What would you think if I told you Patagonia’s not a clothing company? Well, they’re not. Clothing isn’t at the core of why their annual sales jumped from $270 million to over $540 million in roughly five years. Let me explain what is.
Patagonia is an extremely successful environmental organization operating as an outdoor clothing company. Founded by Yvon Chouinard and a group of climbing hippies in the early ‘70s they’ve grown a loyal, almost cult following because of their innovative clothes and unrelenting commitment to preserving wild places. It is the latter that serves as the shared purpose for why one often chooses a Patagonia jacket instead of a similarly priced item. Patagonia has managed to create a value proposition that transcends the transactions and instead builds lasting relationships with its customers, i.e., community.
Shared purpose is the connective tissue between a company’s vision and long-term goals with its communities—staff, customers and influencers. It is a mutually beneficial goal that provides a North Star through transactions, shifts in market and even crisis.
Patagonia’s shared purpose of preserving wild places is seen in how they use their catalog to connect to the community. Photos show customers and athletes in nature instead of models holding product, fifty-percent of the pages are editorial promoting conservation and at times expressing views in direct opposition to buying clothing. Essentially, Patagonia prioritizes shared purpose over selling product, valuing relationships over transactions; key tenets of a networked business model.
What arrived in my mailbox recently went even further, it was shocking and it deepened my bond to their cause and brand. Patagonia created a 42-page zine that gave only four pages, that’s less than 10%, to selling product. Birds of prey and their role in the conservation movement was the sole focus. A likely little known but interesting fact is that falconry is the reason many conservation organizations even exist. As youths, the founders of Patagonia, Newman’s Own Organics and the venerable Pacific Northwest non-profit Ecotrust connected to the wild through falconry. The zine profiled individuals, some connected to Patagonia and some not, such as a Mongolian horseman, but all exemplify the shared purpose of conserving wild places with product taking a back seat.
When you break down Patagonia’s marketing efforts you’ll find they focus more on building a community of loyal advocates driving a conservation movement than on selling clothes. Clothes are a hook to get your attention and a practical example of how a customer can engage with the shared purpose. Other companies should take note, not just of simple tactics like including customers’ photos in the catalog, but in the complete orientation around a purpose shared among customers and facilitated by the company. Power is in the network model.