to help, inform, and educate, our sales force so that as they were selling-in the Jordan product, they werecarrying that same message. We talked about the paradigm shift and most of them were accustomed to the performance message like, "this is the new Jordan,it's got Air, it's got a carbon fiber plate to prevent plantar fasciitis" and all that kind of stuff. They were just used to talking about thosetypes of attributes but I wanted them to be able to understand the correlation between Jordan performance and lifestyle.

So for one sales meeting, when I was presenting the product, I created a set. One side of the conference hall facility I had a little basketball court with acouple guys playing ball and on the other side I set up a barber shop with some models in Jordan sneakers and denim sitting in the barber's chair as I waspresenting the line. Things like that, we decided to do, so that people could catch the lifestyle positioning. I did another sales meeting where we did a mockof the MTV countdown. We were in the club type situation and I was Bell Bellamy, or Dr. Dre, or Ed Lover, or whoever it was. And I did the countdown of theproducts that were in the line in that particular season. We had people dancing like it was a club atmosphere.

So, clearly, the goal was to begin to establish a brand position that was performance-based, but again with form meeting fashion, and in the minds of theconsumer sometimes, fashion meeting form. It just depended on the consumer, but we wanted to give them the creativity as a consumer to determine that. Wedidn't want to necessarily dictate it so we wanted to make sure we provided the correlation between performance and lifestyle so that it could fit intotheir lifestyle no matter if that was them playing ball in it or if that was just their only impression because of their friends. You know, like Kanye said,"I spent $400 bucks on this just to be like you ain't up on this". We knew that was the mentality, and a lot of people just get 'em becausethey were the J's and they were hot.

PBF: Would you say that was the key or crucial element of the original business plan for Jordan? You had the footwear productthere, but just the whole idea of adding the apparel "hook up", was that the crucial element to starting Jordan brand at the time?

EP: Definitely. That's one of the things about the urban consumer that, you know, again because I came from thatplace, I understood. It's about the hook up - no question. As Ludacris said, "we gotta coordinate". So you have to look at it holistically. Youcan't do one thing independent of the other. You can't have a hot shoe if there's nothing to hook it up with. We spent a lot of our time reallyworking with apparel to make sure we were able to present a full hook up, especially at retail, because we wanted to merchandise and romance the brand andcommunicate a brand story, and we needed the product to hook up.

Because what the urban apparel brands were doing, they were looking at our colors, they were looking at our seasonal line plans, and looking at the differentcolors we were flipping in the Jordan's, and that was dictating their apparel lines. You know, the different apparel brands at that time like Fubu, or youname it, they were looking at what we were doing because they knew that's what the customer wanted. They wanted the Jordan's and they wanted somethingto hook up with it.

So we looked at it like: "We can't just leave all this business on the table." We've gotta figure out a way to create a total head-to-toelook with the brand and ultimately as things progressed and we were able to tap into some good season talent on the apparel side, that offering started to getbetter and better and we gave the consumer more reasons to believe that they could look to Jordan for a full lifestyle hook up.

[The Mastermind - Erin Patton Interview PART 4 comingWednesday...]

Get Erin Patton's just-released book: Underthe Influence: Tracing the Hip-Hop Generation's Impact on Brands, Sports, & Pop Culture

Official Under The Influence website:
Joined Apr 11, 2009
jus read da first paragraph and ma eye awready hurts
ima comeback later to read
maybe i can find dat book at a library
Joined Feb 9, 2008
Originally Posted by FXSANDMAN

jus read da first paragraph and ma eye awready hurts
ima comeback later to read
maybe i can find dat book at a library

you're truly sad

Joined Apr 20, 2008
Originally Posted by FXSANDMAN

jus read da first paragraph and ma eye awready hurts
ima comeback later to read
maybe i can find dat book at a library

feel the same way
Joined Dec 19, 2007
Originally Posted by FXSANDMAN

jus read da first paragraph and ma eye awready hurts
ima comeback later to read
maybe i can find dat book at a library
[color= rgb(255, 255, 0)]damn reading and spelling[/color]

Joined Aug 1, 2005
The Jumpman Pro was designed by Tinker Hatfield and his crew. There was the Jumpman Pro Quick and the Jumpman Pro Strong
JUMPMAN STRONG, the greatest Team Jordan shoe ever made in my opinion, the Olympic color to be specific.
Joined Mar 2, 2008
great interview so far nice questions but i know he has alot of samples you should ask to see some cause i know this guy has samples we've never seenbefore and i weanna see em

Methodical Management

Staff member
Joined Dec 8, 1999
Great interview, Steez. I can't wait to read the remaining installments.

This is precisely the sort of DEPTH and intelligence lacking from the endless stream of regurgitated marketing copy being pawned off as "journalism"these days by other sneaker "news" sites.

It's refreshing to read something that's not hollow PR hype for a change.
Joined Feb 15, 2000
Originally Posted by vocaldigital23

Great find! Can't imagine how you were able to locate that, but thanks for sharing! lol

guys, i did the interview with patton myself and just posted it online today. maybe i should have thrown in the byline just to be safe. LOL

btw, it's coming in 5 parts, every day this week. i know some of you guys just got out of school this week, but you should be able to handle the length.the font is bigger and the margins are slimmer on the source site if that helps you

Originally Posted by Method Man

Great interview, Steez. I can't wait to read the remaining installments.

This is precisely the sort of DEPTH and intelligence lacking from the endless stream of regurgitated marketing copy being pawned off as "journalism" these days by other sneaker "news" sites.

It's refreshing to read something that's not hollow PR hype for a change.
Co-sign. Much thanks to everyone checking the interview out so far and posting your feedback. More to come...
Joined Mar 2, 2008
Originally Posted by Steez

Originally Posted by vocaldigital23

Great find! Can't imagine how you were able to locate that, but thanks for sharing! lol

guys, i did the interview with patton myself and just posted it online today. maybe i should have thrown in the byline just to be safe. LOL

btw, it's coming in 5 parts, every day this week. i know some of you guys just got out of school this week, but you should be able to handle the length. the font is bigger and the margins are slimmer on the source site if that helps you

Originally Posted by Method Man

Great interview, Steez. I can't wait to read the remaining installments.

This is precisely the sort of DEPTH and intelligence lacking from the endless stream of regurgitated marketing copy being pawned off as "journalism" these days by other sneaker "news" sites.

It's refreshing to read something that's not hollow PR hype for a change.
Co-sign. Much thanks to everyone checking the interview out so far and posting your feedback. More to come...
you atempt to snap any pics of exclusive samples ?
Joined Apr 2, 2009
great read man! you need to make one post with it ALL once you get it done =]
Joined Jan 14, 2001
Or say with badging issues, you'd have the Nike Swoosh on a Jordan shoe and if you took it off what wouldhappen? The discussions that took place internally in the company is kind of fascinating.

I can understand wanting to grow and in a sense separate the swoosh and the jumpman....but to be so literal is almost a sign of insecurity to me....and yes Ido mean the old sore-spot subject of switching out the "Nike Air" logos with the jumpman on the product. Is this really the reason? I always thoughtit had to do with royalty / profit divison internally @ JB / Nike....

Can't wait to read the rest of this.....
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