Hitting a new stride

With the launch of a new brand platform, New Balance's communications team hopes to connect with consumers by tapping into their emotional connection with running.

With the launch of a new brand platform, New Balance's communications team hopes to connect with consumers by tapping into their emotional connection with running.

Running is a sport that tends to elicit strong feelings from its participants. Despite the benefits, it is an action that many love to hate and even more hate to love.

And so, New Balance's new brand platform, LOVE/Hate, launched March 27, seeks to highlight consumers' oftentimes-tempestuous relationship with running.

Running is at the heart of LOVE/Hate, and so the common challenge of running will be a prominent theme throughout all of New Balance's different sporting campaigns, like football and baseball.

The new platform ties into New Balance's plan to target a younger, 18- to 29-year-old demographic.

In the past, the company's PR efforts resonated more with the 30- to 35-plus age group of consumers, says Amy Vreeland, New Balance corporate communications manager.

Forthcoming promotional campaigns will also seek to target the different spectrums of runners: the dedicated runner, who "loves to run and considers it a drug;" the fitness runner, who "wants to drink Guinness without guilt;" and the competitive athlete "training for a sport," says Kristen Sullivan, associate PR manager for New Balance.

Vreeland explains that the company will emphasize this "understanding of runners and that [will be] the primary message behind [LOVE/Hate]. We understand what runners go through."

Being runners themselves, Vreeland and the rest of the Boston-based communications team really do understand. Vreeland completed her fifth marathon on April 21 at the Boston Marathon, while Sullivan finished her tenth at the same event.

Chasing a goal
By harnessing the same fierce dedication that carries runners across the finish line in LOVE/Hate, the communications team will work toward the company's own marathon goal of tripling its global sales to $3 billion by 2012, Vreeland says.

To prepare for this business plan, the company has nearly tripled its overall marketing budget in the past year, Vreeland says, and taken on a more holistic approach to marketing overall.

Previously, the PR team, which includes internal and external communications, was largely a subset of marketing. Now, Vreeland says PR lines up with other functional areas, including advertising and interactive integrated marketing.

In this way, the entire marketing team is "better able to respond and plan far ahead," Vreeland explains, while also being able to stay atop of the overlaps that frequently arise in new media, social networking, and advertising.

"We've become a lot closer with different areas of marketing, more tight knit," Sullivan adds. "We're all coming to the table at the same time. [Now, it's] a little bit more integrated with aspects of marketing [throughout], whether it be in-store, online, or interactive.[New Balance] is trying to make it more of a complete brand presentation."

Along with this new marketing approach, New Balance has also changed the way it positions its brand, with LOVE/Hate serving as a "a halo over everything we do in the marketing department," says Norma Delaney, New Balance's global advertising manager.

For years, New Balance has separated itself from competitors, like Nike and Adidas, by avoiding major endorsement deals and rooting brand character in product innovations and grassroots promotions.

With the rebranding, the PR team sees the opportunity to impact further growth by taking a different approach. One way to reach the 2012 revenue goal is to create a more "emotional bond" with consumers to best underscore the character of its performance products, and therefore reenergize the brand, Vreeland says.

Past New Balance marketing strategies were "purely rational and functional. We spent our time messaging our point of difference [from competitors] through products," Delaney adds. "This branding effort is designed to connect more emotionally with current consumers and to attract new consumers."

Changing strategy
While products will remain a central focus, New Balance will promote LOVE/Hate by highlighting visceral consumer reactions and applying experiential and new media projects to best communicate with its new target audience, says Paul Yoffe, VP in the consumer and sports practice for CarryOn Communication, New Balance's new AOR.

One way the PR team tried to connect with the younger demographic was through the company's recruitment of 2008 March Madness fans to serve as brand ambassadors during televised Sweet Sixteen Games and Elite Eight Games in Charlestown, SC; Phoenix; and Houston.

Providing fans with signs featuring logos and LOVE on one side and Hate on the other, fans could express their love or hate for a call or play during games.

Seen in line with New Balance's more integrated marketing team, this project was planned to coincide with TV spots run during the events, and was intended to further engage viewers at home, Sullivan says.

This kind of synergy and brand character might be new to New Balance, but it gives the company the chance to lengthen its stride.

Spreading the word about LOVE/Hate
In a Wall Street Journal exclusive, New Balance announces its business plans to increase its marketing budget as well as the company's desire to attract younger consumers.

New Balance transforms Central Park's Tavern on the Green into "Tavern on the Red" during a consumer media event to showcase its new brand platform in a runner hotspot.

Promotion of the effort will go beyond North America throughout the spring and summer, in such countries as Brazil, Singapore, and South Africa.

Sponsorship of such events as the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure to end breast cancer, the Rock n' Roll Marathon Series, and Major League Lacrosse will be used to increase product visibility.

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