The Power of Comfort: New Balance’s Billion-Dollar Success Story

New Balance’s Marketing - The road to $5 Billion

How the company that was once seen as the home of the “ugly” dad shoes became a fashion icon

The origin of the “dad shoe” trend became popular in the 80’s with athletic trainers, focused on comfort and stability.

Dad shoes generally refer to practical and comfortable sneakers popularized by fathers or middle-aged men back in the day. Performance-wise, dad shoes are running shoes with oversized, chunky soles that provide maximum comfort for guaranteed underfoot support.

They are a unisex fashion trend. Nowadays, opting for a pair of the so-called “dad shoes”, women are choosing easier mobility and support over high heels.

Celebrities, designers and influencers have also helped popularize New Balance (NB) sneakers in fashion. Icons like Hailey Beiber, Timothee Chalamet, Kanye West, Rihanna and Emily Ratajkowski have all proudly worn NB sneakers and continue to promote the brand.

Blending its rich heritage, commitment to quality and innovative technology with a high-fashion approach, New Balance has solidified its position as a leading brand in the sportswear industry, appealing to both athletes and fashion-conscious consumers.

But how the company that was seen as the home of the “ugly” dad shoes became a billion-dollar success story?


History of the brand

In 1906 the Irish immigrant WIlliam J. Riley founded “New Balance Arch Support Company”.

Getting his idea from watching his chickens walking with perfect balance on their three-toed feet, inspired him to create the three support points in his arch support products.

For the first few decades, the company only created arch support shoes, primarily for workers who spent hours on their feet. Athletes and everyday people quickly embraced the first arch support shoes made out of cork and rubber.

Athletes drawn to the arch supports, asked about a sneaker option. This prompted the creation of the first New Balance shoe in 1961 — called the Trackster. It had an innovative ripple sole, which helped to establish New Balance as a sneaker manufacturer.

1963 New Balance Trackster

Nevertheless, it wasn’t until 1972 that the company really became a top competitor in the sneaker market. The still-small company was purchased by Jim Davis, who made New Balance a top running shoe brand within just a few years.

In 1976 “the 320” launched and was the first shoe to feature the now famous ‘N’ logo. Runner’s World magazine voted the New Balance 320 as the number one running shoe on the market, resulting in a significant increase in sales.

In 1980, New Balance introduced the 620, which was the first running shoe to feature a lightweight and cushioned sole. It’s also the first sneaker to break the $50 retail price barrier.

Two years later the “New Balance 420 was launched, with its nylon upper and foam midsole within a huge number of colourways over the years. Months after New Balance opened its first UK factory and released the hi-tech 990, pushing the sneaker price barrier to $100 for the first time.

In 1985 New Balance introduced the 1300. At $130, it’s the most expensive running shoe ever released and New Balance claims it is the best running shoe ever made.

Then, in 1988 their famous 574 model was released. Moreover, in 2017 New Balance released a reworked version, the 574S.

In 1993, their 1500 model saw high sales due to U.S President Bill Clinton, regularly wearing them on his runs.

In 2001, the 991 drops and is the latest model in the legendary 99x series that first launched in 1982. The late Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously wore grey New Balance 991s for a number of years.

Steve Jobs New Balance

In 2006 was the first collaboration for New Balance. With Offspring they released the NB X Offspring range.

Three years later New Balance decided to break with tradition and start allowing professional athletes to endorse the brand. Including baseball players like Miguel Cabrera and Curtis Granderson, and NBA star Matt Bonner.

The 990 ‘Made In USA’ shoes were specially made before Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign to demonstrate the importance of local industries in America. A year after, New Balance launched the model Numeric as the entry into the popular skate shoe market.

Then, New Balance revealed in 2014 the Canadian tennis player Milos Raonic as their first ever ambassador and released a sportswear line in collaboration with supermodel Heidi Klum.

In 2016, the 247 model was designed for a 24/7 lifestyle. A year later, the 365 model line was launched on their new ‘NB Exclusives’ platform, which offers products exclusively for one week.

Collaborating with Marvel to release two models in honour of the movie Black Panther; the Marvel X New Balance 574 Sport and the Marvel X New Balance 990v4 have launched.

New Balance - Marvel

Staying true to its values, the company ended 2022 with $5.3 billion revenue. The “dad shoes” brand has spoken to a new generation of top athletes, influencers and celebrities who have pushed the brand into the spotlight.

But what are the marketing strategies behind the brand and how it scaled so effectively?


Marketing Strategies of New Balance


1. Brand Identity and Heritage

New Balance’s brand identity is rooted in its rich heritage and tradition of quality, comfort, and innovation. The company has been providing high-performance footwear and apparel for over a century.

New Balance’s brand identity is centered around the idea of empowering consumers to achieve their goals and pursue their passions, whether they are in sports or daily life.

New Balance’s heritage is a key component of its brand identity and marketing strategy, remaining true to its values.

The brand’s heritage is seen in its classic designs, such in the iconic 574 sneakers, which has been a favorite among consumers for decades.

An interesting campaign New Balance did was their “Made in USA” collection. The main idea of the collection was to present the brand’s commitment to domestic manufacturing. Through that collection they embraced their heritage and built a strong emotional connection with their consumers.


2. Product Innovation and Differentiation

New Balance’s commitment to innovation is a critical aspect of its marketing strategy. The company constantly invests in research and development to create cutting-edge products, meeting the needs of its customers.

The brand sets itself apart from other athletic wear companies by offering products that blend comfort, style, and sustainability.

Recently, the brand launched its Fresh Foam line, which features a unique midsole technology that offers comfort and support while reducing environmental impact.


3. Target Audience and Market Segmentation

The brand resonates with various consumer segments, such as runners, walkers, and lifestyle enthusiasts who seek high-quality and functional products for their adventures.

For instance, the brand’s ‘RunIQ’ smartwatch targets professional runners, offering them personalized coaching, training plans and exclusive access to new products.

New Balance runIQ

Meanwhile, its ‘Walking’ category addresses the needs of walkers, providing comfortable shoes with excellent arch support and cushioning.

The brand recognizes that consumers have varying tastes, lifestyles, and purchasing habits, and therefore, adopts a nuanced approach to reach each group effectively.

For example, New Balance collaborates with popular fashion brands like J.Crew and Off-White to appeal to younger, style-conscious audiences, who appreciate limited-edition sneakers.


4. Digital Marketing and Online Presence

New Balance implements digital marketing as a key component of its overall marketing strategy.

The brand recognizes the importance of having an online presence by leveraging social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook to share engaging content, product launches and behind-the-scenes stories.

A common strategy is partnering with athletes and celebrities to showcase the products in action and reach a wider audience.

Their recent “#MyNBalance campaign” encourages users to share their personal stories with its products, creating a sense of community and user-generated content.


5. Athlete Endorsements and Collaborations

New Balance has been successful in using athlete endorsements as a marketing strategy to promote its brand and products.

For instance, the brand recently released a line of sneakers with the rap star J. Cole, inspired by his music and style. New Balance also collaborated with the popular wellness brand, Outdoor Voices, to create a line of sneakers designed specifically for outdoor activities such as hiking and trail running.

Such collaborations allow New Balance to expand and tap into new markets while maintaining its focus on quality and innovation.


6. Retail Strategy and Distribution Channels

New Balance has developed a strong retail strategy that focuses on creating an immersive brand experience for customers.

The company operates over 4,000 retail stores worldwide for product testing, events and community engagement.

New Balance - Retail stores

The “dad shoes” brand invests heavily in e-commerce. Offering a seamless online shopping experience, while growing on social media platforms to connect with customers.


7. Customer Loyalty Programs

Customer loyalty programs are a crucial marketing strategy for New Balance. The company’s loyalty program, known as “NB Rewards,” offers customers exclusive benefits and rewards for purchasing their products. Members receive early access to new product releases, special promotions, and personalized recommendations based on their purchase history. By offering these incentives, New Balance encourages repeat purchases and customer loyalty, ultimately driving sales and increasing brand advocacy.

New Balance employs a diverse range of distribution channels to reach customers globally.

To further enhance its distribution network, the brand has introduced a “Buy Online, Pickup In Store” (BOPIS) option. This enables customers to purchase products online and collect them at their nearest store.

This omnichannel approach allows New Balance to cater the evolving needs of consumers, providing convenience and flexibility across all touchpoints.

To conclude, New Balance achieves success through its rich history, innovative approach and strategic marketing.

By staying true to its values while embracing change, New Balance has not only transformed its image from ugly “dad shoes” to a billion-dollar success, but has also secured a prominent position in the competitive sportswear market.

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