Management & Marketing – Patagonian style

Once in a while, there is a company or CEO that defies all marketing logic.
A good example is the outdoor clothing company Patagonia.
Its founder and owner, Yvon Chouinard, ignores the bottom line, refers to fellow businessmen as “corpses in suits,” and blames the business world for destroying Earth and native cultures.

Despite his personal definition of an MBA (management by absence), Chouinard is brilliant in marketing and promoting his company.
Chouinard started producing his own mountain climbing equipment. He invented pitons (metal spikes) that could be removed from the rocks and reused.
During the 1970s, Chouinard’s company became the largest domestic supplier of climbing equipment. The step from hardware to clothes was an easy one: climbers needed double-seated shorts out of heavy corduroy. In 1973, Chouinard decided to produce his expanded clothing line under its own brand: Patagonia.

What makes Patagonia unique?

Branding. Patagonia creates visions of “glaciers tumbling into fjords, jagged windswept peaks, gauchos and condors,” and hits an emotional court with the target audience. Patagonia combines 55% product content with 45% messaging.

Environmental activism. Patagonia asks its customers to register to vote and to take social responsibility.

Product quality. From its start, Patagonia gave top priority to quality control in order to guarantee a durability top-quality product.

Corporate image. Patagonia is a constant fixture on the “best-company-to-work-for” lists. It promotes flextime and has on-site childcare.

Corporate strategy. Patagonia strives on change. It tries to constantly evolve, diversify, and improve practices. It refused to partner with companies that don’t have environmental activism as part of their values, as part of their behavior.

PR. Patagonia disregards traditional media such as TV, radio and print ads and go for word-of –mouth (WOM), depending on sales and customer advocacy. To enable this, Patagonia integrates customer data across all its channels (consisting of its stores, wholesale, catalogus and online) in order to implement one communication message.

Website. Patagonia’s website is unusual – the corporate profile and press room emphasize social and environmental commitment combined with sales. Even the corporate sales part is an online shopping tool and not the traditional balance sheet or key figures.

The main lesson we can learn from the Patagonia case is that a company can be idealistic and profitable at the same time.
Patagonia does it by:

  • being consistent in its idealism;
  • making sure it has an optimal branding mix of product info and imaging;
  • consistently producing high quality, durable products with word-of-mouth testimonies.