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CEOs Turning Their Focus To Brand Identity

When a company calls, Tait Subler wants to talk to the boss.

CEOs Turning Their Focus To Brand Identity

When a new CEO takes the helm of a company, that leader often wants to get a fresh perspective. Bruce Tait’s seen a “distinct trend” of companies contracting with his firm to do what he calls a holistic brand assessment.

“More CEOs are looking at brand as the catalyst to define their organization’s purpose—as the core concept driving the business strategy,” says Tait, co-owner of Tait Subler, a brand strategy firm in Minneapolis.

“Differentiation isn’t one of the things you need to do. It is the only thing you need to do in branding,” Tait says. If everybody in an industry sector is saying the same thing, brand loyalty is impossible.

Tait and Dodie Subler were Fallon veterans when they started their business 10 years ago. The boutique firm helps businesses determine how they can stand out in a competitive landscape. Instead of being “advertising-centric,” Tait says he works with clients to establish a “conceptual center for the whole business,” one that’s only really possible when the CEO is involved, rather than just a CMO or marketing veep—because the process forces businesses and nonprofits to clarify what their product is within a values context.

“Every strategy project we’ve done in the past five years has deeply involved the CEO, in addition to the chief marketing officer and other key leaders across the business,” Tait says. “It would be difficult, if not impossible, to do this kind of core strategy work without their involvement.”

Tait Subler has done in-depth work with the Red Wing Shoe Co., where Mark Urdahl became president and CEO in January. Tait Subler relies on focus groups within the company and with external customers. The process helped Red Wing define its customer as “the modern craftsman,” Urdahl says. “They take their job very seriously. They look at their boots as an investment, just as they invest in their truck and tools.”

The focus groups also revealed that Red Wing had underestimated the importance of its retail stores in the buying decisions of consumers, Urdahl says. Following the focus groups, Urdahl says the company increased advertising and expanded its training of store employees about the meaning of the Red Wing brand. When he thinks about the Red Wing brand, Tait says, he characterizes it as “real craftsmen wear boots made by craftsmen.”

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