Patagonia Shows How To Future Proof Your Brand While Being Contrarian

I am pleased to announce that in this blog I have acted sustainably – I have reused, recycled and reduced two excellent blog posts by Marc Stoiber. The first is titled  Business in a Post-Green World  and the second Patagonia Building a Strong Brand Out of Old Clothes.

In the first post. Marc draws from Ogilvy’s research Mainstream Green to identify the reasons why some 82% of Americans have good green intentions but only 16% act on them. Too many years of zealous, finger wagging environmentalists telling everyone what they couldn’t or shouldn’t do has caused the associations pictured below (stolen from Marc’s page, btw).  More recent attempts at suggesting Green is Cool or Chic (a.k.a. Green is the New Black) haven’t yet managed to overcome the emotions of guilt that each of us associate with not living up to our green aspirations.

Six Reasons To Reject Green courtesy of @marcstoiber

Marc wisely suggests that we stop thinking about sustainability and more about future proofing  and to do the latter we must focus on resilience – i.e., the ability to adapt to unforeseen external shocks as it’s likely in this chaotic world that there’ll be no shortage of those. He suggests there are five ways to future proof your brand which I think tie in well with what it takes to be a conscious host (and I’ve paraphrased and taken liberties with the language):

1. Internalise Green – resilient companies won’t brag about being green, they’ll simply get on wit the task of showing they care by respecting the laws of nature and living in harmony with it. . Companies like Nike and Patagonia incorporate sustainability into every business decision but not into the brand. In Conscious Travel, we call this creating places that care.

2. Insight – resilient companies will invest in understanding how the market and context is changing and, more importantly, why it’s changing. Unless you have some understanding of the dynamics and change drivers, you might as well be playing at the roulette table. Companies like Sixth Sense and Virgin, who have been hosting the SLOW Life event in the Maldives understood where the market was going several years ago .

3. Design – Marc suggests: “Good design creates a visceral reaction in people. It conveys beauty while aiding function. It generates
feelings of wonder and drives desire.”  Apple’s products are cool not because Apple promotes them as such – they attract the loyal followers because they are beautiful as well as functional objects that make you want to spend time with your “device.”  Conscious Hosts focus their attention on the customer’s unique experience and endeavour to ensure all aspects of what it means to be human are stimulated and fulfilled showing that they care about the body (sensual pleasure), mind (mental/intellectual curiosity), soul (emotional response) and spirit (meaning). These experiences are sufficiently impactful and meaningful as to be transformative.  There are still few destinations thinking seriously about Experience Design, exceptions being Finland (LEO) and Canada (GMIST & Tourism Cafe).

4. Social Interaction – as pointed out in a previous post, this means more than using various Social Media but designing your entire business and business planning process around interaction between all stakeholders – guests, employees, suppliers and destination hosts. BBMG, the agency that first coined the term “Conscious Consumer” call this the Age of Creativity. The boundaries between guest and hosts, consumer and producer are blurring fast.

5.  Innovation – resilient companies will never sit on their laurels but will be constantly scanning the horizon for the opportunity to stand out or stand for something that differentiates and attracts, By interacting with all their stakeholders and creating cultures in which it is safe to play &  experiment while obsessing about customer delight, they create the conditions for innovative ideas to emerge.

If that wasn’t enough food for thought, Marc’s next post,  on the other hand, Patagonia Building a Strong Brand Out of Old Clothes.suggests that sixth way to futureproof your brand might simply to be contrarian.

Decades before businesses embraced the green movement, Patagonia spearheaded campaigns to use eco-friendly materials and fabrics in its clothing and pioneered sustainable manufacturing practices, turning the outerwear industry on its head.  The result? While most of the world was grappling with the Great Recession, Patagonia had its two best years ever. Sales at the 1,265-person company stood at $315 million in 2009, and Chouinard–still the sole owner–says they’re still growing. This year they’re expected to be near $340 million.

The reason for their success?

  1. A commitment to quality gave Patagonia the courage to resist the call of the herd and drop prices when frugality was the buzz word of the time. Instead they became the Rolls-Royce of their product category.  Chouinard didn’t sell out, lower prices and dilute the brand because, to quote: “sometimes, the less you do, the more provocative and true of a leader you are.”
  2. An association of quality with durability. Patagonia builds clothes to last. In their most recent initiative, Patagonia has actually asked its customers to reduce unnecessary consumption of its own products. Called the Common Threads Initiative it first asks customers to not buy something if they don’t need it. If they do need it, Patagonia asks that they buy what will last a long time – and to repair what breaks, reuse or resell whatever they don’t wear any more, and, finally, recycle whatever’s truly worn out. Patagonia in turn commits to make products that last, help repair quickly anything that breaks, and recycle the company’s entire product line. To help customers put used clothes back in circulation, Patagonia and eBay Inc. have joined forces to launch a new marketplace for customers to buy and sell used Patagonia gear.

Patagonia saw the deeper shifts that the recession accelerated – in an era of uncertainty and distrust, consumers realized that it made practical sense to become more self sufficient; to take responsibility; to truly value homemade things made with care. They are attracted to companies that can show they share these values.

Marc is right in saying that sustainability needs to be built into the product but not the brand especially when you consider that the word sustain means to prolong or endure. Sustainable products, like Patagonia’s clothes appeal because of their design, quality and durability not because they are green.  Men don’t feel “girly”, the value proposition is easy to understand; their message doesn’t confuse; it’s an easy straightforward purchase; you trust the brand and don’t feel guilty – if anything, the opposite – and that’s worth paying for!

Lessons for Tourism Operators

  1. Quality in tourism is directly related to uniqueness and authenticity. The best way to “stand out” is to offer an experience that reflects and celebrates the essence of the place in which you’re situated –  as it is unique, and the end result of 13.5 billion years of evolution, why sell your place as if it were a commodity?  Take the time to research local history, culture and geography so that you can impress that uniqueness on your guests. When a guest wakes up in your hotel, she should know where she is; over the course of her visit all her senses should be engaged in shaping an enduring memory of what made that trip different, memorable, and special. Quality doesn’t have to mean expensive – it  requires imagination and taste not money. Quality in this sense is inextricably tied to authenticity – BE who you ARE. Don’t try to manufacture something bland that emerges from a focus group. Be true to your values.
  2. Create memories that last! Travel providers are in the fantasy fulfillment business! Our guests start their trip with a fantasy, a dream of somewhere different; then enjoy an experience and take home memories. The more vivid and positive the memory, the more it will last and be shared. Engage your customers in the kind of conversation that encourages them to share their expectations and personal interests so that you can direct them to events and places most likely to generate the “wow” or OMG (O My God) response that leads to referrals.
  3. Make it easy for your guests to share those memories. Every visitor goes home with a collection of photos and videos that they expect to edit and package in order to impress the folks back home. Within days of being back in their routine, they find they haven’t the time and the memory fades. Create and brand slide shows, videos, e-books complete with appropriate music, professional images and short video clips, in which all the guest has to do is insert some of their own pictures to have an immediate but personal memory of their experience. If it looks good and entertains and informs, it will be shared.
Those are my first thoughts about what it means to be contrarian but not my last. What do you think BEING CONTRARIAN might look like in the travel & hospitality sector?
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