Soul & Science
Soul & Science

Season 1, Episode · 2 months ago

S1 Episode 17: New Balance CMO Chris Davis | 116 Years Young - Inside New Balance’s Brand Transformation

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

New Balance is not only “the shoe brand of choice for film stars, athletes and supermodels,” according to Urban Journal, it’s the brand for “the biggest, hype-inducing names on the street right now.” As CMO of the hotly resurgent brand, which was born in 1906, Chris Davis applies a risk/innovation model which puts 50% of the marketing budget into proven, demand-creation tactics, 30% into calculated risks (NFTs, for example) and 20% into purely experimental vehicles that may fail spectacularly or succeed later. Davis, who is also SVP Global Merchandising, says the only unacceptable risk is one that comprimes brand values. He tells us how to transform a 116-year-old product company into a world-class brand.

Thank you, Chris, for joining me. Give it a listen, and fast forward your marketing mind in about 20 minutes.

Brought to you by Mekanism.

Hi, I'm Jason Harrison. You're listening to soul and science. Fast Forward Your Marketing Mind in about twenty minutes. If you like our show, please take a moment to subscribe, rate, review and share on apple, spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. You can follow us across social platforms at mechanism. Thanks for joining me on the pot. Today I'm joined by Chris Davis, CMO of new balance. Chris Davis is the chief marketing officer and Senior Vice President of global merchandizing. He started working at new balance in two thousand and eight and since then he has led teams at Warriors Sports and New Balance Athletics in Brand Management, Global Business Unit Management, Sports Marketing, global brand marketing and global product merchandizing. It sounds like Chris has done everything. Davis is an entrepreneurial manager with a passion for developing dynamic global teams. He cultivates a progressive, results driven environment of teamwork, creativity and calculated risk. Davis has led teams to successfully negotiate contracts with premier global athletes and partners, including the NBA, Koal, Leonard, Raheem Sterling, Saudio Mone Coco, Gough, Sydney, McLoughlin, Jaden Smith, storm read and Jack Harlow. Davis has also pioneered new balances entry into basketball, baseball, global football, skateboarding and global sports style footwear through global business development, product creation, infrastructure and demand creation strategies. In his role as CMO and s VP of Global Merchandizing, Davis is responsible for new balances, product and demand creation initiatives around the world to maximize the brand's impact with a consumer driven, globile first vision. Davis was selected by Footwear News as one of the forty shoe executives under the age of forty revolutionizing the business and recognized by Forbes among the fifty most entrepreneurial CMOS and marketing today. Today's theme is how to transform a hundred sixteen year old product led company into a world class brand. We're gonna dive right in, Chris, thanks for joining us. Before we get into new balance, we're going to get into Chris Davis and the origin story. How you got into marketing? Did you sort of know you wanted to get into it? Did you try other things and then find your way into marketing? I want to know how did that happen? I've always had innate inquisitiveness for for branding and marketing. Of I've always loved brands, I've always loved communications and, most importantly, I've always loved sports, retail and fashion, and I think when you combine all of those things and the opportunity to tell amazing stories and fields that you're passionate about, amazing things can happen. So I knew first and foremost that the opportunity to work in sports, retail, style fashion was of the utmost interest for me and some thing that I was naturally gravitated towards. But for me, I was able to have a wide variety of roles within the organization, with both warrior sports and with new balance that ultimately enabled me to understand that marketing was was my ultimate path and was my ultimate strength. And I wouldn't necessarily look at it as marketing or branding. I would look at it as storytelling. And how do you evoke emotion and communicate empathy and values and great stories to consumers across the world about a field that you're passionate about, product that you love and sports and fashion? That it's our job to figure out what our job should be and a lot of times. That takes a lot of twists and turns and a lot of ups and downs, but you really have to be passionate and driven to make it worthwhile and to do your best to feel like you're not phoning it in but you're really living it. So I love that. And did you grow up around sports? I've always been into sports. I've always been to watch sports,...

...playing sports. I don't play team sports anymore, but I do cycle and run and practice health and wellness pretty religiously or dedicatedly on on a on a daily and weekly basis. But sports have always been a passion for Mine and when I come home after a long day of work, I flick on ESPN or I'll flip through G Q or Rob Report and digesting that content and being inquisitive about learning more about the industry, learning more about consumers, learning more about new brands and new products, watching games and seeing what the commercials are like or what players are wearing or what the banners are in stadium, as well as consuming the game itself. You know, these are things that I just have innate curiosity for. I think sports and culture have merged together sports. There's sports culture there's culture, there's culture around sports, it's it's all kind of blended together. I and we firmly believe that the worlds of sport, culture and fashion have never been more intertwined and, ironically, for new balance. As a brand, our goal is to be the best at that collision of Sport and Culture Integration. But we try to live at that intersection through our content, through our products, through our sports marketing. Living at the intersection of Sport and culture is our primary progative as a brand. Do you look at that intersection or do you look at it has three different lanes that you want to be part of? We look at it purely as an intersection. We start from the nucleus and the nucleus is the intersection of Sport and culture, and from there we can look at it categorically or in a separate manner. But for us, we believe that we are big enough and small enough to live at that intersection of sports and Sport and culture and ensure that our stories aren't necessarily vertical or purely categorical, that we can be more of an all encompassing brands that understands consumers holistic viewpoint on what sport, music, fashion culture mean an emerged environment. So I've heard you call new balance a hundred sixteen year old startup. Tell me what you mean by that and how could a brand that's been around for so long still have that startup mentality? We started off with the idea of not wanting our brand and not having our goal for new balance to be the best foot or apparel marketing brand it could be. Our goal was to be the ultimate challenger brand really in any industry, and we felt as though by putting our stake in the ground and saying that if new balance could be the ultimate challenger brand in any industry, we would certainly step aside from the Sea of Sameness that our own industry had become. We knew we wanted to be a brand with heritage versus a heritage brand, and that distinction is very important, because that's what being a hundred and sixteen year old startup company that's focused on tomorrow means. That means being a brand with heritage versus a heritage brand. If you look at that ethos or that thesis, our Global Marketing Department really lives by two simple truths. The first simple truth is more of like a macro industry and business philosophy. But the first simple truth is that the death of all major brands in sports, retail and fashion lies in the notion of stagnation. So I'll say that again. The death of all major brands in sports and retail and in fashion lies in the notion of stagnation. That ultimately means if you're standing still, you're moving backwards. If you don't have the courage to disrupt yourselves or your industry, you will ultimately become disrupted. So you have to create an environment in the culture of progression, disruption and discomfort, because you have to remember that growth and comfort are two concepts that can never ever coexist. If you're comfortable, you're not growing, but if you're constantly putting ourselves in uncomfortable situation,...

...that leads to growth, both as a brand and as an individual. The second major truth, which is easy to say but difficult to do, is that you're marketing absolutely has to be a reflection of your values. As a brand, we always strive to have an autobiographical relationship with consumers through through a marketing, meaning we're constantly striving to introduce ourselves to consumers. With each piece of content that comes comes out, no matter what piece of the funnel it falls in. So with our autobiographical approach, it's about communicating our values, our mood, our personality and always striving to enable consumers to understand who we are. On a more prominent level. This was about revealing new balances brand truth. It wasn't an exercise for a new slogan or temporary campaign. It was about identifying that core traits and core feature that enabled new balance to get through the first hundred and sixteen years of our existence and was going to be that North Star that propelled us to new heights for the next hundred and sixteen years. I love those two simple truths because it's very easy for the whole company to sort of remember those and live those. I'm a broken record with my team, meaning they will hear me say the same phrases almost every day or every week. But I do think transparency and like universal, simple communication that could be understood in the hundred and thirty two countries that we operate, that could be understood from vice presidents to interns who started yesterday, is absolutely essential. I think a lot of brands forget when you're marketing, you've got to market in the Organization for first before you can even start to think about marketing to the audience. You have to have that internal marketing down because everyone has to be on the same page. The other thing you mentioned, which is a personal mantra I always lived by, is there's no growth in comfort. You should always be doing things to make you uncomfortable, and I love that idea. Can you tell me a little bit about how you went from a company that was really conversion lad too, story lead. We were in a position where we wanted to reinvent ourselves. I think it's really important to understand that marketing is both qualitative and quantitative and in order to ignite and realize a vision of calculated risk excellence, there's two components. There's the cultural component and there's the infrastructural and operational component. First you have to get everybody on the same page and understand that the new balance marketing team, the new balance brand, our vision as a whole, is to be a leader in calculated risk excellence. However, you can only say that so many times. You have to provide individuals, the organization, the brand with the opportunity to experiment take risks and ultimately fail. You also have to ensure that individuals are held accountable to take risks, experiment and fail. If you're not failing, you're you're simply just not being aggressive or trying hard enough. So so for us, transitioning from a lower funnel based marketing organization that was that was intent on conversion and retention to driving upper funnel really came with with two formulas. The first formula, which was the primary driver behind our content creation, is easy to say but difficult to execute. It's a formula that essentially drives all...

...of the content that we create in the marketplace, from from stills out of home to global thirty second campaigns on television around the world. And the formula is simple. It's having the right brand or product story plus the Right Cultural Co signer at the right moment in time. So the right brand or product story. That could be a new product release, it could be a global brands campaign. However, it's it's the right brand or product story plus the Right Cultural Co signer. A cultural co signer for us would be a partnered ambassador, partnered athlete or partnered League or team at the right moment in time the right moment in time. Could be the NBA finals, it could be the world's cup, it could be Earth Day, it could be black history month, it could be father's day or Mother's Day, for example. That's a really cool formula that sort of dives into that intersection of sports and culture that you mentioned right. That is the definition of how we look at the intersection of support and culture and, more importantly, and enables us to be real time sport and culture, meaning we want to speak to individuals when they want to be spoken to and we want to activate our partners and our products at moments in time where it is of the utmost relevance. An example of that would be launching Kauai Leonard Signature Shoe with a collaboration with Joe fresh goods and Kauai during the NBA All Star game. Yeah, that makes total sense. So it's really combining the most important sporting cultural moments, sporting or cultural moments throughout the year, with our face of brand ambassador is with the right brand or product story. The second formula Um that really enables us to operationally succeed from a risk taking standpoint and innovation standpoint, and it ultimately merges the qualitative hand quantitative to ensure that that risk taking is uniformly replicable throughout, throughout our system. Is Our fifty, thirty, twenty model. So of our demand creation budget is allocated towards proven tactics. This could be out of home, this could be paid social it could be Google adwords, or could be a broadcast television spot that we know is going to be successful. Thirty of our budget is allocated towards calculated risk. This could be something that's working another industry that, how our industry hasn't necessarily adopted yet or isn't rampant throughout our industry. So this could have been and F T S or digital assets six or twelve months ago, or it could have been e sports and gaming two years ago. Of Our budget is allocated purely towards purely experimental tactics with a high probability of failure. If something works once in, it then moves into if it works two or three more times in, it then moves into. As a result, we have this self fulfilling prophecy of marketing innovation and, more importantly, it provides teams with the license to fail. Obviously, there are unacceptable risks, and an unacceptable risk would be something that compromised our values as a brand. But overall, I firmly believe that the model has enabled us to accelerate our innovation from an operational and quantitative standpoint as a brand,...

...while providing individuals and associates in our team with a license to fail. Plus it just makes things fun and challenging, and I always tell a team, hey, if breakthrough concepts were easy, everybody would do them. Everybody would do them if they were easy, but they're not and you have to fail several times in order to really truly realize and attain a breakthrough concept. Um that that's going to be viral across the globe. Um, do you think that if you were publicly traded versus privately held, do you think that allows you to do the fifty rule, or do you think publicly traded companies could do that? Also, I think because of the way we are structured and operate, we do have the license to do that. When we launch a new sport, it's oftentimes a ten year business plan where we're not profitable until a year six, or twelve year business plan where we're not profitable until year seven. So being an independent brand enables us to set the appropriate foundation ensure that our our product are marketing, our merchandizing is rooted in our brand values and it takes the pressure off of chasing revenue and enabling us to build something right. So, from a marketing standpoint, six or seven years ago we knew who we wanted to transform our department. We wanted to be brand lad versus product lad. We wanted to drive more dollars up the funnel to bring new consumers in versus re exhausting our existing consumer base over and over again, uh, to to drive, to drive revenue. That was a long term approach. We're talking seven years later. The goal was to ensure that we took what we believe was our rightful position as the top three global athletic brand, both from a revenue and from a brand standpoint. Brand a creative revenue, not revenue for Revenue Sake, not branding for branding sake, but brand a creative revenue. That took lots of risk taking. It took lots of, you know, trend predicting, but it also took lots of KPI benchmarking, data point analysis and and and Rinse and repeat. But we didn't just start off with a significant budget where we were able to take tons of risk. We had to build in the model and then we had we had to prove that the best indication of future behavior was past behavior. So once we had initial data points, once we had initial actions, once we had initial behaviors, we were able to accelerate our brand positioning and brand a creative revenue with every successful action that we took, and it ultimately became contagious and it became contagious across all fronts. If you're into sneakers and you're into fashion, like we have a world class roster of collaborators. If you're into music, we have some of the most famous musicians in the industry that have been longtime fans of the new balance brand. If you're into sports, our whole idea and our whole vision behind our sports marketing strategy is to be the most boutique sports marketing brand in the world and to live by a fewer, bigger, better philosophy. With everything that we do, whether it's a long term business plan, whether it's with our content, with whether it's with our partnerships, our goal is to never be the biggest. Our goal is to always be the best, to be the best version of ourselves, and that's being the ultimate challenger brand. It's being the most boutique sports marketing brand in the world. But we try to be the best and not the biggest in that drives our behavior. And do you have one, two or three things that in the past thirty six months or so that stand out? Is like these two...

...or three things really catapulted the company. I believe that all of our partnerships that we have created and and collaborated on over the course of the last, let's to say, five years have had a tremendous impact on our brand, whether it be hyper endemically in some spaces or from a mainstream global standpoint. So, going back to a fewer, bigger, better approach and trying to be the best, not the biggest. We are hyper selective but also hyper aggressive and how we choose our partners. So we partner with some of the biggest and influential teams and leagues across the globe, as well as musicians and brands, some of them that stand out to me. We weren't in basketball and we launched basketball with three partnerships, one was the million dollar intern areas. Baisley, who skipped college, became an intern for new balance and then got drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder. That disruptive idea, experimental act, you know, was on the front page of the New York Times and that's how we launched into basketball, and then we partnered with Kauai and the NBA. From a soccer standpoint Saudio, money and Raheem Sterling to top ten players in the world, really drilled us into into soccer, and then with women's tennis and Coco Golf, who was just like a special human and special athlete, was a huge factor. From a collaboration standpoint, I would say emi Leondor has been arguably our largest, best and most integrated global partner. On the streetwear and fashion side of the business. Joe Fresh goods, Stone Island, Kith, sleighy Ben Burry have also been other amazing partners that have contributed to us. And on the music and culture side, Jaden Smith, Jack Harlow and Storm Reed have all been phenomenal for us. And you know, Jack Harlow is the most popular rapper in the world right now, but he's on our second contract with us. Jaden Smith is known in all countries, all over the world and he's on our third contract with us and he's twenty two. So we take a partnership over sponsorship approach. How we choose our partners is through a a Co authored process. It means we co author our strategies together, we co author our product and we CO author our content. So when you join new balance, you're joining a family and we expect a lot from you. If you want to check to where our sneakers or our clothing, we're not the right brand. But if you want to roll up your sleeves and work on cool ship with our design team, product teams, marketing teams, and you want to over invest yourself and over apply yourself to tell your story, we are the brand for you, because we're all about one of few is one of many. Leaning into fewer but doing them bigger is an interesting approach. Versus let's just try to get our product and partnerships on as many athletes as we can. It's a very distinct new balance approach. Do you think you have a unique style of leadership from those that preceded you? And you know what, what would how would you define the Chris Davis Style of leadership. So I can only speak for myself in this instance. But me at work, me at home with my family, me with my friends, all the same person. And I would say earlier in my career I overcompensated for age and trying to be a leader that others expected me to be or trying to be a leader that you read about in books or that you saw on Ted talks or that you saw on TV. But what I ultimately learned that being myself, being transparent, being objective and fair and...

...ultimately being vulnerable Um one needed, was the best form of leadership to me. So I try to keep things light, I'm always forthcoming, I'm always honest, I believe I'm very fair, but what you guys are listening to today and this conversation is how I how I lead every single day. I like that. The Chris Davis Style is Chris Davis Being Chris Davis. Obviously you learn tactics from from mentors and influences, but but I also think that that, like, the best form of leadership is, is you being yourself. Like people want honesty, they want authenticity, they want to be part of a team and then, like I want to come to work every day and have fun, like we're telling stories for sports, fashion, retail and consumers who love these fields everywhere around the world. Like this should be fun, but it also should be a team based environment where the enemy is not in the building, and it's my job to set that tone and set that culture within our teams. What do you what can we expect to see next from you and from new balance? And obviously, if you can't say specifics, maybe maybe sort of talk broadly about what we can exp what what the audience can expect to see from you, a new balance in the future. UN pumped about the future. So we're coming off back to back hype be sneaker brand of the year awards, but I would say the products that we have coming down the pipeline are collaborative partnerships and when and how they will be launched for eclips anything that we've done in the past. I think you'll see new balance digging a lot into our brand purpose and sustainability. You'll see a lot more from us in the gaming space, a lot from us in the N I l space. You'll continue to see that culture of risk excellence just get better and better Um, we're not trying to get broader, we're trying to get deeper and we're trying to have a larger impact and footprint in the sports and and categories that we are involved in. I would just say like we're just getting started and that's and that's what I'm most excited about. I got I got excited listening to you say that. Um, all right. Do you have one or two role models that you've sort of thought about, either personally or professionally, in your life so far? I'm not trying to be cliche in saying this, like I would say, you know, my my parents have been amazing role models for me, and just not only from a professional standpoint, but also from a personal standpoint. And then I've had the luxury and had the ability to have a wide variety of mentors in my life too, because a mentor and a role model are different, right. A role model is someone who you strive to be like. A mentor is someone who takes an active, hands on approach with you. So I would say there's been a lot of mentors, Um, and a few role models that have have really helped me along the way. And do you have a quote or mantra that you always fall back on. To me it's the idea that growth and comfort are two concepts that can't co exist. I mean, I'll say that all the time to my team, but I continuously put myself in an uncomfortable position, both personally and professionally. Growth and comfort can't co exist. Is what I live by. And, whether you know that's me introducing myself to you at an event or going on this podcast, or trying to run ten miles versus nine, or going for a thirty mile bike gride and stead of twenty five mile bike gride, like, I look at every opportunity to try to get get better and improve. That's basically like my he's...

...a statement, uh, for for how I live. I love that, and thank you for putting yourself out there today, thanks for being on the podcast and, uh, we definitely learned a lot in our in our conversation. So thanks so much. Thank you. And I will say that, like, I have the best team in the world. So it's a team effort. I'm just kind of like the senator that represents them right. So it's the it's the new balanced team that that gets that and, uh, I'm very fortunate to have a great such a great teame. So thank you, thanks so much for listening to soul and science and we'll see you next week. Soul and science is a mechanism podcast produced by the unbelievable Frank Risco, Ryan Tillotson, Tyler Nilsson, Emma Swanson, and we'll leave you, blonsky. The show is edited by Daniel Ferrari, theme music by Kyle Mary, and I'm your host, Jason Harris.

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