In partnership with The CMO Club, The CMO of the Week series profiles CMOs who are shaping, changing and challenging the world of modern marketing. For Neisser's complete interview with CMO Award Winner Kyle Schlegel, click here.
Try to name a baseball bat company besides Louisville Slugger. I bet many of you had a hard time with that challenge. Louisville Slugger is the undeniable leader in the industry and has been for 129 years. While Louisville Slugger may have an incredible level of name recognition, the brand must reinvigorate itself to stay relevant with each new generation.
When it came to modernizing the historic brand, Kyle Schlegel, VP of Marketing at Hillerich & Bradsby Co., found himself walking a fine line between respecting the core brand and connecting with a new audience (note: Hillerich and Bradsby Co. owns Louisville Slugger). "We did not take the change and steps to get there lightly," Says Schlegel. "Our team explored the history of the brand and the sport to understand exactly which elements of the foundation would stay in place and where evolution - or even revolution - was necessary."
Finding your strike zone
When Schlegel wanted to revitalize Louisville Slugger's audience, he had to look backward before moving forward. His team asked employees, stakeholders and customers "ages 8 to 80" about their individual experiences with Louisville Slugger, and analyzed how they relate to the company's brand purpose. After learning what resonates within their brand, Schlegel and his team created a game plan for success. "We looked at a plan over a 3-5 year window where relevance could be regained, consumer-by-consumer," says Schlegel. "We quickly learned which elements of the brand were sacred (i.e. the oval within the logo) and which elements could cease to be used (i.e. TPX & TPS sub-brands)."
One of the most interesting changes Schlegel made was a strong focus on the future-even if that meant losing a potential audience. "The team had to make changes to the brand and focus in ways that wouldn't allow us to attempt to regain the 'lost generation'," says Schlegel. "[It was] a necessary but difficult choice to instead focus on the next generation of players."
Hitting it home
This 'next generation' approach meant Louisville Slugger had to trade their traditional media for interactive experiences. Schlegel says, "Social media was not part of the marketing focus 18 months ago but has become one of our top two marketing priorities, including our #1 media investment."
Social media is a natural extension for a customer-focused brand like Louisville Slugger, and their social success became a bellwether for their overall relevance to the younger generation. "We now have an incredible audience and, in a sport where something newsworthy happens every day, we have a treasure chest of content and the highest engagement rate of any brand in the industry." Schlegel continues, "In [18 months], we have increased our social following by more than 30X to nearly 500,000 fans across channels."
Filling out the roster
Louisville Slugger has seen staggering success through their social media, but they know that's only one piece. To stay a household name for the next hundred years, Schlegel and his team need to capitalize on every opportunity. "Anywhere and everywhere someone comes in contact with the brand should reinforce the brand purpose, the identity and should help get someone closer to demonstrating their allegiance."
This means going beyond marketing, working with the sales department and the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory to keep the brand relevant. "With Sales, we now have strategic marketing discussions with each retailer and have increased our priority here by creating the new position of Director of Retail Marketing." Schlegel says. "And with over 270,000 guests per year, [the Museum and Factory] provides us with an opportunity to tell the history of the brand and provide a sense of the sport and where the brand is going next."
Additionally, Schlegel shuffled the internal workings of his marketing department, bringing new voices into old roles and establishing interactive media as the centerpiece. By bringing a new focus without sacrificing signature touches, Schlegel is keeping Louisville Slugger relevant, even in its 129th inning.