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newLogoA brand doesn’t reach iconic status without taking a few risks. Like swinging away on a 3-0 count with the bases loaded, Louisville Slugger has taken its share of chances. It is as American as baseball itself. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs with one in 1927, carved a notch in his bat for every one and his Louisville Slugger sold at auction for $1.2 million in 2004. Rather than putting its brand in a museum case, the company chose 2013, its 129th year of existence, to rebrand.

“Even if you’re iconic you have to be fresh,” says Kyle Schlegel Vice President of Marketing. “It’s a brand that is passed from father to son and mother to daughter. We asked people who work for us, our players, and our partners and the feeling was that it’s time. When I talked to our CEO Jack Hillerich he told me there were no sacred cows here. His only concern was that this brand lasts for another 125 years.”

It has been around for 129 years to be exact. The rebranding was Schlegel’s first project at the company when he started in early 2012 after 13 years at P&G. It announced a new logo and new bats from a higher-grade wood on the opening day of 2013 (March 31) and this week it heads into one of its signature events: The All-Star Game. Executives at Slugger say the rebranding was met by some caution, but has been received by players, partners and the market place better than they expected. Slugger has a heady heritage. A lot of brands talk about authenticity and integrity. This is a company that signed Jackie Robinson to an endorsement contract in October 1946. Number 42 didn’t take the field until six months later.

A recent survey from New York-based Brand Keys showed that the brand equity in Louisville Slugger goes beyond the diamond. In fact, the survey put the company ahead of GE, Walmart and Wrangler among others at number 17 in its top 25 most patriotic brands. It surveyed more than 8,000 consumers and 85 percent of them tagged Louisville Slugger as an iconic American brand on the level of Jeep, Hershey’s Coca-Cola and Disney.

“When we did some research prior to the restaging of the brand we found that there was a tremendous widespread consumer affinity,” Schlegel says. “That survey doesn’t necessarily surprise me, but I can tell you it’s a huge responsibility and one we take very, very seriously.”

That brand equity has been built over time but again taking risks has kept it relevant. Look into the current state of the game at the company and you’ll see sophisticated digital marketing operations at work. Consumer engagement and youth-oriented marketing is driven by the bats, gloves and balls that can be personalized right down to the webbing. A social program called “Leave Your Mark On The Game” invites young players to post what they believe will be their contribution to baseball. The centerpiece of its marketing, on display as the All-Star Game at Citi Field in NYC approaches on Friday, is its Bat Hunt.

Bat Hunt is a social engagement campaign that encourages different levels of participation. This week, the company has hidden 15 commemorative bats throughout the city. If a consumer follows the Louisville Slugger on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, it can recieve clues and updates. 
The first person to arrive and post “All-Star Bat Hunt” gets the bat.

“The idea was actually brought to us in 2011 by Me + You, our digital agency,” says Rick Redman, VP corporate communications. “We were trying to find a way to make the digital space more engaging and generate excitement at the same time. Now we’ve created something that we can own.”

The event was started to coincide with the winners of the 2011 series, which turned out to be the St. Louis Cardinals. Since the Bat Hunt was started it has become an event, social and publicity strategy. More than 500,000 people are connected to Louisville Slugger on various social platforms. It also connects to what has become a significant event strategy for the brand including Opening day, Mother’s Day, the All-Star Game and The World Series.

For a company that tracks from Babe Ruth to Buster Posey, social media also enables Lousiville Slugger to communicate brand, its legacy and it “paying it back” approach. It gives it another platform to create the emotion that the Brand Keys survey honed in on as the definition of patriotic. In World War I it sent hundreds of bats to the troops fighting overseas. That grew into 25 tons of bats for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. It has also grown into the Wounded Warrior project. The traveling Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team is one of Redman’s favorite projects. In mid-June 20 children from across the U.S. with amputations or missing limbs attended the first-ever Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team Kids Camp in Orlando, Fla.

“This is how we stay relevant,” Schleger says. “We put our brand in the hands of the consumer.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new logo

 

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MarketShare
by Brandon Gutman
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Brandon is an expert connector and seasoned business development professional. As Principal of Brand Approved, he's led the advisory to become the bridge between brand marketers and best of breed service providers that are reshaping the industry.

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