How Patagonia goes against the norms of business and why it works

Many Patagonia decisions run counter to what we expect from a profit-driven business. Our Patagonia case study will show how they use their brand purpose of “saving the planet” to steer their decisions and do the right thing. 

For instance, Patagonia donated 100% of its tax savings to the environment. They told customers not to buy their jackets because of over-consumption concerns. And, they give 1% of profits to the environment, and they banned Wall Street bankers from buying their logo polar fleeces. Patagonia is the best example of a company that lives up to its brand purpose.

Patagonia has made some decisions that copycat brands would never have the strength to do

A great part of the Patagonia case study is how they have fought President Trump on his views on the environment. This year, they announced they were giving away the Trump tax cut, estimated at $10,000,000, to environmental causes. Ben & Jerry’s also spoke out against Trump. But, I didn’t hear Unilever or Ben & Jerry’s giving the tax dollars away. I get it, it’s not easy. But, that’s an example of living their purpose.

Don't buy this jacket

A few years ago, they were trying to figure out how to handle Black Friday. They launched a campaign encouraging their consumers not to buy a new Patagonia jacket. Ok, now that’s crazy.

Why? Everything they make takes something from the planet we can’t give back. Each piece of Patagonia clothing, whether or not it’s organic or uses recycled materials, emits several times its weight in greenhouse gases, generates at least another half garment’s worth of scrap, and draws down copious amounts of freshwater now growing scarce everywhere on the planet.

The Patagonia case study is highlighted with an ad in the New York Times asking people to buy less on Black Friday. Yes, they are in business to make and sell products. Yes, they need to make money, and they are growing, but they want to make sure they address the risks of consumerism and don’t want to show up hypocritical.


Patagonia refuses to sell to Wall Street or Silicon Valley

A new part of the Patagonia case study is that of 2020, they will no longer sell co-branded fleeces into companies who do no share their purpose of saving the planet. That means no to Wall Street and no to Silicon Valley. The way they get around this is to stay they will only sell to those companies who are willing to give away 1% of their sales. Turning away willing customers, because they don’t share your views: that’s purpose. Below is an online communication where they turned away a bank from using their products. 

Patagonia is in business to save our home planet.

The Patagonia case study is the best example of standing behind brand purpose. For years, Patagonia has used “We will build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm and use business to inspire” as their mission statement.” This year, they have dialled up their mission to “be in business to save our home planet.” That’s definitively purpose-driven.

Sensing many other brands are trying to copy the way they do purpose, The founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, now 81, has taken note and said “Purpose is not a strategy”.

Chouinard went on further to say, “You can’t reverse into a mission and values through marketing. The organisations that are struggling with this are probably the ones that are thinking about marketing first. The role of marketing is to authentically elevate that mission and purpose and engage people in it, but the purpose needs to be the business.”

This environmental stance is embedded into the culture. They have stated that when Patagonia has a job opening, all things being equal, they will hire the person who’s committed to saving the planet no matter what the job is. No other company is that committed to their purpose.

Patagonia believes purpose is not a strategy, and it's certainly not an ad

If you love brand purpose, you should treat brand purpose properly, and where it sits within your brand actually matters.brand purpose

Purpose is NOT a strategy.

And, purpose is NOT an advertising line.

Purpose answers, “Why does your brand exist?” It is the underlying personal motivation for why you do what you do. It gives your brand a soul. Moreover, it should sit very high on your plan. You can’t make up a purpose.

If you were a product-driven razor for 50 years like Gillette, it takes another 50 years to transition to a true purpose-driven brand. Your first audience of your purpose should be your employees, not consumers.

Purpose impacts the values and beliefs of your brand, which then impacts the expected behaviours of all those who work behind the scenes of the brand. Can you see now, how it takes time for it to sink in. One ad, just won’t cut it.

Brand purpose is not a strategy

Don’t be ashamed of your real brand purpose because you likely can’t deliver the fake one you think is cool

Be honest with yourself. If you are Pepsi, what the heck is wrong with making the world smile and dance? Not everyone has to save the world. Authentic means being true to yourself, not just appearing earnest in an ad.

Every brand should have a purpose. Not every brand should use it in their ads. Use purpose if it motivates consumers and is ownable for your brand.

The biggest thing we can learn from the Patagonia case study is we can never be them.

Patagonia is uniquely laser-focused on the environment, not as a way to connect, but as a life-long commitment to why they exist.

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