EPISODE 18: Episode 17: New Balance CMO Chris Davos | 116 Years Young - Inside New Balance’s Brand Transformation

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Show Notes

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
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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.
Soul & Science
Does marketing live in the heart, or in the head? Should you trust your instinct, or your integers? If the answer is both, should you lead with one more than the othe... View More




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