Case Study: Steffes

Defining Manufacturer’s Brand to Expand into New Markets

steffes-corp-logo.png“Chief Outsiders delivered on the objective that they defined on the front end, to identify our brand and train our people. Bottom line, we are extremely satisfied and would engage with them again on another project.”
Joe Rothschiller, President and COO, Steffes Corporation

Steffes Corporation produces engineered solutions for the manufacturing, electric utility, and oil and gas industries. Wanting to expand beyond their traditional markets in North Dakota, company leadership sought a clearly defined brand and strategy. Chief Outsider, Dennis Bailen, researched internal and customer attitudes to develop a meaningful brand promise and tag line, while giving direction to a newly organized corporate marketing team. With the new brand and an integrated strategy, Steffes is expanding into new markets in the US and internationally.

Business Background

A Great Operating Company

As a small manufacturing company, in Dickinson, North Dakota, Steffes Corporation (Steffes) developed a reputation for engineering innovative, high-quality solutions for industrial applications. In 2007, they entered the oil and gas industry, starting in the Bakken Shale formation, and quickly became a leading manufacturer.

“Steffes was very successful prior to Chief Outsiders,” said Dennis Bailen, a Chief Outsiders CMO. “They were great at operating and devoted to solving customer problems. President and COO, Joe Rothschiller is an inspirational leader.”

Seeking to Expand

Rothschiller, however, felt that staying within the North Dakota market would limit growth. To expand successfully into other areas, they needed a clearly defined brand with a clear vision and common message.

“The board and I felt very strongly that we wanted to define the Steffes’ brand, what we stand for in the eyes of our customers, suppliers and employees,” stated Rothschiller. “Whether the market is going up or going down, this was a very important, strategic objective for us to attain.”

With no corporate marketing department, Rothschiller cautiously sought marketing expertise outside the company.

“We’d used other sales and advertising organizations, but no one really stepped in to understand us,” explained Rothschiller. “You give them material, they tweak it and then give it back to you, and you think, ‘We could have done that ourselves!’”

The Vistage Brand Strategy Presentation

When Chief Outsider, Dennis Bailen was scheduled to give a Vistage brand strategy workshop in Bismarck, ND, Rothschiller noted a high Vistage rating for Chief Outsiders and decided to attend.

“I was very intrigued by a virtual marketing company with the best of the best people whose objective is to help you identify your brand, train your people on marketing, and then check out,” explained Rothschiller.

“When he saw the brand presentation at the Vistage workshop, Joe recognized that to go to new markets outside of the Bakken, they needed to change from an operations-driven to an operations and market-facing company,” added Bailen.

Six Month Chief Outsiders Engagement

Impressed with Chief Outsider’s depth of resources and mode of operation, Rothschiller signed Bailen for a limited, six month engagement to identify the Steffes’ brand and help create a marketing plan to communicate the brand to stakeholders.

“Chief Outsiders came in very upfront saying, ‘Our plan is that we will exit whenever you’re ready but we’re expecting that your people will be able to carry the ball,’” stated Rothschiller.

Growth Strategy

Hands-on Market Research

Bailen spent about one week per month on-site from December to May, 2015, working closely with executives and staff at the Steffes facility in Dickinson, ND.

“I really found it refreshing working with Chief Outsiders,” stated Rothschiller. “Dennis devoted his time to us and it was real work. He wasn’t just saying do this, do that…we made him turn the wrench, hand-in-hand with our staff.”

Internal and external interviews, and customer surveys with manufacturing, utilities, and oil and gas industry customers revealed to Bailen that Steffes combines a great deal of engineering expertise with a total customer service mindset.

Early in the process, Steffes hired a marketing coordinator and their first VP of Sales and Marketing, Tom Schneider, to organize sales and marketing under one umbrella. Bailen worked closely with them throughout the engagement.

Brand Presentation

Bailen crafted a presentation from the research, including a Steffes SWOT analysis and the recommendation on the brand promise line. The executive team tweaked the brand promise, and Bailen produced a CORE brand document that took the brand promise down to specific employee behaviors, reflected in the tagline of:

Customer Focused. Solution Driven. Field Proven.

After Bailen’s brand strategy presentation to the board, executives, and other departments in the company, he sought approval and "buy in" from all of the stakeholders. “The feedback was phenomenal,” he related.

Played the Role of CMO

With approval of the new brand and a fully functioning corporate marketing department, Steffes was ready to move ahead. Rothschiller acknowledged Bailen’s contribution.

“He’s very professional and not afraid to speak up,” he stated. “He looked at everything from a marketing perspective and we’re still working with that internally."

“He played the role of CMO very well while he was here helping us identify our brand. He’s very committed and has very good communication skills. He dedicated the time and was always available. It felt like he was one of the management team.”

Growth Results

A Market-Oriented Company with Corporate Marketing Capabilities

With help from Chief Outsiders, Steffes has progressed rapidly in its marketing capability. “When we hired people in the marketing field, they grew probably ten times faster by working with Dennis and Chief Outsiders than they would have just being here at Steffes,” stated Rothschiller.

Informed by Bailen’s experience and market research, Schneider’s team learned how customer attitudes and branding all tied together. “He did a great job with that,” stated Schneider. “Through the process we learned more about business-to-business branding.”

Bailen noted a significant transformation at Steffes. “They have evolved from an operating company to a market-oriented company, a big step, and developed their own marketing capabilities,” he remarked.

Expanding into New Markets

Armed with the brand promise, Tom Schneider and his team developed a new logo and marketing materials. With an integrated strategy for expansion, Steffes is rolling out the brand, supporting the introduction of their products into other states and countries.

“I do think customers are relating to our new brand promise line,” offered Schneider. “Those few words—Customer Focused. Solution Driven. Field Proven—they rely on us to do exactly that.”

Believing that the industry would grow, Rothschiller’s investment in the future with Chief Outsiders is beginning to pay off.

“With these investments, starting with the brand changes, building an internal department and bringing on a strategic head of marketing, they are now successfully securing contracts in markets they’ve never entered before,” stated Bailen.

Marketing Strategy Yields Direction and Value

With the initial engagement concluded, executives at Steffes have no reservations about recommending Dennis Bailen and Chief Outsiders to other companies, and have indeed engaged Bailen for a follow-up project to help the marketing team update the website.

“Chief Outsiders offers a strategic level of marketing which is absolutely outstanding,” stated Schneider. “They get people to focus on where they are going with marketing. Dennis is part of that and really good at it.”

“If you had a specific project, they could bring real value back to you and help your marketing people look at it another way,” explained Rothschiller. “If you don’t have a marketing department, they’re great to help educate and find the areas that you may be struggling in.” 

“The influence and contribution from Vistage, and a brand oriented board and company leadership, all facilitated and supported by Chief Outsiders, have helped Steffes get where they needed to go,” concluded Bailen.

Contact Dennis Bailen 

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