BKI Brand Study: A Tale of Two (Carhartt) Brands

BKI Brand Study: A Tale of Two (Carhartt) Brands

Founded in 1889, in Dearborn, MI, Carhartt occupies a place in American culture few brands can lay claim to. On the one hand, they are a ubiquitous symbol of the working class, the favorite garment of farmhands, laborers and outdoor lovers.

But they also play a major role in the history of communities like hip-hop, extreme sports and “streetwear.”

So how does one brand manage to appeal to two groups of consumers who likely don’t overlap anywhere else?

Our latest Brand Study explores this tale of two brands.

Rough & Rugged

Carhartt is best known for its no-nonsense approach to workwear. Its iconic duck canvas jacket has been worn for generations, largely in their signature “Carhartt Brown” color.

Whether it is lumberjacks felling trees in the pacific northwest or auto workers in the assembly lines of Detroit, Carhartt’s customers have remained fiercely loyal.

This despite the company’s refusal to ever sell their garments at a premium or in discount stores like Wal-Mart or Kmart.

Carhartt has been used as a political symbol, too. It’s been deployed by politicians across the spectrum to evoke a connection to the so-called “everyman.”

Barack Obama was photographed wearing it during a 2015 trip to Alaska, while the state’s most famous politician, Sarah Palin, has a well-documented love of the brand.

Much like what kind of beer a politician prefers (Domestic? Imported? Craft?) has become a talking point during each election cycle, so, too has wearing Carhartt been seen by some as an attempt to connect with blue-collar workers.

Urban Trendsetters

While Carhartt has spent the last 130 years in the company of the working class, it has also been the favorite of “streetwear” enthusiasts since the mid-1980s.

The brand’s superstar status in this community began somewhat nefariously, having been described by the New York Times in 1990 as the favorite choice of drug dealers who loved Carhartt’s deep pockets.

Fashionable youth took notice, and the famous chore coats soon began popping up in the burgeoning hip-hop communities of New York and Los Angeles.

Carhartt received another boost of street cred from the seminal hip-hop label, Tommy Boy, who gave away dozens of custom-made Carhartt jackets to tastemakers and industry influencers.

The New York Times’ 1990 feature on the Carhartt Chore Coat.

It was during this period that Carhartt caught the eye of two European denim designers, Edwin and Salomée Faeh.

While their original agreement was to import and sell original pieces across Europe, they soon gained enough trust from Carhartt’s founding family to branch out into designing their own fashion-forward interpretations of the brand.

This project, called Work In Progress (WIP), has evolved into what some have deemed “the most important brand in streetwear.”

While much of WIP’s reflects Carhartt’s no frills aesthetic, it also has the elasticity to veer off into much more experimental territory.

A typical WIP launch might include subtle updates to the famous blue Michigan Chore Coat alongside a varsity jacket in technicolor purple or highlighter green. The WIP lines are also typically geared towards a more tailored, skinny cut, whereas the original Carhartt line retains its “working man’s fit.”

Many will also note the significant increase in price across the two brands, but Carhartt and Work In Progress are not selling to the same audiences — they are two distinct yet intertwined brands.

A (Fashion) House Divided Can Stand

So how exactly did Carhartt manage to find itself in the enviable position of appealing to such a wide audience? According to Esquire magazine, “Carhartt couldn’t tell you how it’s marketed to such a diverse group because it hasn’t. The company has followed working class America for 128 years and this is just where it wound up.”

In fact, Carhartt has never employed an outside agency (sad face) for any of their marketing or advertising needs. This is a rarity for a brand of its size, especially considering their proximity to The Big 3 auto companies of Detroit, who for decades were the proverbial “white whale” of the advertising industry.

Work In Progress uses familiar tones in new applications.

It would appear that Carhartt largely cemented its place in the world by simply being themselves. It would’ve surely felt forced had the brand tried to create something like Work In Progress in order to proactively chase the urban youth demographic.

Instead, they recognized that they had been adopted by this group of trendsetting skateboarders, graffiti artists and rappers and allowed their brand to evolve to speak directly to that audience without sacrificing their integrity.

As WGSN’s Senior Menswear Trend Forecaster Brian Trunzo puts it, “Carhartt represents everybody. It represents the right and the left. It represents the fashion folks and the non-fashion folks. It’s a brand folks can rally around. Everything they do is real.”

The word “authenticity” gets thrown around a lot these days, but brands like Carhartt are a great example of what that actually looks like. They stay true to their core mission but allow themselves the flexibility to explore opportunities when they arise. So whether it’s on a ranch in Montana or a skatepark in Los Angeles, you know that gold “C” stands for quality, durability and dependability. And that is some seriously enviable brand equity.

The 7 Fundamentals of Brand Equity

The 7 Fundamentals of Brand Equity

What does brand equity mean? The simple answer is that it’s the value of a brand. But why is brand equity important and how do you build or measure it? Brand Equity is made up of seven key elements: awareness, reputation, differentiation, energy, relevance, loyalty and flexibility. Some of these are easier to build (or damage) than others. Each contributes to the overall value of your brand, and an evaluation of these different elements can tell you where you need to focus your marketing efforts.

1. Awareness
What percentage of your audience or industry is familiar with your brand? Are your logo, name and brand identity as recognizable to your customers and potential customers as the Starbucks mermaid or Target bullseye? And beyond knowing you exist, do they know everything you offer?

2. Reputation
Just because people have awareness of your brand doesn’t mean their perception is positive. What do the people who have heard of you think of your brand? Is your product considered premium? Or are you the value brand? Do you have high quality products but low-quality service or vice versa?

3. Differentiation
Part of the value of your brand is its ability to be distinct from the competition. Even if you have low awareness, you may still have potential equity if your brand has a different personality or the ability to stand out from the pack.

4. Energy
Here’s one more reason that brands want you to think they’re innovative: it gives the brand perceived energy and momentum. If you look like you are always innovating and not just resting on your laurels, you always have something new to say to your customers. And updates convey energy.

5. Relevance
You may have a great product and your brand may check all the other boxes, but if it isn’t useful or important to your customers (anymore or yet) then it won’t do you much good. If it isn’t relevant to the audience you’re targeting, is there another audience or industry that would be interested?

6. Loyalty
What would it take to woo your customers away from your brand? Just a small price cut? An additional service? Or would your customers stay with your brand even if you had to give them bad news? It’s also important to examine why they’re loyal (if they are).

7. Flexibility
If you developed a related product, could you add it in under the same brand? Or would the association with your brand do more harm than good? If your brand is too narrowly defined, you may find it difficult to leverage it for anything else in the future.

Evaluating your brand is a crucial step in making many sales or marketing decisions such as acquisition, expansion, rebranding and even simply annual planning. If you know where your weaknesses are, you can work harder at those areas. If you have multiple brands playing in and around the same market, evaluating the equity of each can also give you the foundation to make changes to your brand architecture.

You were probably mentally evaluating your brand while you were reading through the list, but it’s important to go through these elements thoroughly and objectively if you’re going to make any serious decisions for your brand. It can be difficult to remove emotion from your analysis when you live with a brand every day, but a research firm or marketing agency can help provide an outside perspective.

Want to take a closer look at your brand equity? We’d love to help.

BKI Hot Takes: Negative Reviews Can Be Positive

BKI Hot Takes: Negative Reviews Can Be Positive

If your brand has been around long enough, chances are you’ve experienced negative consumer feedback. Whether it was a low product rating or a scathing online review, it’s never fun to receive criticism. But negative feedback isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, when handled correctly, it can go a long way in helping your brand and the products or services you offer.

Receiving feedback from customers is crucial to a brand’s success. Positive feedback lets us know what we are doing right, while negative feedback can alert us to problems and provide an opportunity to fix them. Though it’s probably safe to assume we would all rather receive one over the other, both are equally important for the well-being of your brand.

Take KFC, for example. When customers complained about the quality of their french fries, the fast food giant responded by changing their recipe and then used actual complaints they had received to promote their new-and-improved product.

This fun, engaging marketing strategy was not only successful because of how it was well-received by customers. It also made a clear statement that the brand has their ear to the ground when it comes to knowing and addressing their customer’s wants.

Negative feedback can also provide the opportunity to improve brand sentiment with your response. A 2017 study by BrightLocal found that customers who have their issue resolved in their first interaction with a business are twice as likely to purchase from that business again.

Nobody knows this to be true quite like Dominos Pizza. After a viral video showing two employees contaminating restaurant ingredients surfaced, the chain started its new “Pizza Turnaround” campaign.

This project centered on using customer feedback to not only revamp their pizza, but their overall brand image as well. The centerpiece of the campaign was a video that used real Dominos employees to tell the story of how the company listened to its critics and changed its pizza recipe for the better.

“You can either use negative comments to get you down, or you can use them to excite you and energize your process of making a better [product].” -Former Dominos CEO Patrick Doyle

Dominos’ response to the onslaught of negative feedback played a significant role in boosting its public image and brand sentiment because of how sincere it was. By taking the time to respond in a way that appropriately and effectively addressed feedback, the company was able to regain trust that had been lost.

Their efforts have paid off financially, too: Domino’s surpassed Pizza Hut in 2017 to become the world’s largest pizza chain, even outperforming the stock of Apple and Amazon in the process.

As shown by both KFC and Dominos, listening to your consumer’s wants and needs and then taking steps to meet them shows your customers that you genuinely care – something that goes a long way in building brand loyalty.

A whopping 68% of customers leave a brand or company because they feel their business is unappreciated. And while you may not be able to incorporate every customer’s input, listening and responding to what they have to say is crucial to keep them coming back.

As marketers, we need to stop looking at negative feedback as damaging to our reputation and start viewing it as opportunities to further enhance our products or services and, as a result, better serve our customers.

BKI Brand Study: How Patagonia Builds Brand Loyalty

BKI Brand Study: How Patagonia Builds Brand Loyalty

In an era where positive news can seem hard to come by, and the smallest incident can severely harm a brand’s reputation, the importance of humble bragging is next-to-none. But how do you promote your company’s good deeds in a way that’s noticeable enough to build goodwill without looking egotistical?

Make it a part of your brand’s mission.

Patagonia, an American outdoor clothing company, has always been at the forefront of social activism. In fact, the company recently updated their mission to clearly define their intentions: “Patagonia is in business to save our home planet.”

Although the mission is quite lofty, Patagonia seems to be rising to meet the challenge. A few weeks ago, the company announced they were donating $10 million received through tax cuts in 2017 to support grassroots environmental organizations. “Instead of putting the money back into our business, we’re responding by putting $10 million back into the planet,” Rose Marcario, the company’s CEO, wrote in a statement published to LinkedIn .

And while this generous act is certainly a big win for the great outdoors, it’s also a big public relations win for Patagonia itself.

When done correctly, charitable initiatives such as this one can go a long way in helping brands build a positive public image (one of the main goals of PR) — especially with today’s consumers. According to a study conducted by Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR, when deciding between two brands matched in quality and price, 90% of consumers supported the brand that was aligned with a charitable cause. Patagonia’s commitment to support those who support the environment is seen and appreciated by consumers and can make them more likely to choose this brand in the future.

Philanthropic efforts can also help humanize large, wealthy companies like Patagonia, especially when the cause they are supporting is relevant to the brand. Patagonia’s significant financial contribution comes at a time where there are rising concerns for the current and future health of our planet. As a company that promotes outdoor activities, worldly exploration and more, this issue directly affects their brand.

When deciding between two equally matched brands, 90% of consumers supported the brand that was aligned with a charitable cause.

Taking a stance on current issues that relate to their mission and using their platform to do good helps Patagonia position itself as a company that cares. And it also helps portray itself as having its finger on the pulse of current events and issues — another aspect often appreciated by consumers (and not to mention, something that makes organizations look good). Patagonia’s $10 million contribution was dispersed among several grassroots organizations that vary in size, scope and goals. Ultimately, this will create an impact on both a small and large scale.

Patagonia’s success can be attributed to remaining committed to their mission and being authentic in their approach to making a difference. Because the company specializes in outdoor apparel, their consumers will feel the direct impact of their contributions to creating a cleaner, healthier planet. Marcario closed her statement by writing, “In this season of giving, we are giving away this tax cut to the planet, our only home, which needs it now more than ever.”

Want to learn more about the power of good Public Relations? Download our free “Quick Look” eBook below.

Case Study: The New Madison Brand Audit & Website Redesign

Case Study: The New Madison Brand Audit & Website Redesign

Background

Core Realty Holdings is a full-service real estate investment and advisory company based in Newport Beach, CA. They are a national brand, with properties in 5 states, including 4 properties in the Greensboro area of North Carolina.

We were approached by CRH to assist them in both a brand audit and creative refresh of one particular property, The New Madison at Adams Farm. We began by taking a deep look into their existing brand standing, including the advantages and challenges they had, before we engaged our Creative team to help with any aesthetic updates.

 

The Challenge

Our first task was to understand where The New Madison sat in the crowded landscape of Greensboro’s apartment rental scene. Without getting a feel for both how current tenants viewed the property as well as how its competitors were positioning themselves, we’d be unequipped to make meaningful creative recommendations.

As such, we engaged in an extensive research project, speaking with current residents, management and staff, as well as tenants who had recently left the property. We also conducted “secret shopper” interviews at 3 other competitor properties to gain a sense of what their positioning was and how they stacked up to our client.

We sought to emphasize the green, natural beauty of The New Madison.

Through that research, we found that The Madison was indeed in need of a digital refresher, as the new amenities and upgrades to the property were not adequately conveyed on their website or social media platforms. We also learned just how important customer service plays a role in the success of a property/tenant relationship, and realized how helping the team revamp their social media presence would play a role in that process.

We also spent that time figuring out how to talk about The Madison in a way that was both engaging, enticing and true to the spirit of the property. Words like “secluded,” “peaceful” and “green” came up a lot in our conversations, so those kinds of feelings and descriptions formed the basis of our recommended messaging.

New amenities like their Dog Park would need to be shown in a fun, relatable way.

 

The Execution

Once we finished our brand audit and presented the results to our client, we began to work together to establish what items should be handled in what order. The first item on the agenda, clearly, would be to redevelop their digital presence — particularly in light of all the new and forthcoming amenities and upgrades we learned about during our brand audit.

This meant investing heavily in great visuals for The New Madison. We assembled a group of local talent and spent several days photographing and shooting high-quality video assets that would help tell the story of what life at the property was like. Once we completed those shoots, we began the work of figuring out what their new website would look like.

 

Any brand with a digital presence knows how important it is to keep their look and feel updated periodically. However, those brands also understand just how time-consuming and expensive that process can be. By taking advantage of a website and marketing platform built specifically for use in the real estate industry, The New Madison’s website could be easily managed without the burden of a full-scale developer.

However, while that management platform makes it easy to perform updates, it also makes it easy for sites to become generic or similar in look and feel. This is where our Creative team came in and found a way to work within the confines of the platform, choosing an updated, modern template that put our new photo and video assets front-and-center.

 

The New Madison’s homepage

Whereas the older website conveyed all the necessary information, it did not convey the story we wanted to tell. The new website would utilize the messaging developed during the brand audit to convey what life for potential tenants would be like and distinguish it from local competitors.

We also applied the same messaging and creative assets to The New Madison’s Facebook and Instagram channels, making sure that any online research of the property would ensure the same experience no matter where the property was discovered.

 

Showing off some of The New Madison’s amenities.

The result is a much more modern, inviting look into the property. The green and earth tones of the property are emphasized in the design, and the use of people in the photos—versus just architectural photos—help prospective tenants visualize themselves in the property.

 

 

BKI Hot Takes: When Brands Respond to Natural Disasters

BKI Hot Takes: When Brands Respond to Natural Disasters

As the Carolinas begin to recover from the devastation Hurricane Florence left behind, people across the country are pitching in to help those affected, including many well-known brands. Airbnb, Anheuser-Bush and Lyft are just a few of the dozens of companies that have announced plans to participate in disaster relief efforts, despite not necessarily having direct ties to the communities affected.      

Charitable giving and other humanitarian efforts are nothing new from the likes of large corporations, celebrities and athletes—especially when disaster strikes. But when Hurricane Katrina wrought havoc on the Gulf Coast in 2005, more brands began to participate in relief efforts. Fast forward 13 years, and now 87% of global consumers believe companies of all sizes must play a role in natural disaster response.

What changed?

Simply put, the widespread response by brands to Hurricane Katrina—the deadliest hurricane to hit the United States in the last 90 years—redefined the ways in which people could lend a hand.

Before 2005, companies often responded to natural disasters by writing a check to agencies such as the Red Cross. When it became clear that the need on the Gulf Coast eclipsed what traditional monetary donations could provide, they found another way to help: through the donation of invaluable resources such as their services or employee volunteers.

Businesses like Wal-Mart and The Home Depot sent generators, food, water, flashlights and batteries into the areas hit. Ford provided vehicles for search and rescue. HCA, a large private hospital company, helped evacuate people on their privately-leased helicopters. The contributions of these much needed supplies and services along with numerous other selfless acts showed that large financial contributions are not the only way to have a positive impact.

This realization has set a precedent that is still implemented today. In fact, nine out of ten global citizens now think companies should leverage their unique assets to lend support to affected communities. This shift in expectations has greatly helped with recovery efforts because brands that many not have the same financial capacity as larger companies or direct community ties to an event are still finding ways to help.

Increased participation by companies and people alike sometimes means that brands don’t receive the same amount of public recognition or praise for their efforts that they once did. But at the end of the day, what or how much your brand contributed isn’t the recognition that matters—it’s the act of stepping up to help fellow citizens is what’s remembered the most.

Click here to help in the Hurricane Florence relief efforts.

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