Hilary Burns Staff Writer Charlotte Business Journal
Greg Johnson still thinks back to his days with Nike regularly. Johnson runs his own Charlotte-based business that helps other companies leverage and build brands. So his time with Nike, one of the more iconic brands on the market, is relevant. Johnson served as marketing director for Jordan Brand in the early 2000s before moving back to the East Coast to be closer to family. Greg Johnson is the co-founder and managing director of Orbital Socket, a local marketing.
After a few years with BooneOakley, a local ad agency, Johnson and his wife launched Orbital Socket in 2014, a marketing firm that specializes in branding. The husband-and-wife team now runs Orbital Socket out of the Portal building at UNC Charlotte. Orbital Socket works with startups to create and shape their brands. They also work with larger companies to “energize” part of the business. "The best practices I gained over 25 years, I apply it (all) now to these companies," Johnson says. "It has been incredibly invigorating to me. I feel so fortunate."
I caught up with Johnson recently to learn more about branding. Here are excerpts from the conversation, (edited for brevity and clarity):
What are common mistakes you see companies make with their brands?
I think they oversimplify what they think a brand is and therefore never really get to the rich, meaningful story behind what their brand can be. They then lack the type of connectivity they would have with their customers. It starts with the deep customer development — understanding who they are and importantly where they are going. And do you align your real promises that your company or brand is making with your journey?
How does company culture play into that?
I think now more than ever culture is critical. Everyone’s excited about the millennials and that’s important because it’s a fast-growing group that spends a lot of money, but the thing is they shape culture that’s really what is powerful to me about millennials — they shape culture. The things they do we ultimately all end up doing. Culture is critically important. I study culture, and it’s a big factor when I talk about customer development. It plays a big role in that process.
Are there any specific experiences at Nike that showed you why branding is so important?
In my experiences there has not been a better example of what happens when you really understand your customer, and you really have developed a rich story around what your brand stands for. Michael (Jordan) was great. He’s the best basketball player ever in my opinion. He had an incredible shoe product that he then turned into a brand and now that brand makes training products, baseball cleats and football cleats and there is apparel — it has people lining up with great anticipation for the next show all because he did the work around understanding his customer, understanding where they are going with their life and how his brand can be important to them along their journey. That is really the model I base the work I do on.
PHOTO COURTESY OF GREG JOHNSON