Earlier this decade, Patagonia made a rather bizarre plea to its customers: Stop buying our stuff. The outdoor apparel brand launched a marketing campaign designed to ask customers to reconsider their shopping habits. To stop buying new coats when their current one was just fine, to stop indulging in spending sprees on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. To spend less on what you want and more on just what you need.
So did Patagonia’s customers heed the brand’s advice? They did not, as Patagonia’s sales increased by more than $150 Million over the next year.
Obviously, this approach won’t work for every brand. And that’s the point. It works for Patagonia because the brand has established the trust of its customers. Its customers believe that Patagonia’s motivations behind asking customers to avoid extravagant purchases are truly to create a better world. Many of Patagonia’s customers share these beliefs and wants. Which means Patagonia’s marketing message to ‘buy less’ actually validates to its customers that Patagonia is a brand that they should believe in, and support.
This story also goes to the heart of truly successful marketing. Too many brands market their products, when they should be marketing how those products fit into the lives of their customers. Patagonia does this amazingly well. The brand focuses on its customers and their likes and beliefs. The company shares many of those same beliefs, such as protecting the environment, enjoying the outdoors, and sustainability.
We all have certain things we are passionate about. Maybe it’s something specific like US military history, horseback riding or automotive repair. Or it could be more general like design, simplicity, minimalism. But we all have things that we are passionate about and that we love. Things that motivate and excite us. We can relate some of those things with some brands.
But we love the brands that we identify as being related to the things we love. In the Patagonia example, its customers love the brand because its customers love protecting the planet and believe that the Patagonia brand has this same desire. Patagonia is helping to facilitate the ideas and beliefs that are important to its customers: Protecting the environment, being active in the outdoors and sustainability. Patagonia’s customers feel better about themselves for supporting the brand.
So if you truly want to make a connection with your customers, don’t promote your brand so much as you promote the things that your customers love that they associate with your brand. For Patagonia, that’s protecting the environment, being active outdoors, and sustainability. For Fiskars it’s scrapbooking. For Harley-Davidson it’s the freedom of the open road. It’s not about a parka, a pair of scissors or a motorcycle.
It’s about us. It’s about the things we are passionate about, that we love. How well you relate to the things we love determines how well we will relate to your brand. When you can show us that your brand is just as passionate about these same things and can help us realize our passions, we might just love your brand as well.