North Face – The Pinnacle of a Brand

North Face Ad

OK Dave … here it comes….

Dave Folsom, President of one of our visionary clients – Sotherly, has been on me for a while to blog about North Face as a brand.

And he is absolutely right – the North Face ways of engaging us provides many great lessons for strategic branders these days.

And, North Face is an amazing brand.

And, this is particularly a good time of year to see just how omnipresent the North Face brand is.   Over the next few frigid days, just look around when you are out (if you can get out) or if you’re just watching real people being interviewed on TV.  Notice how many of them are wearing North Face.

North Face is everywhere.  Kids. Politicians. Moms. Millenial guys and gals. Teens. College students. Babyboomer guys and gals.  Yes,  North Face is everywhere.

The facts back this up.

North Face’s share of the outdoor apparel market is an astonishing 33.5% (according to SportsOneSource – a market research firm).   Coke and Pepsi combined does not account for 33.5% of their market. But, North Face does. How does North Face do it?

One thing for sure – North Face did not achieve this status via   your typical ‘in your face’, Nike style advertising. North Face tends to be more real, more genuine.  And, they have a really smart marketing team that understand the value of their brand and the skilled sensitivity needed so that everyone does not realize their omnipresence.

In fact, the first time I remember seeing a North Face television ad was recently during the holiday shopping period.  It really wasn’t  a television spot …it is more like an anthem.  An inspiring, engaging anthem espousing a certain way of life.  It was hardly “product advertising” – it is “mindset connecting messaging” and that’s a whole lot more powerful.

This North Face spot is beautifully crafted with the music and authentic words of Woody Guthrie.  And, with the moving tribute to the outdoors, North Face grabs us through the three vehicles that we impatient viewers still have time and patience to stop for – 1. engaging music, 2. terrific visuals and 3. tidbits and sneak peeks into genuine real life adventures that all together tell one big engaging story.

Smart branders there at North Face and great strategic branding lessons for us all.

1. Start with a true, authentic story and stay true to your core.  NorthFace was started in the 1960s by two climbers who wanted to up the quality of outdoor equipment for themselves and other climbers. Again, stay true to your original story and passion.

2. Market to a ‘mindset,’ not a demographic.  This is really important if you want your communication to really engage with people.  Inspire people via an emotional connection with a distinct attitude and/or a cause.  And show the people that most epitomize this attitude.

A lot of marketers feel think they are alienating customers by not showing examples of the majority of the folks who actually buy the product.  By doing that, your powerful message is diluted.  We all want to aspire to something bigger. It takes ‘brand courage’ to go narrow with your message.  The featured athletes in the North Face video are elite outdoor sportsmen and women – heliskiers, class five whitewaterers, vertical cliff climbers.

Really, from a rational marketing sense, there are not many of these folks out there (certainly, not enough to command a 33.5% of the outdoor apparel market). But, that’s OK.  These genuine “on the edge” outdoor daredevils tell the North Face story as it should be told.  When we normal folks wear the North Face label, there is a ‘nod’ to that outdoor adventurous spirit in us all.

3.  It’s a lot more than a TV ad.  In fact, as you will notice, the YouTube 1:52 North Face anthem attached above has been viewed and shared over 7.3 million times.  (I’ve accounted for at least 6 of those viewings – I just can’t get enough)  To make it more real, North Face had an experiential marketing component to the campaign where they actually traversed the streets of New York and picked up people to take them to an outdoor experience outside the city. (Obviously, a lot of these unexpected outdoor adventures were intensely shared via social media). And, there is a “give back” component (If you genuinely want to connect with a younger audience these days – you MUST have a credible “do something good for the community” aspect to your campaign). This North Face effort financially supports and recruits youths and veterans to work with the U.S. Department of Interior to restore America’s public lands.

Yep, smart, genuine, 360 degree marketing. We don’t have to follow North Face wherever they go, but enlightened strategic branders would be smart to follow some of their trails.

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