Alex Whitcher on the responsibility of marketers, iconic brands and trend setting


Following the Marketing Association’s Brainy Breakfast on November 30, former Nike marketing exec and Kiwi, Alex Whitcher, talks us through what makes a brand truly iconic.

Imagine pulling up to work in a parking spot and seeing the next one reserved for Michael Jordan or Serena Williams. It seems surreal – but that was the reality for Nike’s former Senior Brand Marketing Director, Alex Whitcher.

Whitcher spent just under a decade with Nike, in a variety of roles including Running Brand Manager and Sportswear Marketing Director. He’s since returned home to his native land, New Zealand, and currently leads marketing for new sportswear apparel brand, OMORPHO.

His experience has established him as one of New Zealand’s best marketing minds, and a leader in sports marketing across the globe. His time with Nike helped shape the way he sees marketing and the responsibilities that come with it.

“When you’re a marketer, you’re temporarily responsible for helping to protect or grow a brand,” he says. “At Nike, I was constantly reminded about opportunities. This brand has such ambition and passion for sport, and a drive to be the best and help others achieve their best. You never escape that sense of possibility,” he adds.

1. Be a trendsetter, not a trend follower

For smaller brands and agencies, the temptation to look to more established companies for inspiration is strong. It is often these companies that develop trends, are seen as thought leaders, and as “the best” of that particular sector.

Resisting the urge to follow another company’s footsteps and to instead pave a separate path is essential for sustainable growth, Whitcher believes.

“What I’ve learned through OMORPHO and Nike is that if you always fixate on the competition or another company, you always put yourself in the mindset of following,” he says.

Whitcher describes how Nike focused on what was unique to its own consumers, rather than looking to others in the field. Driving innovation and disruption became part of what set the company apart from the crowd, and are lessons Whitcher carries with him still.

“I think there’s a bit of a mindset in New Zealand of looking at what others are doing,” he says. “It’s awesome to learn from others, but it’s not always helpful to always have that mindset. You may end up putting yourself in the position of being the follower without intending to,” he adds.

Whitcher works remotely for OMORPHO out of New Zealand, with his focus centred on the American consumer and industry. This gives him a unique perspective on what exactly the New Zealand marketing industry excels at in comparison.

“Kiwis really appreciate humour and that definitely comes through a lot,” he says. “It appeals to me just as a human, not just because I’m a marketer,” he adds.

2. Encourage lightbulb moments

“There’s no escaping that any powerful and interesting brand needs a really great idea.“If you don’t have a great idea, then you don’t have a place to begin or anything to rally a team around,” Whitcher says.

For big companies or small, American or Kiwi, these ideas are the foundation for any successful brand. Whitcher says inspiring staff with a concept is essential for driving productivity and that this inspiration will eventually be felt outside the company too.

“You need a shared passion for what you do,” he says. “Companies need an organisational culture where people thrive personally, and believe anything is possible for them. It helps them feel inspired to turn up to work every day and to push boundaries. This isn’t something specific to certain brands – companies in any market can do this,” he adds.

Whitcher is inspired by OMORPHO, which launched its innovative range of gravity sportswear a few weeks ago. OMORPHO flipped the script on most sportswear labels, which aim to make sportswear lighter, by including weight in the fabric to help build muscle during a workout.

“It was a real challenge but I’m proud of the work I did helping to launch this product,” Whitcher says. “My last 10 years have been with one of the most established and compelling brands in the world. Coming into a startup is a whole different game, and I got to work on creating something that’s never been seen before and launching it to the world,” he adds.

Whitcher believes the industry has been through something of a reckoning during the pandemic, and that questions around sustainability and health have made marketers, including himself, rethink how to talk to consumers.

“Everyone is asking companies, ‘What are you doing that’s actually good’?” he says. “I think marketing is a tool to help great ideas reach their potential, and can help make something good too,” he concludes.