Brand Experience Brief: Nike vs New Balance

(Here’s a slightly different brand experience brief.  Instead of providing a video audit and analysis of a unique retail or restaurant brand experience, I contrast two direct competitors.)

The New Balance and Nike stores across the street from each other in New York City’s Flatiron district delivered unique brand experiences in their own way.  Check out this briefing and let me know which one you prefer!

Brand Experience Brief: Nike and New Balance in New York City (by Denise Lee Yohn) from Denise Lee Yohn on Vimeo.

other brand experience briefs:


When two competitors set up shop right across the street from each other, it makes for a very revealing direct comparison of their brand experiences.  So today we’ll be looking at the Nike and New Balance stores in the Flatiron district of New York City.

I’ll start with the New Balance store, a ground-floor level, 4,000+ square foot space.

Across the street, the Nike store is a 9,000-square-foot two-level spot.

What’s instructive about each store is the distinctive brand experience at each.  New Balance’s brand is about its 105-year heritage, its made-in-America manufacturing, and its mainstream appeal.  So the store features a ceiling mounted timeline with highlights from the company’s history and the fixtures are made of old school materials and designs.  The store designers left the building’s original wood floors and columns untouched and a company spokesperson said the historic Flatiron district was selected as the location for the store, since “We really feel like the culture of New Balance is a great fit here.”  As a reflection of the brand’s accessibility, the store seemed quite playful and fun, with products in all sorts of bright colors on display.

The highlight of the store is a unique Demonstration area decorated with old photos and outfitted with historical looking equipment.  In it, custom-designed shoes are assembled in front of customers.  The interactivity and authentic feeling of the demo area make a strong positive impression and gives the brand a craftsman feel.

Nike’s brand on the other hand is more about innovation, technology, and environmentally-proactive practices.  So, the Nike Running store prominently incorporates digital elements such as an “Innovation Wall” that highlights videos of Nike products and special displays showing off the Nike FuelBand and Nike+.  When I visited, signage was promoting the product technology Hypershield.  In keeping with Nike’s environmental stewardship, the store uses reclaimed building materials, including a wooden bleacher from a local college, and was designed to receive LEED Gold Certification.  Also the store participates in Nike’s Reuse A Shoe Program which recycles customer’s old, donated shoes into new products.

The outdoor signage at each store serves as a summary of the difference between the two brands.  New Balance’s windows were covered with decals in a classic font promoting “New Balance, Inc. Manufacturers of fine quality footwear”, while neon lights flashed “NYC” and “RUN” in Nike’s windows.

Now the Nike store is not all high-tech and void of a human feel – its two story wall features a handrawn mural.

And the New Balance store isn’t all earthy crunchy.  It presents several innovative elements including a small indoor running track for runners to try out shoes and it’s equipped with a camera that’s rigged to take pictures so you can post them to your Facebook page.  This was a much more innovative and distinctive approach than the standard treadmills at Nike.

There was one more notable difference between the stores – the employees.  While some of the New Balance employees seemed like appropriate running ambassadors, the store greeter was a rather large person who was friendly but presented an immediate brand disconnect for me and the cashier seemed kind of bored.  At Nike, every employee seemed like a passionate running expert.

I can’t say I favored one store over the other – both delivered compelling brand experiences in their own way.  And perhaps that’s the biggest takeaway from this brand experience brief. Compelling store experiences depend on bringing clear brand values and attributes to life in creative ways.

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