Footwear Plus featured Blundstone in the opening of its first ever U.S. pop-up store, located in Brooklyn. The store will be open from Nov 4th to the end of March 2020, so that customers can experience and shop the brand in a dedicated store space ahead of Blundstone’s 150th anniversary in 2020.

“Brooklyn is a home to many passionate Blundstone wearers and we are beyond excited to share more of our brand and product story in their own backyard,” says Kate Shevack, managing partner of Brand Initiatives Group, Blundstone’s U.S. marketing arm.

Kate Shevack also notes in the article that “Brooklyn is a home to many passionate Blundstone wearers and we are beyond excited to share more of our brand and product story in their own backyard.” Find out more on Footwear Plus.

The store is located at 192 Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Off the corner of North 7th St., right off the L train’s Bedford Ave stop.

In the article titled “For Blundstone, Consistency is Key to Change,” Kate Shevack was asked about the popular Chelsea boot, “which has transcended time and lifestyle with minimal aesthetic changes.”

She talks with Ali Webb of L’Officiel USA about the current Live in My Blundstones social media campaign, and how its presence has grown worldwide, noting that Blundstones can be found “virtually anywhere – from Brooklyn to Tel Aviv. So, whether you’re navigating the rugged terrain of Tasmania or simply walking down a city street, you’ll look and feel great.”

Blundstone boots look and feel practical overall for all wearers, regardless of gender or style, thanks to a “timeless design that can look great with whatever you’re wearing and guaranteed to feel as great as they look every step of the way,” and she also notes her own personal favourite boot, the Blundstone 063. Find out more and read the full piece at –

Kate Shevack, managing partner of Brand Initiatives Group, Blundstone’s U.S. marketing arm spoke with MR Mag in an article that looks at how “Australian Chelsea boot brand Blundstone is celebrating 50 years of the Original 500 Series.”

While the brand itself has been around since the 1800’s, the Original 500 Series boots are celebrating 50 years and “have appealed to farmers, builders and workers with its rugged, all-around charm.”

While over 25 million pairs of the Original 500 Series have been sold to date, the look has remained the same, though some technological improvements have been made.

“There would be an uproar if we were to change the boot much,” said Steve Gunn, Blundstone CEO. “If you took a picture of the side profile, you’d find it difficult to tell the difference between the first 500 boots and today’s boots.”

“Those that wear Blundstones swear by their comfort and never miss a chance to talk about their devotion and love they have for their boots,” added Kate Shevack. “The campaign pays homage to that bond, highlighting the passion they instill in the people who wear them.”

Read the full article at

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In what other industry can a potential client call up and invite successful and respected firms to compete for their business and have them all jump at the opportunity to spend days, nights, weekends, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in time and money to win an account that doesn’t offer more than a 90-day service contract? Perhaps the greater insanity, and much more costly one in the long run, is to expect agencies that are going all out to win an account and pretty much working in a vacuum, to have the knowledge and objectivity — or confidence — to develop an enduring campaign while they are competing in a beauty pageant.

Clients that go into an agency review looking to buy a campaign may get what they want, but more often than not they are putting their brands at risk.

I am sure that most clients and agencies would be nodding their heads in agreement, so why does it keep happening time and time again? Well, for one thing, clients are usually not secure enough to hire an agency without knowing what they are going to get in terms of a campaign. Reputation, experience, track record, chemistry, even awards, are all critical factors for consideration, but they still want to see the goods. And they agencies in a pitch don’t often have the time and information to get it right.

Boards can be impatient and a new CMO or CEO is often charged with change. And let’s face it, it takes a long time and a lot of capital to change a product or retool factories. It doesn’t take much time or investment to hold an agency review. In fact, it can buy time and get a lot of free thinking. So while the risk of committing to the wrong strategy and launching a new campaign can be a disaster to the business, there is intense pressure to show action.

And agencies are all too willing to play. They have bosses, too, and new business is how they are judged. So when the call comes in they are focused on one thing: not building the brand, but winning the account. It is the rare agency that will suggest a strategy or idea that flies in the face of where they think a client wants to end up. And suggesting evolution instead of a complete break with the past can be a death sentence when change is the mandate. So what happens when competing agencies are asked to execute against a brief they may not agree with or a strategy informed by research they had nothing to do with? Well, most often they will do their best to execute against that strategy, even if they have reservations. After all, it’s about winning the account.

One case study that stands out for me is Office Depot. A while back, a new CEO arrived believing that he needed to disrupt the business and preempt the category by refocusing on selling higher margin technology products like computers and printers, not commodity products like paper or envelopes. It was a sound idea that I am sure made great sense to his Board, except they didn’t work in the stores. The folks who did, the ones dealing with customers, didn’t have the knowledge or experience to sell technology products. But why sweat the small stuff? All ahead full! So, instead of making sure they could deliver on what they were promising, they called an agency review and the winning agency did a highly creative job in executing his strategy. The result? After about twenty-four straight losing quarters and with the stock price in free fall, he was fired and so was the agency. The Office Depot business has never recovered.

If he had instead hired an agency based on its category experience, insights on his business, related case studies or quality of its team, chances are that once the agency really got into the business, it might have counseled him not to rush to market before his store people were properly trained and his strategy could be executed successfully.

Look, I recognize that what I am suggesting is a generalization, and that there have been instances where the campaign from the pitch went on to be very successful. However, I am willing to bet that this is rarely the case. And while the relationship between clients and their agencies has changed drastically over the years, one thing hasn’t changed: the marketplace is the ultimate judge.

One thing is for sure, when a client chooses a new agency by buying a new campaign, more often than not the real victims are the brand and the business.

“…a predatory system created and perpetuated by Wall Street solely to pump its own profits.” This was how Josh Kosman of Rolling Stone Magazine described private equity firms back in 2012. James Surowiecki was even less subtle in describing them in The New Yorker as “job-destroying vultures, who scavenge the meat from American companies and leave their carcasses by the side of the road.”

While many might agree, we think this paints the industry with too broad, and too harsh, a brush. PE firms control an ungodly amount of companies of all sizes across all categories, both in the U.S. and around the world. Many of these businesses were either struggling or had plateaued and were in need of restructuring, reengineering or rethinking. Herein, theoretically at least, resided the opportunity in acquiring them. Of course, there was financial rejiggering, but with an injection of new management and rigorous operational oversight there was a belief that the business could regain momentum, grow profitably and provide a healthy return for their shareholders within a given horizon. Unfortunately, like it or not, this timeline is farther out now than it used to be. What was about buying and flipping is now about buying and building. Perhaps out of necessity, PE firms have to invest in innovation and growth initiatives, which includes increasing the asset value of brands.

Now, you’d probably expect brand consultants to promote greater investment in brand equity and we won’t disappoint you. However, lately there seems to be an alarming increase in the demise, or impending demise, of several well-known brands and companies owned by PEs. This is particularly true in the retail sector. Is this a result of forced starvation causing a myopic focus on short-term financial results, a lack of cash caused by self-inflicted debt servicing, or simply a seismic customer shift from the mall to the web? Probably there are a lot of factors that come into play. However, one thing is hard to argue: when the flow of nutrition is cut off from a brand, the demise of the enterprise follows close behind.

Brands need to be understood, respected, nourished and cared for. Brands have meaning that creates value and is worth paying more for. Brands inspire loyalty with employees and customers, withstand changes in consumer behavior and provide competitive cover. Brands are often more valuable than products, more durable than factories, and more resilient than the companies that own them.

There is no greater example of what not to do than the debacle of Sears. Eight decades before Jeff Bezos was born, Sears catalogs brought products to people who could not get them any other way. As it grew into one of America’s largest retailers, it became a haloed house of brand names like Craftsman, Kenmore and DieHard that dominated their categories. Tragically, after falling into the clutches of a guy – technically a hedge fund – that doesn’t respect brands, cares less about customers, and doesn’t have the good sense to let people who do run things, Sears stores will soon be liquidation centers. Ironically, desperate to try to raise cash, they recently announced they were selling some of their greatest assets – their brands.
Thankfully, there are many more examples of private equity firms that recognize that whether you are selling aircraft parts or air fresheners, investing in brand equity can make it easier to achieve sustainable profitable growth.

Brand Initiatives Group & Blundstone were featured this week in MR Magazine, an industry-wide publication in the US. The article talks about Blundstone’s recent changes and pushing the global brand identity into the US market, as well as the newly launched website rebuild, with increased social media engagement.

Part of the reason for splitting out womens and mens categories in Blundstone’s website was by demand, “Blundstone has always been a unisex brand but more and more women are purchasing our boots for themselves and the new navigation makes it easier for them to find their perfect boot and size,” said Kate Shevack, partner at Brand Initiatives Group and head of U.S. marketing for Blundstone. While Steve Libonati, Blundstone’s U.S. distributor notes that “there’s no question the women’s category offers the greatest area of opportunity for Blundstone, not only through further retail expansion but also in our ongoing product development.”

Steve Gunn, Blundstone CEO also talks about the global expansion of the brand, mentioning that “with a footprint in over 50 countries, Blundstone is no longer only a trusted safety and workwear boot, it’s now embraced as fashion for all ages. In the U.S. alone, Blundstone has doubled its business in the past three years and we have aggressive plans specifically for this market.” In fact, Blundstone is now available in some of the most popular retailers in the US such as Nordstrom, Todd Snyder, Steven Alan, American Rag, REI and Abercrombie & Fitch.

Read the full article to find out more about the plans ahead for Brand Initiatives Group’s work with Blundstone over the next few years –

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Many years ago, I remember doodling during a lull in a research presentation at Gillette, a brand that revolutionized its category through continual product innovation. The latest shaving system had just been launched successfully, but I found myself wondering what would be next. First it was two blades, then three, then four. Each new launch created new consumer demand and kept the competition playing catch up; however, it was a business model that required self-inflicted obsolescence. And while Gillette owned something absurd, like 92% of market share, the question I found myself asking was ‘Is this sustainable?’

While each category is different, the challenge facing brands defined purely by product innovation is always a double-edged sword (or blade, in Gillette’s case). Just ask the folks at Apple, who have built the world’s most valuable brand by creating the desire for what’s next. Each new introduction brings increased scrutiny, forcing the media and more importantly, customers, to ask the question ‘How much better is this from its predecessor? Is it just a tweak or a true breakthrough?’

While having the new Apple iPhone may be more about status than substance, the same may not be true with other brands. Just ask Pizza Hut. Competitors were eating their lunch (couldn’t resist) and stealing market share by offering a basic, everyday $5 pizza, even though Pizza Hut was always coming out with newer, more innovative, more exciting pizza concepts. Customers would try them and love them, but then go back to the best deal from Papa John’s or Domino’s on a regular cheese pizza when the family wanted to order out. To complicate things, Pizza Hut would often discontinue their innovative pizzas after a short time, creating a vicious cycle of enticement and disappointment. In a highly promotional category, this was not a sustainable strategy, especially given the operational pressure new product introductions put on their franchise organization. The solution? Create their own everyday $5 pizza. Brilliant.

Getting back to Gillette, I remember Jim Kilts, the CEO at the time and maybe the smartest person I ever consulted for, say, “All of the new ideas my people come to me with cost $1   billion in capital investment. What about innovations that don’t require re-tooling our manufacturing facilities?” Jim was right. Innovation can come in many forms. I thought of this recently when I saw a spot for Gillette Sensor repositioned as a value brand. I thought it was a really smart move, especially given the challenge of e-commerce competitors like Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club.

The truth is, when brand innovation is just about product innovation, you are betting the farm with each new launch. After all, how many people need a hair dryer that costs $299? Sir James Dyson is clearly hoping there are a lot of them.

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A ‘commodity category’ is usually thought of as one         with non-differentiated products. Go into your local drugstore and you’ll see lots of them; brand name products sitting right next to store brand products that are exactly the same, but cost a lot less. Here, the real differentiator isn’t what’s inside the package, but what’s outside: the brand name. And even though it may not make rational sense, most people feel that Bayer Aspirin or Tylenol is worth paying a lot more for than the same thing from Walgreen’s. However, commodity categories are not just confined to your drugstore shelves.

I was once leading a workshop for a global aviation organization. As the undisputed leader in its category, they continually invested in developing breakthrough technology. Yet, when I asked this group of experienced, senior level executives if they would feel better if their family were flying on an airplane powered by their technology, the answer was a real shocker. “No sir!” said one of their VPs. He said he would feel just as good if his family were on an airplane powered by one of his competitors. For while there were technological differences, this was a highly regulated category and so every part, both theirs and their competitor’s, was manufactured to the same standards. What he was saying, without realizing it, was that despite their proprietary technology and a long list of patented advancements, this leading technology company often found itself competing on price. Just like Bayer aspirin.

Let’s go from aviation to pizza. Most families with hungry kids order from the place with the best deal. Domino’s? Pizza Hut? Little Caesars? A hungry 7-year probably couldn’t care less. However, Papa John’s smartly de-commoditized their brand by owning the quality high ground in the category with ‘Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.’ Pizza Hut thought it was such a good idea they sued – and lost – and are left to just keep shouting “Deal! Deal! Deal!”

Truth is, every marketer should think and act like they are in a commodity category. Having a ‘commodity mindset’ forces you to do everything possible to create real differentiation and instill a perception of superiority. It is essential to always justify real and perceived value, keep competitors playing catch-up, and never be lulled into a false sense of confidence.

Even in categories with little real differentiation, the perception of superiority can be created through greater creativity in media and marketing, continual product innovation or improved packaging. And if you start getting a bit complacent, feeling that you are shielded from someone else commoditizing your product, service or technology, my advice is simple: always keep one eye in the rearview mirror and both feet on the gas pedal. I’m sure one of folks who still works at Blackberry would agree.


NIKE makes great running shoes, but it’s not what makes it a great company. World-class aircraft engines aren’t what make GE a world-class organization. And warm, comfortable fleece isn’t what makes Patagonia so amazing.

Spend time inside a lot of great companies, as I have, and you will find something that is usually common to each of them: great people driven by a strong and clear organizational culture. Focused and inspired, they share a common purpose and get up each day inspired to do their part in delivering on their ‘role in the story.’ From the C-suite to the loading dock, regardless of role, responsibility, level in the organization or title, everyone understands why the organization exists and embraces this core purpose and promise as their own.

Unfortunately, the opposite is equally true. Companies that don’t have a strong purpose-led culture, struggle. Their people are not as unified, not as inspired, not as focused. They may have a breakthrough product or technology, but they are often growing on a shaky foundation. When they hit a speed bump or face a competitive challenge, they lack the institutional resilience to respond. Just ask someone that used to work at Blackberry.

Instinctively, I guess I always got this, but certainly not to the degree I do now. I also didn’t fully get the critical role of HR. For most of my early career I thought of HR as sort of a backroom function. People who would get involved when you were hired or did something wrong (I, of course, never did), explained healthcare and insurance benefits, and what the vacation policies were – all of which are important, but are by no means what their real impact is and should be. Make no mistake: for the vast majority of companies today, it is all about their ‘human resources!’

In his groundbreaking book Good to Great, Jim Collins states very clearly, “Great vision  without great people is irrelevant.” And a company of great people is created by a clear, purpose-led culture.

While the CEO should be the leader of defining a company’s culture, the head of HR needs to own it and can play an incredibly important, evangelistic role in activating it, reaffirming it, and making sure it remains front and center in the daily lives of everyone who works there. It is the company’s culture that informs everything it is and does,  and determines who should be on the team and who might be more successful somewhere else.

Look, the truth is, most companies are defined by their people, not their products. That is what makes the role of HR more important than ever.

Most companies fail to capitalize on a powerful resource for growth ideas: their own people. I am not just talking about the heads of marketing, innovation or new product development. Great growth ideas can come from sales, accounting, legal – from anyone and anywhere within the organization. While this may sound a bit cliché, it is true. I am not diminishing the importance of external talent — including consultancies like us. What I am suggesting is that, figuratively and literally, every organization needs to tear down walls that constrict creative blood flow and find ways to capture ideas that can drive sustainable profitable growth. In James Surowiecki’s book, The Wisdom of Crowds, he makes the point that “…under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.” I have always believed in the power of group creativity and know that four hours can lead to groundbreaking ideas. Now, I know what you may be thinking: group thinking or ideation always seems to be a good idea but rarely leads to anything, except maybe coffee and sandwiches. Well, there are three keys to making an ideation session more than just a congenial get-together of co-workers.

1. Prepare rigorously. Make sure all workshop participants are well briefed on the current state of the business, category dynamics, competitive challenges, and consumer trends. Clearly define the goals and deliverables of the project and create a stimulating but relaxed environment where everyone feels comfortable to express their thinking without fear of criticism.

2. Stay on track. The facilitator needs to ‘lead’ not just ‘moderate’ the discussion. Like with fishing, they need to let the line out to give freedom to the conversation, but then tighten it up if the dialogue meanders.

3. Mine the output. All thoughts, insights and ideas from the session need to be synthesized rigorously. Like panning for gold, the marginal thoughts need to be washed away to reveal the nuggets of real value. In addition, all growth ideas captured in the workshop need to be evaluated against judgment criteria that the group develops and agrees to in order to determine which ideas or initiatives to invest in first.

So before you look outside for innovative thinking, try looking inside. Provide a forum to access the diverse talents, experience and perspectives of your own people to unearth unexpected growth ideas and initiatives. You will inspire and galvanize everyone on your staff in the process.