With New Balance & Susan G. Komen for the Cure celebrating 20 years of running towards the same goal, a world without breast cancer, I interviewed New Balance Brand Marketer Chris Mann on the brand and the use of cause marketing to both differentiate and make a difference.
1. You obviously market in a highly competitive category against some substantially bigger budgets. How would describe the New Balance brand and in turn what makes it different?
Yes we do, one of the most competitive environments I've seen. In my view, the New Balance brand has always stood for authentic performance. Our heritage is solidly based in running, with many innovations to our credit including the introduction of width sizing. Our focus as a company has always been on providing the best possible product for every athlete to achieve their goals within running & sports.
What makes us different in my mind is private ownership and the culture that our owners Jim & Anne Davis have built. Our commitment to domestic manufacturing is just one example of how we have chosen to not compromise on something that is important to our associates & customers. New Balance proudly relies on our manufacturing associates to produce a quarter of our North American footwear worn by consumers (approximately 7 million pairs of shoes) in the US each year. We are the only major footwear manufacturer to still produce athletic footwear in the US.
2. New Balance has stayed away from the traditional sports marketing route of paid celeb athlete endorsement. How would you instead describe your overall marketing approach and how does cause marketing fit into that strategy?
As a result of our focus on developing the best possible products, we've focused our marketing funds towards the goal of providing innovative & top of the line products. Our overall marketing approach has centered around letting every athlete know that we have the right product to help them achieve their goals in running or whatever activity they choose. That could be anyone from the elite world class runners that choose to wear our products to the women walking or running in there local Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
Cause marketing fits into the strategy because ultimately we are in the business of encouraging people to live active and healthy lifestyles. Study after study shows the link between exercise, nutrition & the other components of a healthy lifestyle and a reduction in risk of breast cancer and many of other health issues. Breast cancer is a cause that is personal for many of our associates and a disease that we can proactively attack and make a difference in by encouraging more people to run, walk, etc.
There are also strong correlations between exercise & increased self-esteem. One of our other long-term cause partners, Girls on the Run recognizes that around the ages of ages 8-11 girls start to have a difficult time dealing with unrealistic media messages, peer pressure and a variety of other things that start to have a very powerful and negative impact on girls when they reach that age. Girls on the Runs program uses a wonderful curriculum paired with the activity of running to help girls recognize the unique, wonderful skills & talents that they have and it gives them the encouragement to go out and achieve their dreams.
3. While those of us that closely follow cause marketing know that in a down economy it can actually prove even more impactful, I'm curious if there was any reluctance within the organization to move forward with plans for this year?
Quite the opposite actually. Although we look very hard at business results and responsibly trimmed our overall marketing spend as a company, our cause marketing initiatives received increased budgets this year. I'm pleased to say that we're doing more than ever before to support our cause partners and let consumers know how they can help.
4. You're celebrating the 20th of partnership with Susan G. Komen for the Cure. And clearly have taken a very strategic and long term approach. Can you share how and why the initial relationship was formed and how it's perhaps evolved over the years?
I wasn't around back in the days when our partnership began, but my understanding is that there was a desire from some of our associates to get involve on a local level with the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure starting in 1989. A few years later in 1991 we signed on as a National Sponsor of the Komen Race for the Cure and have been doing it ever since. Having seen success with the Race for the Cure, we decided to expand our involvement with a line of Komen branded products, the "Lace Up for the Cure" Collection in 2004 and shortly thereafter also signed on as a National Sponsor of the Breast Cancer 3-Day walks benefiting Komen.
It has been a wonderful, long-term partnership and one that our associates and customers are proud to support. What I love the most about it is that our programs continue to develop and expand in new and exciting ways each year. A perfect example is our new limited edition Susan G. Komen for the Cure 993 - it's an iconic New Balance shoe redone in pink suede and vibrant packaging calling out the partnership. Even better, we recently ran a promotion where we offered consumers to opportunity to have a pair personalized with their choice of phrases including "In Honor Of", "Running For", "Lace Up!" and "Survivor" along with a name. The response to our limited offering was tremendous, and as a result we'll be making many more pairs available for sale in October.
5. You must be aware of the existence of a vocal minority backlash associated with Komen: those that feel because of their size and stature they push out smaller yet effective nonprofits, or conversely that they've spread themselves too thin with partnerships and therefore an alliance with them is diluted because so many others are already doing it. How would you respond to those views?
I can understand how people could feel that way, but I personally disagree. There is room for smaller & effective non-profits to compete in this market just as there was room for a smaller shoe company like ourselves to become the #2 footwear brand in the US. It comes down to how can you be more innovative, more responsive & finding a niche that you can be most effective in. I'd also liken Komen to the rising tide that lifts all boats. All breast cancer organizations benefit from the amount of awareness, consumer interest and visibility of the cause that Komen generates via their work.
As for the high number of corporate partnerships, I do think that it becomes somewhat of a challenge, but again, I come back to how do you do things that are innovative & claim your own specific space among the partners. Would it be easier to stand out if there were less partners? Yes, but those partnerships also drive awareness and interest from our retail customers and consumers which makes it easier to have conversations with them about our programs.
6. I understand you’re shifting to a new donation model and communication next year. Can you share the thinking behind that?
We currently donate 15% of wholesale sales from our Lace Up for the Cure(R) Collection to Susan G. Komen for the Cure with a minimum guarantee of $500,000 up to $1 million annually. Starting next year, we will change that to 5% of the suggested retail price with the same minimum & maximum. We used wholesale in previous years as it was the easiest for use to track and ensure the proper donation was received by Komen. We're moving to the suggested retail price going forward in the interest of being as transparent as possible for the consumer.
7. In addition to the limited time only product line, what are some of the other components of your Komen partnership?
Besides the limited edition 993 program, all our other Lace Up for the Cure products are available year-round and supported via our Race for the Cure, Breast Cancer 3-Day and other sponsorships/programs including our support of the Komen Marathon for the Cure team and our partner ExerciseTV's development of on-demand "pink ribbon" workouts to help runners & walkers training for those events.
8. Cause marketing programs, like all marketing platforms, are only as good as people are aware of them. How do you get the word out?
We've primarily driven awareness through PR and our event sponsorships. This year we have done more in the online/interactive space and will have a stronger push into social media this fall including a some great video content that showcases our history with Komen. Everyone who was involved with the video project couldn't help but be touched by it and get emotional. I can't wait to share it with the world and hope that it touches and inspires them as it did me. In addition, our 137 New Balance stores in the U.S. will have a great in-store presence this October including point of sale materials, an LCD fixture playing the video I mentioned earlier, an "Experience the Race for the Cure" gift with purchase and a new fundraising pin-up program where we'll ask customers to donate $5 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure in exchange for a $10 coupon.
9. As you know, in cause marketing the inherent framework strives to deliver results where everyone wins: the consumer, the brand, and a cause or non-profit. Can you share any results related to these key metrics?
The recent personalized Susan G. Komen for the Cure 993 program drove 56,330 unique visits to our website including 1,053 contest entries to win a free pair. Thanks to Robin Roberts wearing her pair on Good Morning America, we also reached approximately 6 million viewers and saw a 67% increase in visitors to newbalance.com during the hour after the broadcast. We also easily sold out the full allotment of 400 pairs (most of the time within minutes of the daily allotment being released at 12:00am EST) and have generated tremendous interest for the next release in October.
In 2008, we also saw a 143% ROI on our Race for the Cure sponsorship and 75% ROI for the Breast Cancer 3-Day including excellent sales results at event expos, etc. Our share of participant feet at each of those events is also significantly higher than our overall U.S. market share with 35% of Race for the Cure participants and 29% of 3-Day participants wearing our shoes. Over the course of the year, we interacted with more than 425,000 participants and drove more than 150 million impressions through our sponsorships & PR efforts surrounding Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
For general brand measures, according to our latest brand tracking study, 36% of active athletic shoe buyers (those who have purchased athletic shoes in the last year) are aware of our support of Komen and that number was even greater for those ages 22-29 (39%) and 30-37 (49%).
On the less qualitative side, our retailers and associates consistently tell us how proud they are to be involved and our partnership with Komen and our corporate responsibility efforts in general often comes up in interviews with potential employees when asked what attracted them to New Balance.
So, overall, we are very pleased with the results and I know that our partners at Komen are pleased with how we've been able to introduce our customers to their cause and raise critical funds for breast cancer initiatives.
10. Did the company view the recent Made in USA push as a "cause marketing program?" And how was it similar and different from "Lace Up For The Cure" in its goals or approach?
We didn't necessarily view the Domestic Pride initiative as a "cause marketing program", but it certainly has a similar feel in that it centers around something that is personal to our associates and an important part of our company's history. However, the goals are certainly the same in many ways - we want to talk about issues that are important to our customers and let them know that we care about them too. In an environment where consumers are overwhelmed with more marketing messages than ever, trust in corporations is at an all-time low, and people have less discretionary funds to spend, we're hopeful they'll then choose to support us and join us in making a difference.
11. Are there other sports brand / non-profit cause programs out there that you admire or closely follow?
We follow what other Komen partners are doing and am consistently impressed with the variety of programs that are being developed. On a more regional level, I started my career at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute here in Boston and can't think of a finer example of a sports/cause partnership than what the Red Sox and Dana-Farber's Jimmy Fund have done over the last 50+ years in New England. It would be great to see more professional sports teams follow that model to leverage the strength of their brands & passion of their fan base to support local causes.