In today’s consumer-driven marketplace, brands need to initiate meaningful dialogue with their customers, to understand their needs and value-sets. While most acknowledge this reality, for iconic, traditional brands, it can still be difficult to shift from the legacy mentality. Fortunately for us, at Olapic we work with many industry leaders who are transforming their brands for the new economy. Recently, I chatted with one of these individuals, Joe Becker, the International Marketing Manager at Cat Footwear, a division of Wolverine World Wide. He shared with me the changes he’s seen in the broader industry, how Cat Footwear is developing deeper relationships with consumers, and how user-generated, or earned, content is helping to shape that strategy.
How is Cat Footwear incorporating earned content into its marketing efforts?
Across the world, we have traditionally been known as a lifestyle brand, but that hasn’t been the case in the United States. To change that perception domestically, we need our customers to help us tell that story and show that we are more than simply a workwear brand. In our consumer research, we’ve found that a brand like ours can’t “tell” the market it is stylish, it needs to “show” the market.
I took on e-commerce at the beginning of this year, and we’re just starting to push an earned content strategy. We’re working with a few influencers to help create stories involving our brands, and bolstering our “Earth Mover” program to get our consumers to contribute content. We’re promoting submissions using our branded hashtag, which is placed on shoeboxes, flyers, handouts at live events, store windows, and on billboards in Latin America. We have 120 stores worldwide and are promoting content creation in each of them in local markets as well.
What changes have you seen in past few years? In customer behaviors, brand strategy, and broader industry trends?
Brand efforts have oddly paralleled the progression of the entertainment industry. In essence, today, every brand needs to be its own 24-7 television station. Certainly, the content and context is different, but brands require so much content to get consumers aligned with their beliefs. If you had said 20 years ago that we would need nonstop channels dedicated to food, or home repair, or even news, people would have thought you were crazy. The same is true with marketing. Consumers in both arenas simply expect so much more content, they crave it. And it’s not just younger consumers, all demographics expect experiences that demonstrate how brands can fit into their lives. Products need to deliver on the brand promise. To bring it back to our brand, with technology like Olapic, we’re able to fulfill that massive content gap to maintain alignment with our audiences. And I say “alignment” on purpose, because we’re not just giving them incentives or free products to solicit their participation. When consumers are aligned, they want to be a part of the brand. As this enhanced need for content has happened, brands like ours have struggled with “checking boxes,” meaning we are focused on getting all of the work done that we don’t have time for bigger picture ideas anymore. Olapic has helped us to activate high-quality content, so our team can spend our time on more impactful, strategic initiatives. It makes our team more efficient and powerful.
There are a million platforms to help with “content,” but what has been great about using Olapic is also the service. Our account team is accessible and extremely intelligent about our industry, so I can learn quickly what I need to learn and not have to spend time sorting through all of the myriad of new technology and trends in the market. It’s an enormous differentiator.
Where do you see brand/consumer relationships going in the future?
Keep in mind, my perspective is coming from the viewpoint of a commodity. We sell shoes, everyone needs them, so that is a bit of a specific market. But when a consumer interacts with us, they have choices from competitors: premium, churn-and-burn, etc. Part of our challenge is being a value brand, high-quality yet affordable. It’s very difficult to sit in the middle. So, again, we need to make sure our brand values are aligned with the values of our consumers. If everything we do is focused on the lifestyle our consumers want, if that is the lens, we will be successful. We design and create great shoes at a reasonable cost. We need to grow our perception, starting with that utility, and adding a layer of lifestyle and fashion.
What does authenticity and earned content mean to Cat Footwear?
The word “authenticity” has become almost fake, ironically, in many ways. It’s about behaving in an authentic way, not talking about it. In other words, the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction. Consider the woman who bought the Chewbacca mask that went viral. That video got so much attention because it was completely genuine. As brands, if you are completely genuine, instead of simply talking about it, good results will happen. Genuine experiences breed authenticity, not messaging or strategy. Another example is the blogger industry. Bloggers used to create content out of a love for an industry or a brand or a topic. Now, many, not all, but many, have largely become focused more on personal wealth and commerce.
What is something surprising you have recently learned about your customers through their content?
One thing we have learned is that it doesn’t matter necessarily how big a following someone has. An individual from outside the company, with no connection to our brand, can post content that drives revenue. That’s pretty special. If there is a love for the brand, there is a value for both the customer and for us to engage and create better relationships.
Certainly, we’re biased, but tend to agree with Joe and his colleagues at Cat Footwear. Letting customers into the brand, and creating cohesive narratives together with them will always result in better relationships, increased engagement, and stronger return on investment.