Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New Balance & Komen for the Cure: Running to win

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 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.

To learn more about New Balance's partnership with Komen visit and you can follow Chris on twitter @ChrisRMann

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Redbird Rising

Artwork by Griffin Powell

I am 3 years cancer free as of today, August 15, 2009. A special day for me and my family and will always be a date of unique signifigance for the rest of my life. I am sitting on a beach and the sound of the waves and wind are truly meditative. I have a perpetual smile on my face and I'm not a smiley person. I've made progress towards my goals over the past year. But in many I've fallen short. Even still, it's a journey not a race.

Cancer changes you and I don't think the "dealing" really ever stops per se but the key I've found is to use it as a positive catalyst. I remember writing at the time I knew it would change me and I hoped and trusted in many ways for the better. Better perspective. Better life balance. Better appreciation for small pleasures in life. And yes I have changed somewhat but not altogether as much as I should have. And I'm disappointed in myself for it. I still am a recovering workaholic. I lose my patience with people and let little things bother me. I still take my wonderful wife and son for granted at times. I haven't made time to cultivate my friendships as much as I should. Even my health -- the very thing that started all this -- I don't give it the time and attention it demands much less deserves with working out and eating right. I share all this because it's both cathartic and because I want to challenge you to watch for these things in your life. Because yes time flies and life is short.

Finally I want to share an edited version of an email I sent three years ago. It leaves me feeling a bit raw and naked to do so but it's important. And this line will serve as a good summary: "And that we all slow down a bit and recognize what's around us and what messages they contain."


"Redbird Rising"

Many if not all of you are aware of my current status but nonetheless I wanted to share it in my own words. Let me warn you that this is a long email, but I hope, well worth reading. And the reason for title of this email will become evident shortly.

I have started to write this update email many, many times and have struggled to do so for several reasons I think. One, this entire episode in my life still seems quite surreal, and literally does feel like an episode of a TV show. Two, perhaps I have a bit of what is called "survivor's guilt" -- that is, while I am trilled, grateful and blessed to be CANCER-FREE! at this time, I can't help but feel humbled by the reality that so many afflicted with cancer (including people I know) haven't or didn't have the relatively smooth journey and final destination that I have experienced.

In any event, it still brings tears to my eyes to type or say it but thank God almighty that my post-surgery pathology revealed that my lymph nodes were all negative and therefore no signs of cancer remaining in my body! This means no chemo and just routine bloodwork and CTs for the next 5 years for early detection of any reoccurrence.

Also as many of you know, I had a small set-back after surgery with pancreatitis which resulted in returning to hospital for another 5 days. But I have been home now for a week, and my pancreas and liver levels have been returning to normal with another check-point due this Wed. Pancreatitis is typically a result of gallstones and therefore removing the gallbladder is the standard protocol. However, in my case, my team of doctors (as do I) feel more so that this was an unexpected side-effect of the surgery since the pancreas is the most sensitive organ in the body and it can get jostled during the procedure I underwent.

Now please indulge me in sharing a few stories from the hospital. Once you read, you may think of them as amazing coincidences or dismiss them as merely looking hard enough to see what you want to see. But as for me, I believe in my heart of hearts that these are tangible examples of how your thoughts and prayers have affected my journey and outcome. And for that reason I feel an obligation to share these very personal and meaningful examples with you:

The set-up is simple yet poignantly powerful. I was very close to my grandfather who passed very unexpectedly in 1985 and remain very close to my grandmother who some of you know and love as I do -- Doris. Each grandchild would go visit for a week or two by themselves every summer to Doris and PaPa's. They always had a beautiful backyard full of colorful blooming flowers and plants, birdfeeders and birdbaths. This meant it was quite popular with all kinds of birds but for whatever reason one that PaPa seemed to always like best b/c of it's unique and striking features -- the redbird.

So when I first learned that I may have cancer I made a conscious decision to pick a sign that God and my grandfather would be with me when I really needed them the most. I hadn't thought about redbirds in a long time but they immediately came to mind and was an easy "sign" for me to pick. The afternoon of being told "you have testicular cancer" I was sitting on my couch, crying, and happened to look out my front window to see a magnificent redbird staring right at me from the small tree in our flowerbed. In the coming days and weeks, I would see either the same or other redbirds around our house -- and we have never seen redbirds in the neighborhood before. I'd be sitting at the kitchen table doing cancer research and feel overwhelmed, look out the window and there sitting in a tree would be a redbird. I'd return from yet another doctor's appointment and as I drove-up to the house a redbird would be sitting on our curb. All of these sightings would provide me a sense of peace, calm and confidence that everything would be OK. Upon sharing my "sign story" with my immediate family my mother, father and even Doris noted that they too had noticed seeing redbirds recently that caught their eye.

Fast forward to the Zale-Lipshy hospital on August 10 and the RPLND surgery. The room I was assigned was 626. 6/26 is my birthday. The entire hospital including every single room is decorated with beautiful tapestries from around the world donated by a generous family. In my room was an oversized rug that featured small birds flying all around the border. Many times, with all manner of tubes coming-out of me and feeling miserable I would gaze at that rug. When I had to go to ICU for a day, I was assigned to room 313. 3/13 is my brother's birthday and as much as he wanted to, Brad couldn't come from Wyoming to be there for the surgery -- however he was with me in spirit that day. The worst time in the hospital, when I was in severe pain, nausea, dizzy and light-headed all at the same time it was of course shift-change. As anyone who's been in the hospital knows, during nurse shift-change unless you are dying they don't respond until their mtg is over. Finally, a senior nurse came to our aid with medicine that put me at ease. Sally was the most caring yet jolly nurse there who's warmth I could sincerely feel. She is British with the look and spunk you would expect. Short RED hair and bad British teeth with the front two I swear crooked enough that they came to a point almost. Almost like a bird's beak. My sister-in-law Kerri was a huge Godsend in caring for me in the hospital. I am not a good patient and I guess like most can be hardest on those closest to me. Kerri is a post-partum nurse but she is a nurse, period, at heart. She put up with my constant requests and complaints, pushed me when I needed pushing and provided a hand or a hug when I needed those too. Only after we left did I learn the nickname her family's friends called her all growing-up. With red hair her nickname was "Redbird."

Finally, on the day I was to learn the results of the pathology, I heard a beautiful old man's voice singing next door. And he would sing old church hymns that always touched my soul: Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art. And two songs I vividly remember from PaPa's funeral. Again, this was a sign that God and PaPa were watching-out for me and that everything would be OK. I went to meet the old man the next day and to tell him how much his singing meant to me. To my surprise, Mr. Foote was ironically in the hospital with an eye problem and yet was already blind. But at 99 years old, this was the only health problem he had. He shared that he sang in his church choir for many years and he liked to sing to himself to prevent boredom. I shook his hand as I wiped a tear from my eyes and asked God to bless him as he had me the day before with my good news.

There's probably more I could share but I think that's probably enough to give you an idea, and it's still emotional for me to relive. But it's very important to me and for you to acknowledge that your prayers and wishes did and continue to make a difference. And that we all slow down a bit and recognize what's around us and what messages they contain.

Well, I am recuperating nicely at home now, with continued support from my work and I hope to return soon. Griffin is growing and changing every day and while the circumstances aren't ideal, I feel lucky that I have been able to see him more than a typical new father could. I am able to pick him up easier now that my incision is more healed and less painful. And yes, I have become that annoying Dad who takes a pic of everything his son does. So there, I admit it and apologize for ever making fun of anyone who did the same.

So let me ask and answer the question I posed with my first email update, "What can you do?"

1. Continue to pray for my health, specifically that the cancer will remain out of my body and that the pancreatitis mystery will clear-up on it's own

2. Continue to pray for Griffin, that he continues to grow and be the amazing baby he's been despite spending a lot of time in hospitals and hotels

3. Continue to pray for Kelli, that she finds strength to take care of her two babies and not leave an empty tank for herself

4. Continue to push yourself and your loved ones to conduct monthly testicular self-exams. Here's a link to a simple how-to:

As a society, we've got to increase awareness and dialogue about this disease and get it to the level of breast cancer awareness and self-examination. Some perspective: since my diagnosis three friends or family members of those on this distribution list have been diagnosed with testicular cancer. And that's just the ones I or you know about. Luckily, it appears all caught it early. So please, use me as a reason to talk about TC at home, at work, at your church -- everywhere. Guys don't like to think a little something could be anything but this is literally playing with their lives.

5. Since being diagnosed I knew one of the things I wanted to do coming-out was get involved in the Lance Armstrong Foundation. I am in the process of applying to become a participant in an upcoming Foundation Summit. And will continue to seek ways to apply my God-given talents for marketing towards this cause. Here's the deal, due to Lance and the popularity of the yellow Livestrong bracelets, the LAF has incredible awareness and raised a lot money -- but it's not enough. The gov't (regardless of political party in power) continues to CUT cancer funding year after year. So in addition to lobbying and applying political pressure (there's' now 55 million of us with a bracelet) the private sector's ability to raise money for research, treatment and related cancer issues becomes even more important. So please support Kelli and I as we walk in the LIVESTRONG Challenge in Austin. Net proceeds from the event support the Lance Armstrong Foundation's mission to inspire and empower people affected by cancer. The LAF serves its mission through advocacy, public health and research. All donations are tax-deductible.

With "Redbird Rising" as my personal watchword,