Patagonia Inspires with a Story-First Approach to Their Brand

How the outdoor brand uses purpose as a platform for engaging storytelling

Long before Patagonia’s founder and family made the audacious move to sell off the company to a trust dedicated to fighting climate change, the outdoor brand was already living out purpose in almost every conceivable way. Their advertising said, “Don’t buy this jacket,” instead encouraging people to repair clothing, donate it through their Worn Wear program or as a last resort, recycle it through Common Threads. They have an ironclad guarantee on all Patagonia gear, which is all ethically sourced and manufactured under safe, fair and humane working conditions. And since 1985, they have dedicated 1% of sales to environmental preservation.

This is a company that walks the walk every day. Even their approach to marketing and branding is unconventional and unexpected. “You can’t reverse into a mission and values through marketing, says Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard, outlined in Beloved Brands. “The organizations that are struggling with this are probably the ones that are thinking about marketing first.” Chouinard says purpose is not a strategy for the business; purpose IS the business itself. “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.”

How this unusual approach comes to life for the brand is a story unto itself, and stories are just it. The company’s channels are full of storytelling, but not narratives about Patagonia or their products. Instead they’re stories about people out in the world – having adventures, doing amazing things, challenging and changing ourselves and our planet. Their most recent foray is Working Knowledge, a “new series of stories grounded in wild places and activism, from around the world and close to home.” It features documentary-style films and shorts, photography, the written word, and interviews with change agents – moving people to read, watch and listen.

With a company that’s in business to save the planet, Patagonia’s branding efforts are a natural, organic part of that purpose and an inspiring output of an active (and activist) lifestyle. Freeing themselves from the trappings of typical marketing and branding activities, Patagonia uses their purpose is a platform for creating conversations and telling stories that matter. With marketing that’s more about making people champions for the environment than buying the brand’s products, Patagonia’s brand storytelling lets us hear from a wide variety of people and perspectives “for we all have much to teach and much to learn.”

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