In the wake of President Trump’s reduction of national monuments in Utah, Patagonia has generated a word of mouth swell that should be the envy of any brand looking to deepen its connection with its consumers and orchestrate authentic word of mouth marketing.
If you’ve been on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter this week, you’ve likely seen screenshots and posts showcasing Patagonia’s now-infamous darkened out homepage decrying the President for “stealing” land. The political aspects of this situation are complex, but this isn’t a post about policy; it’s a post about marketing. And there are marketing lessons in Patagonia’s response to the Administration’s policies that all marketers should take note of.
Patagonia’s repeated success in engineering word of mouth moments by drafting off of current events is largely the result of three things: authenticity, consistency, and courage.
Patagonia is a brand with a soul and a heritage. Patagonia is not only a vocal advocate for environmentalism, but the brand contributes millions of dollars a year to environmental causes via its participation in 1% for the Planet – an organization founded by Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard. Patagonia’s advocacy doesn’t fall flat because it stems directly from the DNA of the company.
For other brands to replicate this success in word of mouth, they need to truly be mission-driven. When brands try to tap into the cause du jour, their efforts smack of inauthenticity – and it’s impossible for a brand’s message to resonate powerfully enough with consumers to generate word of mouth if it’s not authentic.
Of course, it’s not enough to be authentic. Brands also need to be consistent. Where so many brands go through the kind of frequent soul-searching that would make even a college undergrad wonder why the brand can’t make up its mind, Patagonia has always been guided by its own North Star. From store signage to packaging to the very materials they use to make clothes, every aspect of Patagonia’s business and its marketing is grounded in its environmental mission.
The only way for a brand to stand a chance at driving meaningful word of mouth is for it to stick to its own message long enough for that message to take root with people who are similarly motivated by the brand’s mission. And if a brand backs away from a cause it once embraced, it does so at the risk of alienating all the consumers who similarly identified with that cause.
Authenticity and consistency lead us to the third ingredient in cultivating word of mouth: courage. If your brand is authentic and consistent, it’s likely going to alienate some people – and you have to be okay with that. Patagonia hasn’t decided to champion environmental advocacy because focus groups reveal that that’s what its consumers care about. On the contrary, Patagonia’s consumers have gravitated toward the brand because of what it stands for.
For a brand to try to please everyone (or not to offend anyone) is for that brand to be so middle-of-the-road that nobody would ever feel strongly enough about its message to lend their own voice to the cause. Yes, this is tough to do because alienating consumers means potentially foregoing their revenue. But this is one of the true hallmarks of brand-building: you have to stand for something if you want your brand to mean anything.
Once a brand has found its own True North and consistently and courageously followed it, the final crucial step in catalyzing word of mouth is to create shareable artifacts that can easily spread from person to person – particularly via social networks. Here, Patagonia again shows us the way with an arsenal of content ranging from videos to talking points that make it easy for people who heed the brand’s cry to grab the digital equivalent of a poster and join the protest.