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Volume 25 No. 196
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Social Studies: How New Balance Handles Kawhi's Stardom, Liverpool

New Balance Global Dir of Consumer Marketing Patrick Cassidy (@NewBalance) describes the brand’s foray into the basketball shoe space with Raptors F Kawhi Leonard leading the charge much like someone who won the lottery. Cassidy said, “This success, this momentum has come pretty fast. Our launch strategy was a long-term one, and the success we’re experiencing with Kawhi -- it’s here and not down the road. First and foremost, we are making sure he has the right product to excel on the court. We were looking for an elite athlete who would help us build the New Balance basketball brand globally, someone who is going to get in there with us and have ideas and be engaged. He has.” New Balance has much more going for it than just Leonard, who has led his team into the NBA Finals for the first time. The brand also has relationships with the Bruins, who are in the Stanley Cup Final, and EPL club Liverpool, which won the UEFA Champions League last weekend.

SOCIAL SNAPSHOT
Must-follow:  80's Wrestling on Instagram. It’s a call-back to when we were kids and I always laugh when a candid image of the Macho Man or Roddy Piper shows up in my feed.
Favorite app: I don’t know if you consider the podcast app an app, but there's a terrific Sixers podcast called “Rights To Ricky Sanchez” that I never miss.

Average time per day on social media: I spend significant time on Twitter and Instagram.

Capitalizing on Kawhi’s success:
Everything we want to do is digital first, primarily social first. That’s via additional content with Kawhi, but also creating social moments, which can be done outside making something digital. We have some compelling billboards that appeared in Toronto two weeks ago and some billboards that recently appeared in Oakland over the weekend that have caused some social buzz. Capitalizing on who he is and working with him on developing things that will move the needle. There are the “Fun Guy” T-shirts; Kawhi was highly involved in the development and support of it. We are picking our spots. We want to keep special special

How Leonard changed the brand’s social strategy:
Kawhi is a little different. He doesn’t have social channels, but he understands what is going on, he understands the digital landscape. He is not out there telling his story on his own platform. Part of our thing is telling the story of who Kawhi Leonard is through a social-first lens. We had a launch video that dropped during All-Star Weekend and it caught people by surprise. I don’t think people were expecting to hear from New Balance at that moment or to debut his shoe at that moment. What you will see over the next several months and years is how we really start to pull back the curtain, co-authoring Kawhi’s story with him for the people in a social-first world.

Basketball helping New Balance’s other sport products:
We have two stated goals of who we want to be: One is to be No. 1 in the world in running; the second is we want to be one of the top athletic brands in the world. You can’t have that without basketball. We’ve been in the global football/soccer space for a number of years, and that’s a growing imprint for us. Having a burgeoning basketball business with an athlete like Kawhi, the impact is undeniable from the product people buy all the way down to sentiment and how people perceive the brand.

Embracing “Dad Shoe” reputation:
We don’t always have to take ourselves so seriously. There are different people around the world who view New Balance differently depending on what region they are in. There is the “Dad Shoe” thing that people joke about in the U.S., but we are the No. 1 lifestyle brand in Japan. There is something to be said about us wanting to be smart and strategic in everything we do, and some of that is embracing who we are or what people are saying about us.

Translating Liverpool’s Champions League win for social:
We have to take advantage of who we are in the moment, and we have been on this ride with Liverpool for several years. Building up to and through that moment this weekend was everything from social takeovers to making sure we had the right engagement on the ground in Madrid to physical things like flipping over store windows and experiences in Madrid and Oxford Street in London, making sure we had digital connectivity on our NewBalance.com presences across the world.

Collaborating with athletes on social media:
There is a high level of collaboration with our athletes. As we’ve made a real effort to bring these game-changing athletes into the brand, I feel a lot of it started with Francisco Lindor a couple of years ago. But Lindor, (Liverpool F Sadio) Mane, Kawhi, (U.S. sprinter) Sydney McLaughlin, (NBA Draft prospect) Darius Bazley and all of the athletes that we recruit into the brand, almost from the beginning is co-authoring their personal experience with New Balance over time. We have a very solid relationship with all of our key athletes on how we want to tell their story via social. What’s important to these athletes when we talk to them? How do their goals match up with New Balance's goals and how can we co-author those plans to make those things happen?

If you know anyone who should be featured for their use of social media, send their name to us at jperez@sportsbusinessdaily.com.