We’ve all heard of ultra-popular shoe brands like Nike, Adidas, New Balance, and Altra – but what about On? Just like the rest of these retailers, On is a performance running company that sells millions of shoes to customers across the world.
However, On has managed to differentiate itself from day one with an engaging origin story and unique “CloudTec” technology that imitates running on clouds.
Check out our video now to learn how On is reframing the way consumers and athletes think about taking their first steps in a new pair of shoes.
We’ve all heard of Nike, Adidas, New Balance, and Altra… but what about On? Just like the rest of these brands, On is a performance running company that sells millions of shoes to customers across the world. Unlike its competitors, however, On differentiated itself from day one with a unique origin story.
Here, we’ll explore this story, but we’ll also dive into why On is a role model for up-and-comer’s that are navigating markets already saturated with legacy brands.
Let’s start with Olivier Bernhard, On’s founder and CEO. Until his mid to late 30s, Bernhard was a successful triathlete and ultraman runner with two world championships under his belt. At the height of his career, Bernhard was bringing in as much as $150,000 per year, and it took his rising age plus three kids to slow him down.
At 37 years old, he gave up his professional career to move on to greener pastures—but that didn’t stop his competitive spirit. Beyond his last professional race, Berhard kept running, training, and strategizing a return to the sport… just not in the same capacity.
“I was always thinking about not only another running shoe, but another running feeling,” Berhard told CNBC last year.
Achieving this feeling wouldn’t come as naturally as Bernhard would have hoped. With the help of a local Swiss engineer, early adaptations of On’s running shoe came to fruition. By attaching pieces of rubber hose onto the bottom of existing running shoes and hitting the streets, Bernhard knew immediately that this was a sensation other runners would love.
Then came Caspar Coppetti and David Allemann, two like-minded young entrepreneurs who helped Bernhard bring together the financials of the business with the design of the shoe and the marketing of the idea.
In just six months, the three of them took On from an idea to a prototype—and more recently, a company that raised over $740 million for its IPO in 2021.
But how does this happen? Who’s to say there isn’t the same potential for every startup in the athletic footwear space?
Before we get ahead of ourselves, we should clarify that On did a lot of things right in order to get ahead of its competitors, starting with the design of the shoe. Unlike Nike or Adidas, or any other running brand, On uses what they call their “CloudTec” technology to imitate running on clouds—an attempt at providing a more comfortable, elastic running experience.
How well does this technology perform? Well, you’ll have to try it yourself. But one thing’s for certain, it’s caught the attention of performance runners, as well as enthusiasts, across the planet.
Next, On found athletes who weren’t just willing to sign on with the brand, but garner increased popularity through their relationship with the company.
Take On’s recent partnership with Roger Federer. In October 2019, the Swiss professional tennis player and 20-time Grand Slam champion joined On with a mission to “develop the athlete spirit that’s at the core of [On’s] high-performing culture.”
That might be a little vague, but Federer has lived up to that mission in numerous capacities. In July 2020, Federer held an event called ROGER Live, through an interactive video stream that showed off On’s technologies paired with Federer’s newest shoe: THE ROGER Centre Court.
Since then, the partnership launched THE ROGER Pro, a customizable tennis shoe built for play across varying surfaces, as well as numerous marketing campaigns that feature Federer’s personal journey and inspiration for the shoe’s design.
Sounds like a successful one-off partnership, but Roger Federer isn’t the only athlete to sign with On, as the company boasts an entire catalog of runners, cyclists, and triathletes who’ve partnered with the brand across its digital platforms.
Okay, so a lot of brands, namely performance brands, must successfully partner with professional athletes in order to raise consumer awareness and turn heads. Yet On’s recent success has more to do with its unique value proposition and less to do with the number of partnerships it takes on.
According to Bernhard, On was created to “change the world of running” through soft landings and hard takeoffs. And convincing consumers that this unique shoe design was worth their money was only half the equation, as the company knew retailers were hard-pressed to carry running shoes that weren’t at the caliber of Nike, Adidas, or New Balance.
Because of this, the team at On visited countless retailers in an effort to demonstrate the brand’s value, backed by its innovative design.
“They were just unhappy with the results, you know they didn’t buy in… they often said ‘I’ll think about it,’ and we all know what that means.
But instead of giving up on them, Bernhard asked these retail leaders if they’d like to run with the shoes. Then they started asking questions.
According to Bernhard, “They said, ‘Oh I actually like the landing. Why is that landing so soft?’ So, it was much easier for us to answer the questions they had about our technology instead of trying to sell them our technology.”
And from here, we can recognize that On is no less than a technology company than it is a performance brand capable of reframing the way consumers and athletes think about taking their first steps in a new pair of shoes.
More brands are finding ways to up their game with technological backed design, but On demonstrates to us all that experimental marketing strategies like the one we just heard about aren’t the exception but the rule in the world we live in.