New Balance CMO, Chris Davis, on How to Evolve Your Brand and Stand Out in a Crowded Marketplace

Insights and examples of how the 116-year-old company stays in touch with culture and customers

The past few years have seen major upheaval and innovative shifts in industries across the globe. Many companies pivoted from brick-and-mortar locations to completely virtual within weeks, and a plethora of businesses changed the very core of how they provided products to consumers as buying habits shifted drastically. One upside? These changes in the market inevitably brought new opportunities for growth and sales.

For many companies, making the best of such drastic shifts wasn’t without its challenges—our company included. Shifting a 110-year-old product into a contemporary, world-class athletic brand while the world around us was changing came with its own set of difficulties. 

However, with the help of market insight and customer-focused branding, our athletic wear company has been able to cultivate a culture of innovation to transform the classic American New Balance brand we all know and love into a contemporary staple for the newest generation. Let’s take a look at how we managed to position New Balance as a leader in this space. 

   FIERCELY INDEPENDENT

In an age where targeted marketing and endless brands are available to cater to a consumer’s every need, options tend to blur together. So, how has New Balance been able to stand out and truly provide a top-tier product for over a century? 

I believe that part of our success can be attributed to the mindset and ethos of our brand, which encapsulates fierce independence. New Balance has held onto the mindset of being fiercely independent since its inception in 1906. As a modern brand, New Balance brings a fresh collaboration strategy to our portfolio, sporting big names like Jaden Smith and Jack Harlow. Our innovative approach has allowed our company to see some pretty big numbers. From a growth standpoint, the numbers speak for themselves. For example, recent collaborations have directly resulted in 100% sell-through rates with a 95% average on launch days. 

In addition to excellent sales numbers, New Balance prides itself on being transparent with its collaborative nature, as well as creating tongue-in-cheek marketing campaigns to fit both economic and environmental climates. 

The 574, a unique shoe made from recycled factory scraps developed in collaboration with Jaden Smith

   THOUGHTFUL GROWTH

With a plethora of brands competing for consumer attention, New Balance prides itself on standing out as a conscious company. Consumers today want to know more about the product they’re purchasing. Where was it made? How was it made? How are said products affecting the environment around us? 

Not only did New Balance step up to help during the height of the pandemic by making masks for frontline medical professionals all across the country, but we also continue to utilize sustainable methods in our production of goods. The Jaden Smith sneaker collaboration, the 574, created a unique shoe made from recycled factory scraps. 

This conscious, innovative approach makes New Balance a leader in the athletic brand space. We do so by establishing ourselves as a brand that the newest generation can turn to for thoughtful products.

   FUTURE FORWARD

Consumers today are bombarded with marketing from the ground up, making the next generation accustomed to endless product options to choose from. To that end, many companies are approaching the next era of product offerings with an investor’s mindset. New Balance included. This means partnering with updated distribution channels such as those in the gaming space. 

Cultivating a forward-thinking approach in this way provides an avenue for companies like ours to bring an element of longevity to their brand. Distribution and marketing have changed drastically over the past half century. The emergence of targeted marketing and mission statements based in societal values have both changed the consumer landscape.

What we’ve done well as a company is to integrate a future-forward way of thinking—building avenues that coincide with longevity in mind. By partnering within growth-centric spaces like gaming, we’re working to solidify the position New Balance has as a current product leader in this space.

Utilizing distribution outlets like Twitch and creating partnerships with NBA video games help make this type of integrated approach a reality. These sort of unique partnership experiences bring consumers together in real time at an entirely different level. 

As chief marketing officer of our brand, I can outline how these partnerships will manifest successfully under something known as “dwell time.” Dwell time is the time in which a customer is online consuming content. On traditional channels like Instagram, dwell time might be three to nine seconds’ worth as we scroll through various content concepts. Our attention spans are naturally shortened when it comes to these commonly used social media channels. 

With these gaming partnerships, dwell time increases. Playing a video game, for example, can be anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours or more spent online. This extended time allows room for brands to create a personalized experience for customers complete with branded product offerings.

To that end, the goal of such outreach is not about scale. Rather, our goal is to create meaningful, personal engagement for customers of New Balance. New Balance looks at these types of growth opportunities and partnerships as a way to bridge the physical with the digital, which ultimately helps put the company in a leadership position within the customer space.

   AUTHENTICITY FIRST

Another major tenet that New Balance operates by is authenticity. As a company, we want to make sure that we’re serving our consumers in an authentic manner with a meaningful consumer experience that’s going to provide an added benefit.

Good teamwork is paramount to the overall integrity and authenticity of a company.

New Balance understands this. We pride ourselves on being a people-first, teamwork-focused company. Team members that feel trusted in their roles directly affect the way in which consumers experience a brand. With a transparent and safe workplace, team members are allowed the space to create the best possible products for their customers. New Balance focuses on creating that sort of atmosphere not only in the office but outside of it as well.

As a brand, we focus on authenticity to lead the way in combining the sport and culture mentality. Fans of New Balance will likely see that reflected in future collaborations and partnerships. 

   RUNNING PAST THE COMPETITION 

Whether it was thoughtful action during the height of the pandemic or implementing strategic partnerships, our company continues to shine in a saturated market. Our marketing skill set and sustainable mandates have allowed us to reach a larger customer base than ever before. 

We’ve experienced huge leaps in customer satisfaction, with the last three years clocking in at record-breaking levels. Using science-based tactics and understanding the art of marketing to a loyal customer base, New Balance has truly honed its ability to grow brand awareness, all while offering top-tier products to you, our customers. We’ve been able to facilitate a culture of calculated risk excellence allowing for our brand to remain fiercely independent since its early days.  

The best way I can sum up the future and the plans we have for New Balance is this: “If you’re standing still, you’re moving backwards.” As an organization, New Balance is running head-on towards the future with full force (likely in a great pair of shoes). 

Chris Davis is the Chief Marketing Officer & Senior Vice President of Merchandising at New Balance and a board member of Rival. 

Organized in collaboration with The SOUNDBytes Collective https://www.soundbytescollective.com/