Most brand marketers are intrigued (or at least they should be) by the comments made by visitors to their competitors blog sites. It provides a sense of how advocates and nonconformists alike are responding to that particular company in real time.
The weblog of the ‘highly ethical’ brand, Patagonia, is a far cry from the usual she-said-this and he-said-that of other £200M companies and visiting marketers may stumble on to something quite unexpected when they log on.
Contributors to this eco-friendly cascade of words focus on everything from tips on getting the best out of your garden in spring to erosion problems on the southeast ridge of some mountain or other. What? Flowers and plants? Crumbling rocks? Why aren’t they bitching about another love-it or hate-it base layer? In truth, Patagonia is the proud owner of exactly what a brand blog site should be: engaging people who are (or want to be) associated with the brand and discussing subjects that are at the heart of the company’s philosophy. The Patagonia weblog is an absolute manifestation of what the brand stands for and an indication that its marketing approach is both precise and successful.
Everybody wants to jump on the ethical bandwagon – after all, we’ve all got a separate recycling bin by the back gate, right? Or do you regard it as something the local council foisted on you and you fill it each week just to keep the neighbours from sneering at you when you walk by? Patagonia has a recycling bin and they are serious about using it. The fact that they don’t ‘play’ at being environmentally friendly means they have something to say and that tactic draws in a lot of consumers into their world and leads to a very contemporary and a very profitable business.
Patagonia’s success demonstrates that ‘so called’ ethical sourcing of its products simply isn’t enough which is why the company’s marketing portfolio stretches way beyond that to reach out and appeal to so many global crusaders who have fallen in love with this outdoor apparel brand. The weblog is just the first example of smart, successful consumer interaction: the brand, and its personnel, speaks with authority and knowledge when it comes to environmental issues. Just take a look at the comments by bloggers, and the respect they show, when Patagonia points to a specific issue.
You cannot buy that level of brand loyalty.
How many other global companies offer 1% of annual sales turnover (or 10% of their pre-tax profits; whichever is the greater) to grassroot environmental organisations? Their ‘1% for the Planet’ has been in place since 1985 and remains their pledge to aid ‘the preservation and restoration of the natural environment’. This is brand philanthropy on a scale that should make even the largest of computer software magnates doff their hat. And guess what, the reason why it has proved such a powerful business tool is because they say it with a whisper.
There’s no brash ‘look at us…see how cool, trendy and generous we are by throwing cash at the world’s problems!’ Patagonia simply gets on with it as part of their regular day-to-day business regimen…and their customers love that.
So when a consumer picks up a piece of Patagonia apparel to go climbing, fishing or to drink beer for the afternoon (well, that is an outdoor sport), they feel good that they’ve bought a quality product and that they’ve also ticked their ‘I’m saving the world today’ box.
Oh yeah, they still have to make decent product too; it’s not just about stroking the planet and thinking that will disguise a Gortex jacket that falls apart halfway up Mount Kilimanjaro. Mercifully, the brand backs up its eco-power with good quality clothing. This too is augmented with an array of ethical fabrication directions which keep adding more weight to the company’s green credentials. The environmental impact of employing fabric developments such as E-Fibers, chlorine-free wools and organically grown hemp and cotton is always scrutinized by the company prior to use in any of its products.
We all love a woolly jumper (especially at Christmas) and the use of Merino wool – particularly in base layers, has proved increasingly popular with consumers over the last decade. Patagonia take care to ensure they only harvest Merino wool from nonmulesed sheep (mulesing is the process of effectively removing the skin off the sheep’s backside – which results in some very unhappy sheep) and is another example of the attention to detail they adhere to in their product development process.
If you needed anymore evidence of the brand’s commitment to being a ‘proper ethical brand’ and leading by example, then their Common Threads Initiative is nothing new as a premise but is executed blindingly well. The mantra to this is simple: Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Recycle. Patagonia have stripped all the jargon away from corporate sustainability and delivered a simple message to its customers. Reduce: you don’t buy what you don’t need and they make products to last. Repair: they pledge to fix what’s broken. Reuse: pass it on or they’ll happily find a home for it. Recycle: you keep it out of the landfill/incinerator and they’ll put it back into the system for you.
Can you believe they are actually discouraging sales with this approach? It is smart, exceptional marketing which, you know, will have totally the opposite effect on their customers…they will purchase more gear on the back of loving this simple proposition.
In an age when consumers are demanding more value than ever, you could understand a company like Patagonia occasionally cutting corners to help improve margins and keep profits moving in the right direction. But they will not compromise; they have a robust, successful marketing plan in full swing. Their consumers know they’ve set a course on the HMS Eco-Friendly and there’s no getting off that boat or deviating from the route they are on…whatever the cost.
Today, I went to the beachfront with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had to tell someone!