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Getting Inside the Mind of Carhartt’s President Linda Hubbard

As organizations work through the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, it has never been more important for companies to build emotional connections. Strong emotional connections between not only the consumer and the brand, but also the consumer and the associates working within the organization are vital for success. Linda Hubbard, chief operating officer and president of Carhartt joined the Detroit Regional Chamber’s President and CEO Sandy K. Baruah for a discussion on the importance of establishing an emotional connection with your brand’s consumer to not only attract the customer, but also encourage employee engagement.

Building Emotional Connection Between Consumer and Associate

In the past decade, Carhartt has produced more than 10 million pieces of workwear in the U.S. and remains the largest maker of workwear in the country. Since its start in 1889, Carhartt has built its reputation on creating high quality products for the hard-working American. Carhartt’s mission has always been to build rugged products that serve and protect hardworking people.

During the pandemic, Carhartt leaned into the idea of the everyday hero, and worked to strengthen the authentic connection between the user and the brand. Carhartt put a focus on its “why” to build strong customer relationships and worker retention. However, the messaging is not only important for the consumer, but also for the brand’s associates.

“We love that people feel an emotional connection to our products and the whole lifecycle of the products,” said Hubbard. “We want to continue to message that to our associates to make sure that they understood that the jobs they are doing, no matter what it was, was so incredibly important to us executing on our mission and our promise to serve these hardworking people.”

Out of the passion for this mission came Carhartt’s core values, which have driven its decisions through the last century:

  • Act like Hamilton Carhartt: be inspired by hardworking people.
  • Respect our past while walking bravely into the future.
  • Do the right thing: work with honesty and integrity.

Lessons Learned from the Pandemic

Considering COVID-19, Carhartt shut down to re-engineer their plants. During that time Carhartt, utilized a paid-volunteer force to create masks and gowns to support the overwhelming demand for PPE, an idea first formed by its own workforce.

“We had our associates, who from the ground up, contacted us and said since we’re about serving and protecting hard working people, what about all these first responders and medical people that need PPE,” said Hubbard. “It was something that really started from the ground up and something that made us incredibly proud of our associates.”

During the last eight months, Carhartt has also placed a stronger focus on using “real” people in its marketing and social media presence, showing the diverse workforce that makes up the United States. The company has pushed for diversity in advertising for years and was even recognized by Forbes in September for their inclusion of the whole workforce, the diversity of the frontline workers, and for utilizing user-generated social images to add to the appeal that is signature to the brand.

Like many organizations, the company cut back on marketing spend amid the pandemic and let Carhartt enthusiasts take over its social media accounts to demonstrate how they use Carhartt in their own lives and jobs.

“This connection between the folks that wear Carhartt really resonated with our own associates and other consumers as they looked to social media during the pandemic,” said Hubbard.