In the Business of Making a Difference: Patagonia

The brand I’ll be discussing in this blog post is Patagonia: an American-headquartered outdoor apparel brand. My reason for choosing this brand is because of the powerful alignment they’ve managed to achieve between their values; how their business is run; and how they manufacture their products – all in support of a clear and consistent mission: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

Patagonia was founded in 1974, by
Yvon Chouinard, as a small business making tools for rock climbers. Yvon, being a passionate climber himself, ultimately set out to challenge the status quo of what outdoor apparel was expected to be – and aligned it to his own lifestyle and values:

“It’s good business to make a great product, and do it with the least amount of damage to the planet. If Patagonia wasn’t profitable or successful, we’d be an environmental organization.”

Patagonia has positioned themselves largely as an environmental organization that manufactures clothes (that don’t harm the environment) and they’ve managed to successfully build a brand around an outdoor-lover and adventurer persona. Their brand identity has become one associated with integrity, adventure, care, awareness, simplicity, utility, and making a difference. Recently, they have been heralded for “reinventing the relationship between brands and customers” through their “Footprint Chronicles” campaign (to be discussed later on in more depth).

But behind all of their success as a brand and a business, lies a highly engaged team of impassioned individuals, who live and breathe the brand’s purpose, and extend this to every customer interaction, or, for the purposes of this analysis, brand contact point.

“The main aim of brand contact planning and management is to ensure that the brand and its purpose are genuinely served at every point of contact with stakeholders (Klopper & North, 2011:160). “

So how does Patagonia fuel a team of passionate internal brand advocates to ensure that their Brand Contact remains consistent, and aligned to their purpose and promise?

Well it starts with their impassioned CEO, who, with one Google Search, is associated with endless personal tales of adventure and exploration, rooted in a deep desire to create awareness about environmental issues. 

Brand touchpoints for Patagonia

Step 1 in the brand contact process is to establish all points of brand contact.

Being a retail outlet, Patagonia has both an online and brick-and-mortar store front, which represent both its product and service points of contact. Supporting their point of sales (both online and offline) are: the usual digital channels such as social media touchpoints (twitter, facebook, Youtube); an eCommerce website; live chat online with real agents; a phone number; email address; physical address and headquarters; store directory (online and brick-and-mortar); Store Assistants; in-store displays; online marketing campaigns; online catalogues; FAQs; a blog; and an eNewsletter and other email signups.

The planned points of contact for Patagonia are very important: events such as climate change protests and marches, movie screenings, ambassador programs, CSR initiatives; and photography exhibitions are all some of the ways Patagonia serves to reinforce their “green”, meaningful brand purpose and message.

The unplanned points of contact are press attention they might receive due to the political stance the brand aligns to with regards to environmental matters, as well as word-of mouth.

The people behind the touchpoints

Behind each of these points of contact are the people associated with the brand. Patagonia’s hiring philosophy and culture, fuelled by their passionate CEO and founder, Yvon Chouinard, is one that matches their purpose:

We seek core Patagonia product users, people who love to spend as much time as possible in the mountains or the wild. We are, after all, an outdoor company. We seek out “dirtbags” who feel more at home in a base camp or on the river than they do in the office. All the better if they have excellent qualifications for whatever job we hire them for, but we’ll often take a risk on an itinerant rock climber that we wouldn’t on a run-of-the-mill MBA. Finding a dyed-in-the-wool businessperson to take up climbing or river running is a lot more difficult than teaching a person with a ready passion for the outdoors how to do a job.”

The employees of Patagonia live what the brand stands for: the outdoors, and the environment. They make time for nature. This comes across strongly in their hiring philosophy, which helps them ensure they breed brand advocates who permeate all brand contact points, irrespective of the interaction.

One perfect example of how Patagonia cleverly combines its people with its customers in a way that lives the brand purpose – and which serves as a primary contact pattern for employees (step 2 of the brand contact planning process) is its Footprint Chronicles campaign: an alternative way for the brand to communicate its sustainability efforts; a way for the customers to see the genuine investment and engagement of the team behind the brand; and a way for employees to tell their story and the role they play each and every day in bring their brand promise to life (that of producing the best product they can with as little impact on the environment as possible).

So we were trying to figure out what we could do, when we had this idea to go into our supply chain and make videos that a customer could see when they come into our website and find out what the real origins were of their jacket or T-shirt, going all the way back to the farm where the cotton was grown and ending up at the warehouse where the product finally ends up. They can see slideshows, videos and interviews of the people behind the product. But more importantly, these slides, videos and interviews discuss what is good about the product and what sucks. It’s the good and the bad. It’s total transparency.

Another is the physical offices and staff perks: “Patagonia headquarters, a rambling three-acre campus in Ventura, Calif., are within walking distance to the beach and employee perks include official “Let My People Go Surfing” flextime.” The brand breeds employee engagement through offering their staff the chance to live what the brand stands for – its all about breeding transparency and walking the talk so the customer can believe and trust the brand stands for what it says it does. 

As the course notes say: “Brands need to deliver on their promises, and the consumer needs to be able to experience these promises in every point of contact with the brand.” – Patagonia has done an excellent job of this by building an organisation around a shared commitment to a cause, and a dedication to a certain lifestyle.

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