ImageNot all lawyers think and write about branding strategies. Tom Galvani does, and he offers us some nice observations on Newton Running.  After a few minutes of impromptu guilt for being behind on the Sisyphean Runners World training schedule I’m currently using, I thought about Newton and what it takes to make the move from good branding to great branding– the kind of branding that’s so effective that people order wedding cakes that look like your running shoes.

Newton is a relatively new player in the high-end running shoes market. Interestingly, Newton started out with no intention of becoming a shoe company.  The founders’ original plan was to develop new technologies around the idea of “barefoot” running and license the technologies to a larger company like Nike or Adidas.  But when the large shoe companies passed on the idea, Newton kept going and became what it is today– a very successful niche running shoe company.

I first learned of Newton at a race expo, and my interest was piqued, in large part, because they were something different– a highly-touted (a shoe’s presence at an expo is some signal as to quality/seriousness) shoe with an unfamiliar logo.

There’s always been cache in being new or different, and I think Newton is a great example of this. In a strange way, the ubiquity that most brand-conscious companies seek can actually drive away (at least some) consumers.  This consumer segment tires of established brands and seeks out something novel.

(I’m curious if someone can think of other examples of brands that succeeded by virtue of being a fresh face in a market with a lot of bigger, older players.)

Tom duly notes, in his post, the importance of trademark protection for brand owners.  I’ll be the first to second that thought.  If I didn’t believe in it, well, I guess I’d be blogging about something else entirely– or maybe just using the internet for its true purpose: circulating cat memes.

In any case, what are the branding takeaways here?  Here’s what I have so far:

  • Innovation matters.  Newton got its start (and finds a rabid base of fans willing to pay their $175 price tag) because they’ve focused on new technologies and other ways of setting themselves apart in the market.
  • Timing is everything.  Newton got into a market at time when participation in marathons and other running events was on a dramatic rise.
  • Focus on one thing and do it well.  Newton only markets shoes and apparel for runners.  This signals to consumers that Newton makes better running shoes than, say, a company with a similar history that’s trying to market multiple sports.
  • Engage your audience.  Newton has a really cool blog where they provide interesting content (videos, running tips, etc.) and interact with their fans.

Anything I missed?