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Behind The Brand: Why Caterpillar Went From Conservative To Buzz-Building Content Marketing

Global brand marketing head Renee Richardson talks about why the 90-year-old industrial company is embracing a more consumer-centric approach.

Even if you don't know the difference between a backhoe and a bulldozer, chances are you've heard of Caterpillar. Formed out of the 1925 merger between the C.L. Best Tractor Company and Holt Manufacturing Company, it is one of the most recognizable industrial brands in the world. Until recently, though, you'd excuse the general public from not being able to recall any of the brand's advertising. And why should they? Industrial machines, equipment, and services don't exactly need ad time in prime time.

But Caterpillar has made a shift in its marketing approach that is boldly taking the brand out into the mainstream. In April, it released a video of five of its heavy machines playing a game of Jenga with 600-pound blocks. More recently, the brand has released another stunt video to show off the durability of its smartphone by driving a four-ton multi-terrain loader over 600 live phones.

So far the Jenga video has more than 2 million views and managed to put Caterpillar in conversations far beyond any hardhats.

The Shift

Global brand marketing head Renee Richardson says the company has always had a pretty traditional approach, but began a shift in thinking a few years ago. "A company like ours tends to be very traditional," says Richardson. "We have a very strong, iconic brand but we tend to handle ourselves in a very humble manner. A few years back we redefined our brand promise, established the "Built for It" tagline and knew we had a great opportunity to leverage the brand. We wanted to be more brand promoters than brand police. Instead of focusing primarily on enforcing compliance on brand and identity standards, we wanted to facilitate more consumer interaction and use it to contribute to the growth of the brand."

The Strategy

But why would a largely industrial brand need to create content that appeals to a broad audience? Richardson says the strategy is about attracting not only customers, but potential employees, with content that engages and excites them. Caterpillar's content spans the brand's product and services, from landscaping and construction vehicles to specific maintenance tips. "Customers are impressed that we’re meeting them where they are," says Richardson. "We have the brand for our customer, but we’re a very large company and we like to attract the best and the brightest, so it serves different purposes. We also meet customers who had CAT toys when they were young and are passionate about the brand, so the earlier we can build that passion, the better off we’ll be and hopefully build future customers."

To help implement the new approach, Richardson added a new dimension to her department. "We built a brand marketing team to specifically take the brand on the offense," she says. "We also have significantly increased the resources to drive business through the digital channel."

Despite the departure from tradition, the Jenga video didn't require a big internal sales pitch. "Because the videos were within my budget, we developed them and then showed our executive office and our board of directors after they were complete," says Richardson. "They fully endorsed and continue to be excited about our strategy."

The Results

In terms of the ROI of its new content strategy, Richardson says so far it's not measurable in sales, but the results are promising. "Our dealers are giving us very positive feedback and we’re still trying to figure out how we can measure the attributable sales," says Richardson. "The mission of the Jenga video was overall brand awareness and it obviously achieved its awareness goal. We just rolled out the new one, so we’ll see."

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2 Comments

  • Gus Otto

    Great article and it made me excited enough to think about coming out of retirement and rejoin the workforce. With this new line of thinking at caterpillar, it won't be long and I have the feeling you will be reporting that Caterpillar is even moving away from using a "mainframe" type email system and considering switching from using Lotus "SmartSuite" to the MS Office applications. One or two more era's of different CEO's and you might even see Caterpillar employees receiving training via media streaming technology and Youtube. Glad to see this type of thinking. Guess I will keep my stock options for a little longer.

    Gus Otto