Surfing, mountain climbing, skiing, fishing, kayaking in the wilderness - the Patagonia brand lives and breaths passion for the outdoors. Not surprisingly, so do its customers. Patagonia isn't one of those brands that pays lip-service to the outdoors while selling to plaid-clad hipsters. Their customers really are the people who are scaling sheer cliff faces and tearing down snowy hillsides at one-hundred miles per hour.
This is a company that doesn't sell underwear - it sells baselayers. It doesn't sell swimsuits, it sells wetsuits. Clothes aren't fashion statements, they're equipment.
This is also a company that has said "advertising is our dead last priority."
So our question is: How does Patagonia work its magic, and who exactly are its customers?
The Brand that Doesn't Believe in Advertising
Joy Howard, VP of Marketing at Patagonia, was quoted as saying advertising was the "dead last" thing Patagonia wants to do. And, at an estimated value of $650 million, Patagonia may have a few useful tips for marketers, because clearly their ad-light system works. They even published an "anti-Black Friday" short film called "Worn Wear" that encouraged customers to repair their clothing rather than buy new. A New Yorker article called their methods an "anti-growth strategy."
Instead of traditional advertising, Patagonia chooses to reach people with content that helps them reach their goals, whether that's mastering the art of fly fishing or summiting Kilimanjaro. But they don't stop there. This company's defining brand value seems to be fixing what's wrong in the world, one hot topic at a time. For example, they've released a fly-fishing starter kit and a women's fly-fishing line to "lure" more women to the sport, and they publish books on outdoor sports, but also on environmental issues.
Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia's vice-president of environmental affairs, thought very carefully about how to deliver on the company's anti-consumerist value proposition to their customers: "I thought, Wow, if at least some small cohort of people are recognizing that, then those people are our people, and how could we do a better job of giving them what they need to live more responsibly, not just in recession but any time?"
Giving Them What They Need to Live More Responsibly - Is That What Patagonia's Consumers Want?
First, let's take an in-depth look at who Patagonia's consumers are. Statistically, the Patagonia target customer is a young man, married, college educated, and makes between $40-$70K annually. He lives mostly in coastal cities, like Portland, Seattle, Washington D.C., and Durham North Carolina, but Denver, Colorado is the brand's epicenter.
The Patagonia customer's interests center largely around athletics - athletic clothing and athletic events like Ironman, the Tour de France and Tough Mudder. But their interests also reveal a lot about their dominant culture. These are people who listen to NPR and TED Talks. They're heavily invested in making the future better. They're interested in green technology, listen to folk music, and indie rock and jazz. They practically populate the stands at every Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros concert.
These "Likes" form a window into the Patagonia customer's soul. And Patagonia with their environmentally-friendly content, their anti-consumerist values, their high quality and functional apparel, their library of books that not only tell you how to fly fish, but share a genuine joy of nature - it's right on target.
If you'd like to read more consumer analyses of socially-aware consumer groups, check out the Audience Analysis we did of Burning Man or If you want to find out more about Patagonis’s Marketing Persona visit the dynamic Infographic here.