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MARKETING ON A MISSION
How Patagonia Shatters the Concept of Mission-Driven Business
It’s no secret that a rock-solid mission is crucial to a business’s success. Every company needs guiding principles to drive it forward. An effective mission statement harnesses those principles into a single, unwavering focus. Head to any website of a company you support, including ours, and you’ll see the benefit of effective strategic planning on display. In the laying or revamping of a business foundation, companies come up with values that matter to the collective soul of their identity. You’ll see it in multiple forms — “about us” or “who we are” are common — but a mission/vision/values section that details the purpose behind the actions of a company will be proudly on display. Patagonia is a great example. Zip over to their website and you’ll see a well-formed, concise mission statement on the front page: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” You can tell every word was carefully crafted to embody ideals that are important to the company. Every word packs a specific and necessary punch to explain their values and why they do what they do. When you read it, it’s easy to see why someone would be drawn to Patagonia. They make their message accessible in more ways than one. MORE THAN MONEY It doesn’t take long to find information about what drives a successful business, and there’s a very specific reason for that. It’s not because mission is a selling point, but because all great companies want their consumers to know that goods or services are only one part of their purpose. Committing wholeheartedly to business principles would make for a pretty dull company. Would you want to work for a business if their mission statement was, “We consistently have a 12 percent growth rate with profit margins at 48 percent while limiting attrition, increasing lead conversion rates, and using systematized models for operations?” The only people who’d come to work for you are robots.
They start with a reason. Patagonia explains why their business exists and how that influences their desire to drive sales forward. But Patagonia differs from most for-profit companies because their mission statement is very active on social issues that matter to them— they are a mission-driven business, but their mission isn’t focused on business. Self-labeled “The Activist Company,” Patagonia oversees a convergence of two ideals that have often been on the opposite side of the social issues table: business versus the environment. Patagonia’s mission statement is so distinctive it almost functions as its unique selling proposition (USP). Product users engage with the brand because it stands for something that matters to them and because it’s different. If the brand backs up their mission statement with high-quality products or services, it gains loyal followers. From loyal followers, you gain organic growth that you just can’t find anywhere else. Most outdoor enthusiasts can agree that, 10 years ago, Patagonia was just another middle- of-the-road company. Now it’s an industry leader, and it’s accomplished that status in the most authentic way. If you don’t agree, you haven’t heard of their “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign.
“Don’t Buy This Jacket” was an advertisement displayed across multiple publications, asking consumers not to purchase their R2® Jacket. Even though the advertisement detailed the benefits of the jacket, they peeled back the curtain on how grossly inefficient it was to make such a jacket from new materials and the environmental impact consumerism has on the planet. So if it kills the planet, why does Patagonia make it? That seems hypocritical, right? Well, that’s where their initiative of “Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Recycle,” comes in. The R2® Jacket mentioned in the ad wasn’t made from all new, raw materials. Instead, the source threads came from 60 percent recycled polyester. CREATIVE OR REAL? Marketing like this isn’t a creative way for Patagonia to encompass their mission. It is their mission. And it’s not just broadcasted in their marketing and executed in their production; it’s practiced in their operations as well. 1 percent of all sales, or 10 percent of pretax profits, goes to environmental groups, demonstrating their continued commitment to their calling. You could argue that what Patagonia is doing with their business model is very purposeful — offer up a contrarian standpoint that goes against the status quo and make sure everything about operations backs that up. But brands like Vans, Hurley, and Burton have built empires off the same concepts. Patagonia breaks that mold because their counterculture movement should be counterproductive to their bottom line. Donating profits, discouraging sales, and funding activists are not in anyone’s business manual. But that’s precisely why it works. People want to be a part of a story, and Patagonia tells a tale that is important to many people across the world. By taking a stand for what they believe in, their branding, marketing, and loyal followers have perpetuated their story at the tallest peaks, the largest waves, and the healthiest streams of the world. Every great business is mission-driven, but Patagonia is driven by something more: a calling.
THROUGH THICK AND THIN 2011 wasn’t exactly the height of consumerism in America. Every business was desperate for sales. In a down economy, one of the most affected industries is recreation. Less available money to spend means families have to be diplomatic about where their cash goes — most prioritize food and shelter over new outdoor gear. Yet, on Black Friday in 2011, Patagonia ran one of their most famous campaigns ever.
Successful businesses commit themselves to something more meaningful than just the bottom line.
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