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Caterpillar’s Kenny Beaupre and Lesley Godby shed light on how the B2B brand has made the successful leap into consumer products.
With brand extensions spanning everything from catwalk collections to Pac-Man collabs, Caterpillar has achieved the feat of being a B2B IP that’s successfully translated into the consumer space.
We caught up with Caterpillar’s Kenny Beaupre, Brand Licensing Manager and Lesley Godby, Licensed Merchandise Program Manager, to find out more about the company’s approach to consumer products – and why brands are like rubber bands…
Kenny, Lesley – great to connect! To kick off, how did your journey into working with brands begin?
Kenny Beaupre, Brand Licensing Manager, Caterpillar Inc: I was an art major in school and concentrated on graphic design. I worked as a graphic designer for a number of years before coming to Caterpillar. I always knew I wanted to work with brands, but I had no idea there was a world of licensing. I was a marketing and communications manager and was moving into a new role when somebody said: “Hey, have you considered licensing?” It was a sponsorship role with a NASCAR merchandise component and that was my introduction to licensing. It was so much fun, and it’s been a blast ever since.
Lesley Godby, Licensed Merchandise Program Manager, Caterpillar Inc: For me, it kind of happened by accident. I’ve always had a love for shopping, and I used to work in our electric power division. I was creating sales and marketing material for our new product introductions. Part of the sales kit included a merchandise component, so I had worked a little bit with our licensees on products that our employees could purchase.
I got a call one day from manager and he said, “I think I’ve got the perfect job for you.” I wasn’t sure how to take that because I wasn’t looking to leave! He started explaining a role in the licensing group and it sounded too good to be true. I threw my name into the ring for the job and as luck would have it, I got it. Many years later, I’m still here!
“Brand extensions are like a rubber band. You can pull it – but if you pull it too fast, it can snap.”
For anyone new to the Caterpillar brand, talk us through some of the key brand values that steer what you guys look for when it comes to licensing partnerships.
KB: Our key brand attributes are around quality, strength and durability. These key qualities have been integral for the nearly 100 years since we’ve been making Cat products.
How did the push into brand extensions start for Caterpillar?
KB: Over the decades, we’ve done little things like toys and other things for our Cat dealers that they’ve used as marketing tools. That was fun, but we started formalising our licensing business in the late Eighties. That’s when we got into safety products – things that an operator would use when using our core equipment.
Over time, we’ve been expanding gradually. And our customers have been buying these new additional products and, in turn, have been giving us permission to expand into new categories. When we do look at new categories, we typically look at that operator and say, “What else might they use every day? What would they wear on the weekend? What might their family wear?” We’re very customer-focused.
How important was that little-by-little approach versus signing lots of deals right from the off?
LG: Caterpillar doesn’t do anything quickly – and I don’t mean that negatively. We take our brand name very seriously and look at every potential opportunity from a variety of angles: Is it something we’d be proud to put our name on? Could it harm the brand? There’s a lot of thought and consideration that goes into discussions around whether we enter a new category and new product launches.
Are there any launches from recent years that highlight how creative licensees can be with the Caterpillar brand?
LG: I’m glad you asked about our licensees’ creativity, because a couple of years ago we entered into our first collaboration with a high-end fashion designer.
Back in 2019 we collaborated with John Elliot to create a line of merchandise at retail. It was featured at New York Fashion Week, so we had a full-blown fashion show and used a lot of our Caterpillar machines to set the mood around the runway. It was really exciting and successful.
We followed that up a year later with a collaboration with Heron Preston and that launched at Paris Fashion Week in January 2020. The response was tremendous, and we’ve just launched our second collaboration with him.
We do these kinds of collaborations because it helps with brand awareness, enabling us to reach new audiences. We always look for credible designers when we do these things; someone that can elevate the brand and give us great exposure. We’ve also had our fashion collaborations been featured in GQ, Vogue and HypeBeast to name a few publications, so that’s been helpful to further get the word out.
They’re two great examples. Expanding on that, what is it that makes Caterpillar an exciting sandbox for designers to play in?
KB: It’s an important question because it’s very unusual for a B2B brand like Caterpillar to translate and be relevant in the consumer space. Our core products are pretty big and expensive, so the volumes of these are pretty small compared to the volumes of our licensed merchandise. To that end, there are millions of people that can have a connection to our licensed products — that may never have a connection to our core equipment.
“What makes Caterpillar an exciting sandbox for designers is that people can really see themselves in our brand.”
To us, what makes Caterpillar an exciting sandbox for designers is that people can really see themselves in our brand.
For instance, strength is such a large part of our brand character; there’s so many applications for something that symbolises strength and quality. It transcends tractors and motor graders. People connect to it because it taps into all of our inner strength. The Cat design mark is simple, bold and people can connect to it in the own way. It’s not so narrow or defined that people just see it as a heavy equipment brand.
LG: We have a lot of elements on our machines that can give designers inspiration. Maybe they’ll turn a hexagon-shaped bolt into a button on a shirt… Maybe they’ll take the tracks from our tractors and turn it into a pattern for the sole of footwear. There are so many different elements they can pull from and it’s likely quite a fun creative challenge.
I saw that you have Caterpillar Museum over in Illinois. Have you got an eye on more brand extensions in live events and hospitality?
LG: We actually do a lot of customer experience-type marketing and we have launched pop-up stores in the past. They create a lot of buzz and are always exciting.
KB: Also, our brand activation team has done some really cool ‘Cat Trial’ videos on the Caterpillar YouTube channel to create brand buzz. We did a collaboration with Bandai Namco last year to celebrate both Caterpillar’s 95th anniversary as well as the 40th anniversary of Pac-Man™. Together, we moved 5,000 tonnes of dirt to make a larger-than-life Pac-Man maze, built with Cat equipment.
Yes, that looked fun! We’ll put a link to that here…
KB: Thanks, it was great to see those iconic Pac-Man characters engaging with Cat equipment. We’ve also done things like build the world’s largest sandcastle and we’ve run over our Cat phones with our big dozers to show how tough they are. It keeps the brand relevant and builds awareness.
I’m glad you mentioned the phone because it’s an interesting one that appears to have really taken off. Why did launching a Caterpillar phone make sense?
KB: Candidly, we talked to a few phone companies and, although I tend to be broad-minded, I couldn’t see the connection. Then we found our wonderful licensee, Bullitt, and they put together a really compelling proposition.
It wasn’t just a cell phone, but a branded device that’s rugged and durable. It can be dropped, it can go underwater, and it can help people in rugged environments be even more successful. That was in the bullseye of what we do here at Caterpillar; we make our customers more successful. That’s what got it started and we’ve built it over time. Through Bullitt’s great work, we’ve been able to connect with customers in that new way.
Looking ahead, are there any sectors that Caterpillar still has an eye on moving into?
KB: As Lesley said, we move slowly on purpose. Brand extensions are like a rubber band. You can pull it – but if you pull it too fast, it can snap. Whereas if you pull it slowly, it stretches and stretches and stretches. Our strategy is to pull slowly.
Our major segments are lifestyle products that Lesley manages, including industrial products, tech products, children’s products and dealer merchandise products. They’re our big buckets items and we do thousands of new products each year across those categories. We’re not looking to do a whole bunch of new categories because we feel there’s still more we can do in the categories we’re already in.
An interesting launch we’re doing is consumer power tools. We’ve done power tools for years with our Caterpillar dealers. They’re big tools designed to work on big equipment. Now we’re doing a consumer product that anyone can go and buy and have that same quality that people expect from us. We’re launching that in Europe and we’re slowly expanding globally.
Guys, I’ve already taken up lots of your time, so my last question is: How do you fuel your own creativity?
LG: I’ve already mentioned my love of shopping, so for me it’s about seeing what other brands are doing, looking at new technologies and trying to find products that we haven’t thought about, but that could make for great additions to our existing categories.
Also, when I drive by a job site, I get excited, and I’ll look and see what the workers are wearing and what products they have around them. That keeps me inspired.
KB: Being outside recharges me. I oil paint so that keeps my creative juices flowing. I’ve got different ways to intake and express, but our licensing team also likes to hang out with the big iron equipment and dig in the dirt. We do that and we never cease to be inspired.
That’s great! A huge thanks again for taking time out for this. Looking forward to catching up soon.
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