How Patagonia’s Commitment to Sustainability Informs Their Marketing Approach

Earlier this year I noticed a feature article from one of my American Marketing Association publications entitled “Patagonia Works to Blaze New Trails in Sustainability” regarding Patagnoia’s unique approach to marketing.  This article caught my attention because Patagonia’s west coast distribution center happens to be just a few miles away from my home in Reno, Nevada, though you’d never know it. Their 171,000 square foot LEED certified building is nestled quietly alongside of the Truckee River at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in a nondescript area of town.

What’s significant about Patagonia’s approach to marketing is two-fold: 1) That the company has built an emotional connection with its customers through education, sustainability initiatives, and calls to action as opposed to emphasizing the attributes of their products alone, and 2) That Patagonia has managed to weave the practice of marketing through all aspects of its business. From their building practices and product materials sourcing, to manufacturing, distribution, and now advertising – Patagonia is a company that’s not only fully committed to their mission of reducing their environmental footprint but a company that operates holistically from the standpoint of marketing.

The End of Brand Arrogance

There was a brilliant blog post I came across recently from branding agency The Blake Project entitled “The End of Brand Arrogance,” which talked about the importance of synthesizing marketing into the product and the need for focusing on emotional engagement vs. fancy product features and user benefits.  The author writes:

Consumers who yearn for authenticity and demand transparency are now writing the new rules for brand engagement. To play this new game, marketers will have to learn how to close the gap between their logical, metrics obsessed corporate cultures and the emotional world of consumers. Brand building is now, more than ever, about bridging this gap through rich emotional connection … instead of the pitch, marketers must be invited to the conversation, or start a new one people care about.

To cite a few examples for how Patagonia has embraced this approach to marketing, one need look no further than the Common Threads Initiative which seeks to promote sustainability by asking you to reduce what you buy, repair what you can, reuse what you no longer need, recycle what’s worn out, and reimagine a sustainable world. Below is a video overview:

To illustrate this concept, in December of 2011 Patagonia ran a full page ad in the New York Times (that was also used in a Cyber Monday email) with the headline “Don’t Buy this Jacket.” According to the company’s blog, the ad sought to address the issue of consumerism head on in order to avoid being hypocritical, as well as to stand true to their mission of “lightening our environmental footprint.”

In addition to their Common Threads initiative, innovative advertising, and their LEED certified building in Reno, Patagonia also has a variety of efforts in place that reflect their commitment to being a sustainable retailer, which benefit their overall marketing approach, including:

  1. A YouTube channel filled with educational videos about the environment and their products
  2. An interactive section on their web site that maps out their supply chain
  3. A company-sponsored blog for employees and customers committed to sustainable practices called “The Cleanest Line
  4. Their product catalog, which also doubles as a piece of environmental education literature as it contains “award-winning images captured by both customers and some of the world’s best outdoor photographers, essays on the environment and field reports from Patagonia employees, customers and friends”
  5. A page on their web site dedicated to ambassadors of the company
  6. A Twitter campaign entitled “Vote the Environment” encouraging customers to tweet about why they love the environment
  7. Information on their “Common Waters” or water conservation campaign
  8. A book available on their web site authored by the company’s founder detailing what he’s learned from Patagonia’s first 40 years in business

New Values Change the Way Consumers Buy

According to author Jacquelyn Ottman (who also wrote the book The New Rules of Green Marketing), this type of approach to marketing is successful because there are new cultural values emerging affecting the way consumers make decisions. From a blog post entitled “6 New Values Change the Way Consumers Buy,” in addition to consumers demanding authenticity and nearly everyone now being a corporate stakeholder, life cycle considerations are important and manufacturer/retailer reputation are more important than ever. Furthermore, “businesses are their philosophies” since values now guide consumer purchasing. She writes:

It used to be that companies were what they made. International Business Machines. General Foods. General Motors. Now, businesses and brands are what they stand for … Consumers are increasingly seeing businesses as linchpins with the resources and incentives to address pressing societal needs.

In summary, Patagonia’s marketing strategy flows from a strong central mission and commitment to the environment. By knowing what they stand for and what their customers value, they have been able to take their business to the next level and achieve a truly integrated marketing approach from the inside out.


    • Thanks! I do remember now even though that was nearly four years ago. Proof that it takes time for a company to build a reputation and grow awareness about the scope of their brands.

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