By Robert Rose published November 9, 2014 Est Read Time: 6 min

No More Boring Brands: Creative Content from a Conservative Company

CAT_Art Caterpillar proves even traditional B2B content marketing can tell fun, captivating stories. We spoke to Renee Richardson – one of our Content Marketer of the Year finalists – about how she and her team breathed new energy into a staid, conservative brand.

Caterpillar’s Built For It™ Trial video series launched the brand into social media stardom this year. In three quirky videos, Cat® equipment is put through outrageous trials:

Richardson, Global Marketing Services Department Manager, spoke with Content Marketing Institute’s Robert Rose about how her team pushed a riskier message within an organization more comfortable with quiet humility.

Were the Built For It™ Trial videos a one-time campaign or part of an ongoing effort?

A little over three years ago we redefined our brand promise to be more customer-focused; we wanted to take the brand on the offense … so, it was quite intentional.

Like most large organizations, we are very matrixed. We had different business units choosing different taglines, and it was not a good use of our dollars. We knew from benchmarking that going to the market in a fragmented way did not make much sense.

The Built For It™ tagline enabled us to be more consistent with how we present ourselves to the market. So, it all started with that reinvigoration of the brand promise and the new tagline. We also learned from other companies that you have to direct the message internally first to make sure the employees feel it. So, we started at home before taking it to the market.

We actually did the three videos as a bit of an experiment. We have a lot of extremely creative and capable people inside, and we’ve also been working with Ogilvy and Mather over the last two years. We met and said, “Let’s try to figure out how to do this cost effectively and within my annual budget.”

Did you talk explicitly about using storytelling as a tool to convey the brand?

The direction I gave the team was to do something cool. It was that simple: “Let’s do something cool and a little non-traditional.” They felt they had permission to do it.

There had also been a larger narrative at Caterpillar about presenting ourselves as more approachable; we want to get greater exposure not only for the parts and services, and solutions we sell, but also for our employment brand. We’re growing significantly and we know we’ve got to attract the best and brightest.

B2B brands don’t feel they have permission to be storytellers and have fun, or be emotional. That’s what I love so much about this series. It’s clearly just meant to make you laugh, make you happy, and, in a really clever way, show off the product.

Yes and, oh, by the way, we sell tractors.

Tell me a little bit about the conception process for the videos. Did the agency come back to you with three ideas or did you all sit in a room and brainstorm?

My brand and creative team sat down with Ogilvy and Mather; they brainstormed together and came up with three concepts. The team then brought it to me and I said, “Let’s do it.”

I have an extremely creative team, and so I have to have faith in their creativity. I let them make the call about which three they thought were best. We tested it quietly because the project was unusual and people might have thought, “Why are you doing that?” It’s just not expected from a B2B brand. Sometimes asking permission can be good … or it can be bad.

When did you realize, “We’ve got a hit on our hands?”

You know, we expected that maybe it would hit 200,000 if we were lucky. It was probably after three days when we thought, “Holy smokes; this is fantastic!”

The latest metrics are up to 654 million impressions. It’s been really tremendous. And I believe we’re just getting warmed up.

What was the reaction inside Caterpillar?

It was extremely positive, and it established a lot of credibility for our internal resources and capabilities. This is just another validation of our investment in brand awareness over the last three years.

Was it always the plan to do just three videos or will you tell this story over a longer period of time?

We are evaluating that; we’ll see what makes sense. The intention was to do three. Now we are working on our next go-to-market strategy.

We are almost doing the same approach as we do in our e-business development, which is an agile approach with short sprints and experiments. If we fail, we fail fast. Then we learn and we go on to the next thing. Rather than having these huge waterfall projects, we are trying out little things to see how they work, considering each an experiment.

Was “agile” already part of the Caterpillar culture, or have you had to evangelize the “fail-fast” concept?

I am an evangelist – and the folks in my department are evangelists – because it’s been really successful in our e-business strategy. The challenge has been that everyone is so used to perfection. When you’re taking an agile approach, 80% has to be good enough. It’s continuous improvement over perfection; learn, and then improve it. It’s been a bit of a cultural change because things are not going to be perfect. You don’t have time to make it perfect.

How does the success affect your longer-term strategy?

It’s given us permission to be a heck of a lot more creative than we’ve been.

We are a long-standing, very traditional, and conservative brand. It doesn’t come naturally to us to brag about ourselves. The internal culture at Caterpillar is usually the team first, individual second.

We’re a humble organization, but as marketers you can’t be humble.

In the past, we’ve tended to market very conservatively. These videos were unusual, presenting ourselves as being fun and energetic, but also portraying to our customers the great sense of irony that we have.

We have an incredible product and valuable brand legacy; all the stars are aligned. So we are marketing on our toes instead of on our heels.

What has been the biggest surprise for you thus far?

I was surprised how the videos tapped into our employees’ allegiance to the brand. Employees shared the videos throughout social media, and to their family and friends. I think it brought a new, revitalized sense of pride in who we are.

Separate from my organization, the work of the Caterpillar Foundation is tremendous as well. They’re also telling our story and sharing the impact we are making in our communities. They’re talking about, for instance, how if people have access to water, women and girls don’t have to stay home to fetch it. They can get an education, and reinvest in the community.

So, in unison, we are all working together on telling our story. I came to work for Caterpillar because I felt like we built the world. I mean, it sounds huge, but that’s a lot to be proud of.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free subscription to our bi-monthly magazine.

Cover image by Joe Kalinowski

Author: Robert Rose

Robert is the founder and chief strategy officer of The Content Advisory, the education and consulting group for The Content Marketing Institute. Robert has worked with more than 500 companies, including 15 of the Fortune 100. He’s provided content marketing and strategy advice for global brands such as Capital One, NASA, Dell, McCormick Spices, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Robert’s third book – Killing Marketing, with co-author Joe Pulizzi has been called the “book that rewrites the rules of marketing.” His second book – Experiences: The Seventh Era of Marketing is a top seller and has been called a “treatise, and a call to arms for marketers to lead business innovation in the 21st century.” Robert’s first book, Managing Content Marketing, spent two weeks as a top 10 marketing book on and is generally considered to be the “owners manual” of the content marketing process. You can follow him on Twitter @Robert_Rose.

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