How New Balance found a new balance
Over a long period of time, New Balance had unintentionally morphed into a brand synonymous with lifestyle, rather than that of sporting excellence. Realigning, reconnecting and rejuvenating quickly became a priority, to get back to being a top three athletics brand by 2020.
Brand CEO Robert DeMartini told Marketing Week at the Leaders in Sport Business Summit, “We weren’t growing as much as in the early 2000’s and unintentionally we were getting older. Our consumers were aging, we had a strong business in walking categories and some of the slower paced athletic businesses. From an ownership standpoint, that’s never what we intended.”
Having had a strong history of activations within athletics, New Balance shifted in focus towards the broader contemporary market within ‘younger sports’ and a new breed of athletes.
In 2013 they launched a skateboarding shoe dubbed “New Balance Numeric” in partnership with Black Box Distribution, a company founded by professional skateboarder Jamie Thomas to build more visibility and affirmation within ‘Generation Z’ (Forbes says born between 1995-2010).
“The move into skateboarding was made at a surprisingly key time
– three years later it was a new Olympic sport”
It was a move made at a surprisingly key time. Just three years later in 2016, Skateboarding was announced as one of five new Olympic sports set to demo at the Tokyo 2020 summer games. More than 750,000 people take part in skateboarding in the UK with 85% being under 16 years old. It’s arguably one of the most youth-focused sports to tap into and now its about to hit the broadest global stage, a move set to ramp up further participation.
New Balance also turned to growing its digital arm to promote their modernised brand identity and avoid the ‘out of sight out of mind’ reality of a brand not hitting social media news feeds.
Today, the brand has over 10.8 million followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Earlier this year, Global Web Index found ‘Gen Z’ spend more time overall on social media than millennials but favour fewer platforms, most highly, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat. It’s more about fun than friends nowadays. Through a methodical social media approach, the brand focuses on channel-specific content and its consumers rather than its products, for example, creating targeted video content for YouTube – Gen Z’s most widely used platform.
The Gathering of the Govs, a new skate edit filmed in New Zealand has already been viewed 112k times since its release in July, 3-times the combined views of all the brand’s newer videos released since July.
It’s important to note that New Balance still continues its athlete and team partnerships within more traditional sports, those on which it built its $3.8b empire. In 2016, it made its Olympic debut, dressing the Olympic Council of Ireland and the Chilean Olympic Committee. Kit and trainer sponsorship alongside influencer partnerships offered the chance for its products and logos to be seen on the best rising athletic talent including Stephanie Twell and Trayvon Bromell.
“Its foray into skateboarding is evidence that it’s possible to
diversify and reap rewards from the perceived risk”
But its foray into skateboarding is evidence that it’s possible for brands to diversify their activations in sport and reap rewards from the perceived risk. With a marketing spend of $14.1 million on measured media in the U.S in 2017, New Balance’s budget for sponsorship is considerably less than the likes of sector competitors, Nike and Adidas.
But there’s passion as well as money invested in counter culture sports, through engaging young demographics, brands can find loyal customers right at the beginning of their journey.
New Balance was built to be “fearlessly independent” and it’s a value aligned with the heart of skateboarding.
Part of Skateboarding’s appeal lies in its ability to disrupt the norm and is the perfect vehicle through which to target contemporary audiences. New Balance has maintained its traditional line of supporting rising talent whist diversifying its target content marketing within an characterful, youth dominated sport.
If your brand is looking to do the same, athletes within counterculture sports could be your perfect brand ambassadors. Find your niche and you might just make a customer for life.
Are you a brand interested in sports sponsorship within alternative sports? Find out why sport is a viable option for businesses of any size here.