For Black Friday in 2011, Patagonia ran an interesting ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ ad in the New York Times. The ad kicked off a campaign by Patagonia to attack ‘consumerism’ head-on, and the brand asked its customers to strongly consider whether or not it was necessary to buy a new piece of clothing, or if an existing article they already owned was still useful enough. Additionally, Patagonia wanted customers to think about the idea of owning things that have a purpose versus just owning something because you wanted it.
Surprisingly, the campaign actually sparked sales growth for the brand, to the tune of a whopping 33% increase in 2012. The campaign is part of a consistent message that Patagonia has delivered to its customers: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
Patagonia’s marketing works because it’s not focused on its products, but rather the ideals and beliefs that the company holds that its customers identify with. I’ve written repeatedly about Patagonia’s marketing efforts and even included the brand as a prominent case study in Think Like a Rock Star.
And keep in mind when you read this that I don’t own a stitch of Patagonia clothing. I just recognize amazing marketing when I see it, and want to celebrate it as such.
Another initiative Patagonia pushes is its Worn Wear program. Patagonia will take your damaged clothing, and for a ‘reasonable’ fee, repair it for you. The idea here is to extend the life of an existing garment versus buying a new one.
But this year, Patagonia is kicking it up another notch, and taking the Worn Wear program on the road, literally. Throughout the year, a specially built Worn Wear wagon has been making its way across the country. This vehicle is making stops and not only repairing Patagonia clothing for free, but other brands as well. Additionally, Patagonia is teaching customers at every stop how to repair their own garments.
And if all this hasn’t thoroughly impressed the hell out of you, Patagonia has one more trick up its brand advocacy sleeve. It has partnered with DIY repair site IFixIt to create a series of custom manuals and even a section for asking questions on how to repair and care for individual garments.
— iFixit (@iFixit) August 4, 2015
So this begs the question: If such customer-centric marketing and business processes work so well, why aren’t more companies copying what Patagonia is doing? There’s a couple of very important distinctions with Patagonia:
1 – Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, is an avid outdoorsman and very concerned about the environment. That means there is literally buy-in from the top down for Patagonia’s marketing approach to focus on the passions of the customers over the products. Because Patagonia’s founder shares the same passions as his brand’s customers.
2 – Patagonia is a private company. In this PBS Newshour feature on Patagonia, PBS played a snippet of a talk that Chouinard gave where he explained that “The problem with a lot of public companies is that they’re forced to grow 15 percent a year. They’re forced to show profits every quarter.” Chouinard’s implication is that by being private, Patagonia can pursue a marketing strategy that perhaps would be far more difficult or even unattainable if the company was public.
Regardless, the idea of focusing your marketing communications on the larger context that your brand lives in, works. Apple does it. Red Bull does it. Patagonia does it. More companies should be doing it.