How a 137-Year-Old Company Rebranded by Igniting its People

What’s in a brand? Is it a logo, a slogan, an identity? As one of our creative directors puts it, the brand is the movie that plays in your head when you think of an organization. Branding is perhaps more important to fashion than most any other industry. Branding was the main reason why, after more than 130 years of growing into one of the fashion footwear industry’s biggest players, Brown Shoe Company recently rebranded as Caleres.
“We want a name that reflects our ambitions. Brown Shoe did not reflect who we are today. To be a global brand, our name must be suggestive,” Sullivan told employees at the St. Louis headquarters brand launch. “Our name must be more than a name. It must be a brand with which people emotionally connect.”
The parent of brands such as Famous Footwear, Dr. Scholl’s, Sam Edelman and many more, Caleres, under the leadership of CEO Diane Sullivan, recently cemented its evolution in the marketplace with its new identity. Derived from the Latin word calere, which means passionate and “to glow,” Caleres signifies the customer-centric, forward-looking orientation of the organization. To meaningfully build their global brand, Caleres leadership understood that it must be accomplished from the inside out.

Spreading The Word From The Inside-Out

Sullivan and team were quick to recognize that although they had been growing and delivering positive financial results, they could not bring their long-range vision to life without an engaged, high-performing employee culture – one that aligned with the new Caleres brand mission and identity.
“We were first given an assignment to re-design and re-invigorate their annual company meeting, which historically consisted of executives presenting a one-way monologue,” said Creative Producers Group President Steve Friedman. “After deep discovery, we uncovered a need to create something far more engaging. As a result, we designed a community experience that challenged employees to embrace and actively participate in the new movement.”
To accomplish this, Creative Producers Group (CPG) crafted an internal campaign that included a series of innovative employee experiences. This instilled a sense of perspective with attendees, amplifying and giving life to the powerful culture shift. The campaign, called YOUnited, incorporated both social and interactive communications and intimate employee experiences involving genuine conversations between employees and leaders across the business. With a mob brainstorm challenging employees from throughout Caleres to collaborate and present big ideas to drive the future of the company, YOUnited was a highly successful campaign that facilitated Caleres’ shift to a more connected, high-performing culture. To both continue the conversation and sustain the momentum of the campaign, CPG utilized a closed social network app, putting the conversation in the hands of all employees. Complemented with campaign branding across office locations in St. Louis and New York, these digital communications efforts helped build awareness, anticipation and interaction. Employees quickly embraced the tool and took to the platform. They began sharing everything from peer recognition, to why they love their job, to funny photos and “shoe selfies.” With more than 20,000 opens and an average of 35 opens per employee, the app served as a central internal engagement and communication vehicle to leverage the excitement and new vision throughout the organization.

Next Step: Empowering Leaders

Next up, CPG focused on cultivating a sustained high-performing culture by giving leaders a shared language and empowering them to lead by example. To extend the YOUNited campaign, the CPG team collaborated closely with Caleres to create a first-of-its-kind Leaders Lab experience focused on the top 300 leaders throughout the organization. Organizers distributed a series of digital activities and supporting content to establish the tone for the learning series. The physical experience itself took leaders outside their comfort zones and modeled real skills they could immediately apply to themselves and their respective teams. CPG created a dialogue around a “learn-by-doing” approach to spark conversation throughout the groups, and through a custom, gamified experience that helped leaders think about their people and their roles through a new lens. Coming out of Leaders Lab, Caleres leaders initiated their performance review process and set record levels of review completion and comprehension.
“Leaders Lab established a key bridge between leaders and their team members,” explained Creative Producers Group SVP Fred Bendaña. “This experience helped cascade key messaging, further facilitated the Brown Shoe cultural transformation, and it set the foundation to launch the new Caleres brand values.”

Meaningful engagement is an ongoing process.

It’s fluid and comes from all levels of an organization – not just top-down. Throughout Brown Shoe’s history, fit has been a key theme in everything the business stood for. More than simply the physical comfort of a shoe, fit embodies how the brand connects with a particular lifestyle – and how the brand fits its people.
“We’ve had a highly successful engagement campaign and we’re now executing other internal initiatives championed by Caleres employees,” said CPG Account Director Jordan Wyner. “A key part of the rebrand was ushering people along a journey to become Caleres and helped them understand how they fit into that transformation.”
Most recently, a six-week communications program guided employees through the rebrand process and outlined what the rebrand meant, both for Caleres and for them as individuals. Buzz and excitement around the new identity – along with mystery and intrigue – swelled to a crescendo leading up to the brand launch. At the brand launch ceremony, nearly a year after the YOUnited experience, CEO Diane Sullivan delivered her inspiring message. She did so in a neutral outdoor tent that, like the company itself, was transformed into something completely new, a glowing environment that gave fresh life to the Caleres brand and celebrated the central role that each employee would play in its future. Caleres employees raised a glass of champagne to honor the past and to toast their new brand, their new culture, and a new bold future.