[Authored by MBA/MAcc Candidate Isaac Lewis] From humble beginnings, Patagonia has established itself as a premium outdoor clothing and gear company that has used its success as a platform for sustainable business practices and conservation. In late 1950s, Yvon Chouinard and a fellow Yosemite big wall climber began forging climbing tools to protect themselves during ascents without permanent damage to the surface and features of climbing routes. At the time, climbers typically drilled and/or hammered metal “pitons” and other devices into the rock to clip ropes to in order to arrest climber falls. Over time, scars and damage to the rock began to make some routes difficult to climb safely and damaged the rock aesthetically with obvious route scars. What began as an attempt to help preserve a small piece of the environment, Patagonia has expanded into a global force transmitting the founder’s philosophy toward conservation.
Marketing professors Philip Kotler and Kevin Keller note that sustainability has “risen to the top of many corporate agendas,” and this is true at Patagonia. The concepts of sustainability and preservation are applied in all aspects of Patagonia’s operation, from raw material procurement to production, marketing, and distribution. Additionally, Patagonia serves as a powerful voice for advocating resource preservation and sustainable practices through its marketing campaigns. The company has built a strong image with its customers by continually emphasizing the connection between the company and its sustainable practices and conservation efforts. Patagonia has a logical fit between its products, designed for the enjoyment of the outdoors, and its efforts to preserve the outdoors for future generations to enjoy.
Through its alignment between its marketing “voice” and its environmental initiatives, Patagonia has realized the many benefits of “cause marketing” as described by Keller and Kotler: improving social welfare, differentiated brand positioning, enhanced public image…and driving sales. Patagonia’s business model is atypical, and its customers are buying more than just outdoor related products. Kotler and Keller would describe Patagonia’s marketing model as one that, “transcends normal market place transactions” which results in developing strong emotional bonds, which serves as a powerful driver among customer choice.
Each of Patagonia’s seasonal catalogues tells a story in addition to marketing its products. For example, a recent catalogue edition was devoted to surfing and other water sports, and intertwined with images of fun and adventure are descriptions of environmental threats around the world that are impacting our water sources. Last winter’s catalogue, while devoted to snow and sports provided information about the diminishing habitat of Arctic Polar Bears.
Not only does Patagonia communicate issues that exist around the world but it also proposes and promotes solutions. Its weblog, TheCleanestLine.com, is a discussion and sounding board for customers and employees of Patagonia geared toward conservation.
In 2001, Yvon Chouinard along with Craig Mathews, owner of West Yellowstone's Blue Ribbon Flies, started 1% For The Planet®, an alliance of businesses that contribute at least 1 percent of their net annual sales to researched and approved environmental organizations. Chouinard’s Patagonia has found great success blending capitalism with conservation and sustainability and is helping make the world a better place.
See the following link for more information on the background of Patagonia and its founders:
Authored by Isaac Lewis, MBA/MAcc Candidate