Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Carhartt – Smart Marketing in a Mature Category

Carhartt is a brand that has enjoyed a lot of success in the last several years, largely due to some smart brand positioning and activation. Rugged outdoor working apparel is a crowded category and certainly not in a strong growth mode. But Carhartt teaches an important lesson in leveraging consumer insight into a larger demographic group.

imageCarhartt offers apparel designed to be worn by farmers and outdoor workers. Its signature coat is rugged, but, from a fashion standpoint, is far from attractive. Pricing has always been a bit higher than competition due to its durability and comfort. All products in its core line are made in the USA.image

Consumer Insight
The magic in positioning a brand is the strength of a resonating brand image broad enough to be extended outside of its core target. Carhartt positions itself to satisfy an enduring insight, roughly translated as - “I want stuff in my life that says I am a proud American worker.” In the early days, this turf belonged to Levi’s. The magic is in its “no BS” authenticity. When Carhartt became a fashion statement for hip-hop artists in the 90s, the brand got a significant boost. This brought the brand out of the farm supply stores and into the department stores.
Every niche brand that becomes mainstream faces a tremendous challenge – to remain an authentic brand as its appeal widens beyond the core target. Carhartt’s VP of Marketing, Tony Ambroz, has experience at Under Armour and Nike, companies that have faced the authenticity challenge well. The mainstream younger crowd, however, will always be looking for this year’s jeans, t-shirts and trends. It all starts with product range, and Carhartt has introduced jeans, fashion, women’s wear and products for kids.
Brand Activationimage
  • Workers are encouraged to go online and share stories about the most extreme, rugged conditions they have faced on work sites.
  • Social platforms are used to target the 18-34 year old demographic with online conversations and a huge reliance on Facebook. This is working -- Carhartt has over one million Facebook fans.
  • Product placement – great use of television placement on shows like NCIS. (look closely, and you will see it on Gibbs (Mark Harmon) in almost every show.
Carhartt continues to broaden it line outside of work wear and create a fashion brand under “Series 1889”, where customers can find the latest jeans and t-shirts for the younger crowd.
Europe – Carhartt is available throughout Europe with a trendier, younger look out of the gate, with a line called ‘Work in Progress’. This approach may have less solid footing given its lack of tie-to-the-consumer insight. Rumor has it that Europeans now make the trek to the States to pick up “real Carhartt” that they can’t get in Europe.
Carhartt offers a great lesson in mature category growth by taking a niche business to a mainstream brand by tapping a consumer insight that is widely appealing. Its use of social media to create awareness and conversation among both the mainstream audience as well as its core target is outstanding. The challenge will be in juggling it mainstream target’s need to stay current with the latest fashion while remaining true to an unfashionable core target and need.


Anonymous said...

Hi Bob,
A very interesting article, with a lot of insights. I would like to point out that Carhartt Europe is also available in Europe, offering both Carhartt US products , as well as Carhartt products with a European fit- the twist needed for the European market. This is separate to Carhartt Work in Progress.
Best Regards,
A Big Carhart Fan

Bob Clark said...

@A Big Carhartt Fan,
Thanks for the clarification.