CMO of the Week: Red Wing Shoes' Dave Schneider

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Since Dave Schneider joined Red Wing Shoe Company eight years ago, he has been on a quest to build brand and drive demand. 

Since Dave Schneider joined Red Wing Shoe Company eight years ago, he has been on a quest to build brand and drive demand. 

“I believe that modern marketing organizations need to account for both sides of the house,” says Schneider, the company’s chief marketing officer. “We need to be accountable for driving long term brand equity. But we also need to take into consideration how we demonstrate our ability to profitably grow our business through performance marketing. To me, it's both sides of the house.”

For Schneider these two sides means balancing brand marketing with performance-driven marketing campaigns. “It is a mix,” he explains. “That's the challenge, but that's also the opportunity is how do we balance the pie to ensure that we're addressing both sides of that equation?”

Red Wing Shoes is a fully vertically integrated organization, which means they design, source, manufacture and sell their products. The company owns 550 stores in North America, plus additional stores throughout Europe and Asia, as well. They also partner with retailers and run an online store.

The company’s core mission is to “build a legacy of work done right,” and this comes with a focus on creating high quality products for craftspeople who also focus on building well made buildings. “What's interesting about our brand is it's literally been on the feet of people that have built everything from the Big Dig in Boston to the Sears Tower in Chicago to the St. Louis Arch. People that built those buildings were actually all wearing Red Wing boots,” says says Schneider. “We believe that we are tools to help enable those consumers to ultimately perform and do their very best work. That's not just marketing speak, we really do know that that's how people view our brand.”

A recent Labor Day campaign called “Not on Sale” celebrated the hard workers of the country and stressed that their well-crafted gear was not on sale, in a move to bring Labor Day back to the workers.

“Not on Sale was about what's happening in culture,” reflects Schneider. “There are five people leaving the trades, the skilled trades today for everyone that is entering the skilled trades. That's data that's backed. That affects my business proposition because we sell work boots, that's our primary brand. Yes, I have a business interest. It's not altruistic to support the skilled trades, but also as consumers in the marketplace, like, if you want to get a pipe, a pipe taking care of or you want to build, in addition to your house, or wherever the case may be good luck finding skilled trades people in the future if we don't address this deficit.” 

Prior to working with Red Wing Shoes, Schneider held senior roles at Digitas, Tribal DDB and BBDO. Brand Innovators caught up with Schneider from his home office in Minneapolis to talk about driving demand, showing up in culture and supporting the skilled trades. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

What role does culture play in creating the brand and how are you trying to make your brand show up in culture

This is a space that we have definitely stepped into, in a much bigger way in the past several years. All brands have. It's predicated on the fact that consumers have lost trust in the interests of other organizations, perhaps that helped lead them in the past, whether it be public organizations, governments, etc. Brands have both opportunity and obligation to step into more cultural and societal issues. 

But it's very dangerous for brands to be taking positions on topics or cultural issues, societal challenges that they don't really have a reason to be engaging in. So the first requirement that I always ask is: Does our brand have our permission to play? 

This past Labor Day, we decided to take all of our profits from that day to celebrate the trades workers in this country. Labor Day goes back to the late 1800s and is intended to celebrate workers but it's become the official end of summer known for mattress liquidation sales. We wanted to give it back to workers and took our profits from retail that day and donated it to five charitable organizations that are helping kids consider the trades or pursue employment in the trades. 

It's a cultural issue. There are five professionals leaving for every one that's coming in. There are organizations out there that need the support, need the endorsement, need the money to ultimately be effective in their pursuit to help people consider the trades as a viable career alternative. 

What did you learn on the agency side that you are applying to your current role at Red Wing Shoes?

I've got a mixed bag of career and agency experience in my past. What I probably appreciate more so being in this chair now, what I bring to the table is an understanding of the creative process. For CMOs that have not traditionally had agency experience, the creative process is actually very delicate. There are starts and stops. There are challenges. That whole notion of how do we get the best ultimate creative product that's going to resonate with that consumer, create action and motivation? That's a bit of a dance. That's where magic happens. For most CMOs, it's a little bit more black and white. Here's the business objective, the marketing objective and how to get results. I'd like to think that I've got a little more appreciation of the creative process and how it actually helps enable us to achieve those business outcomes that we seek. 

What is Red Wing Shoes' brand mission and how is this showing up in your creative work?

Our brand purpose statement for our flagship brand is to build a legacy of work done right. Those words, which we are anchored on, help inform an enormous amount of work. We believe that we are a tool on the tool belt of the trades workers in this country. Just like they may have other tools, we know that ours is a tool that helps them perform and do their best leading them towards leaving their best legacy. 

We have a variety of brand oriented programs. Our Wall of Honor program is our opportunity to celebrate and champion those that are in the twilights of their careers in the skilled trades. We induct between four to eight people a year. It's quite an honor. It's an opportunity for those that are ultimately leaving the skilled trades for retirement. We've got programs like helping put skilled trades people back to work in the middle of the pandemic. 

One of the key insights about our consumer we know is that they care tremendously about the quality of their work. When we say work done, right, we know from research, if you're in the skilled trades, you have quite a temperament to want to understand that the work that's being conducted behind the walls is actually being done, right. It's being done appropriately according to the specs. 

Who is your target audience and what channels are you playing in to get their attention and engage them?

I'm old enough now at this point in time to recall when it was newspaper and radio, but certainly social is a space that we are investing more and more in as a brand. It's not just the expected players and participants within social, but also private invite-only communities where professionals actually learn from one another in a branded environment. We help fuel relationships. We are sponsoring communities but the participants learn amongst themselves. We are ultimately helping facilitate conversations and dialog. 

The Crew was started about six years ago. It’s not a big environment, we actually look at it as the tip of the iceberg. These are folks that are very accomplished in their careers help develop content to provide perspective to us on a somewhat frequent basis. We'll bring them into Red Wing, Minnesota. They help us evaluate our ecommerce solutions. They help us evaluate products. They give us feedback. We use it as a voice for us but then they also learn amongst themselves. They share what projects they are most proud of. 

Can you talk about as a brand what you're most excited for the rest of 2022?

It's a couple of things. The Great Resignation led to some great opportunities to actually bring in some new talent. I'm excited about congealing our talent and really helping drive the business forward through some new marketing investments in people. I believe in a people-first culture and environment. Over the course of the next several months, we have some fantastic marketing campaigns coming to market that excite me.

Then more than anything, it's returning a bit to whatever this new normal is. Businesses at large have really been through a lot whether we're talking about COVID, the supply chain challenges, which have been quite acute to us. We also had some other issues at Redwing internally based on some cyber challenges. What we're looking forward to is really just coming out on the backside of this understanding that demand for our brands still exists in a very strong way. And how do we actually satisfy that brand demand that we've had in the marketplace and so it's exciting to get back to whatever this next normal is.

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