Branding is an important tenet of marketing and business communication because it influences multiple aspects of corporate performance, including business sustainability and profitability. Based on its effect on corporate performance, good branding strategies are related to increased revenues and heightened brand awareness because it helps people to define their expectations of a company’s products and services (van Everdingen, Hariharan and Stremersch, 2019). This report highlights the importance of branding to organisations, using the North Face Company, an outdoor clothing brand, as a case study. Key sections of this document will demonstrate how the clothing firm has used branding to increase its market presence and forge productive partnerships with community organisations to promote societal goals. Broadly, this report will focus on public relations and social media, which are the two main marketing communication tools used by North Face Company. The findings of this paper could be used to maintain and expand the firm’s market presence in the global sporting and apparel industry. By extension, they highlight the importance of branding to organisations and consumers in the sector.
Branding is an important tenet of marketing because it shapes consumer perceptions. Particularly, in the sports and apparel industry, branding may sustain the viability of a firm across multiple product categories. In this regard, companies that adopt successful branding strategies attract followers who subscribe to their visions or missions, while those that perform poorly in the management of this concept are unable to sustain demand for their products over a long time because their consumers do not have a basis for differentiating their products from the competition. This statement explains why companies consider brand positioning an important tenet of their overall corporate strategies. Although several researchers agree on the importance of branding to marketing development (Kumar, 2018b; Li et al., 2020; Meyer, 2018; Moorman et al., 2019), there is still contention regarding how the concept could be impactful in an industry that is highly susceptible to public opinions.
Part of the debate concerning the role of branding in marketing development is the role of effective communication in helping companies acquire a superior value over their rivals. For example, some researchers have focused on understanding why certain brands lose value over time (Colicev et al., 2018; Kumar, 2018a; Butt et al., 2018), while others have concentrated on investigating how companies can use marketing communication tools to restore the value of brands that have lost value (Perren and Kozinets, 2018). In line with these investigations, studies suggest that consumer behaviour is largely shaped by the perceptions people develop of companies and their activities in society (Kamleitner, Thürridl and Martin, 2019). To this end, managers use different marketing communication tools to differentiate themselves from the competition, based on ideas that shape a consumer’s perception of their products or services (Müller, 2018). Similarly, studies have shown that some consumers base their purchasing decisions on how well a company has developed a reputation of product excellence, relative to the price they charge their customers (van Everdingen, Hariharan and Stremersch, 2019). Collectively, these insights suggest that brand developments are influenced by psychological considerations.
Successful branding is largely dependent on the effective use of marketing communication tools. How companies communicate with their customers is an integral part of brand development because it determines the effectiveness of consumer engagement (Kumar, 2017; Kumar, Keller and Lemon, 2016). This way, companies use marketing communication tools to shape the perception and image that consumers develop about a product or service (Molyneux, 2019). In this regard, brand communication is an effective management tool for shaping consumer perceptions about a product or service. It is based on a selection of marketing strategies employed to generate high levels of brand engagement within target audiences (Gürhan-Canli, Sarial-Abi and Hayran, 2018). Some commonly used marketing communication tools include public relations, sales promotion, advertising, social media marketing, and personal sales (Andrews and Shimp, 2017). These techniques provide companies with macro-level analytical tools to adjust their strengths and weaknesses, relative to prevailing market conditions.
While traditional marketing communication tools provided a focused approach for developing effective brand messages, technological advancements have complicated the business environment by expanding the scope and breadth of brand appeal in different market segments. Such developments have created new opportunities for firms to increase awareness about their products in new market segments. For example, while companies traditionally relied on televisions, radio and newspapers to engage their customers in the pre-digital age, technological developments have made it easier for them to eliminate third party layers in the communication chain by reaching consumers directly.
Advances in data analytical tools, which are often embedded in marketing software, have equally enabled companies to undertake their own data analyses based on digital market feedback to design effective branding campaigns. These, among other advances brought by technology, have made social media one of the most impactful marketing communication tools in the industry today. Other marcom tools, such as public relations, have also been redesigned to fit the new digital marketing space brought by technological innovation in the business world. The North Face Company has been part of this revolution because it uses social media and public relations as its main marcom tools, which have helped it to navigate today’s fast-paced and complex business environment. The section below analyses the efficacy of these marketing communication tools, relative to the company’s performance and consumer engagement record.
Analysis of the North Face Company
The North Face branding strategy was developed from its brand setup, which is a collection of separate series of collections that accommodate different items across varied product categories. This brand setup hails from the ownership structure of the North Face brand, which is one out of four other brands, including Napapiji, Jansport and EastPak, which are wholly owned by VF Corporation (Tarbaj, 2020). North Face’s branding strategy is based on an outdoor theme, which represents the kind of products it sells – sports apparel.
The company’s logo also communicates the same outdoor branding strategy, because it has a half-shaped dome, which represents the side of a mountain that is synonymous with hiking a sports activity associated with the company’s founders. All its online logos have this feature, with slight variations in colour between red and black. The company’s slogan is also consistent with the same outdoor branding strategy because of the tagline “never stop exploring,” which appears in most of the company’s logos (LVTPR, 2020). The simplicity of the company’s branding image is also an inherent feature of the North Face brand, which makes it distinct from others in the market. Particularly, the red colour, which appears in most of the company’s clothing is simplistic and captivating because it conveys clarity as opposed to complexity.
North Face’s outdoor branding strategy was initially characterised by the use of magnificent images of mountaintops, which were meant to remind customers about the company’s heritage – hiking. However, over time, this branding strategy has shifted slightly to be people-focused because the current messaging content now focuses on highlighting people’s journeys and experiences in outdoor sports (Lampert, 2020). Its partners, who not only support the company’s adventure-focus but also its non-profit activities, have equally adopted this communication strategy. For example, in 2011, North Face signed an eight-year deal with the American Freeskiing team to finance non-profit initiatives in underprivileged communities (Lampert, 2020). Similarly, in 2012, it sent a team to climb Mount Everest to increase awareness about this cause. Overall, since 2010, the North Face Company has supported more than 350 grassroots organisations serving more than 100,000 people (Lampert, 2020). In this regard, it has promoted environmental sustainability, which aligns with its outdoor branding strategy.
North Face’s communication strategy has been focused on targeting fans of the outdoors. This marketing plan has been deployed through its public relations and social media strategies, which have been directed at developing strategic partnerships with friendly bloggers and social media influencers who are versant with the outdoor sports industry (Biron, 2019). Therefore, there has been minimal social media engagement between the company and audiences that are outside the confines of the sporting world. Consequently, the company’s public relations strategy has been focused on generating content for the horizontal media.
The company’s social media marketing plan has also demonstrated a focused communications strategy because it is geared towards reaching an audience that is passionate about the outdoors and inquisitive on how to integrate their passions in their lifestyles. For example, the company’s outdoor sports jacket product line, which was launched in 2017, was designed to augment the jacket’s sports features with daily living (LVTPR, 2020). The branding message was aggressively pushed across various social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, which led to a surge in sales in various markets across Europe (LVTPR, 2020). For example, its Netherlands stock quickly sold out after the launch of the branding campaign. The company has also collaborated with organisations, such as the Girl’s Scouts Movement, to increase awareness about new brands among younger audiences (Biron, 2019). This strategy has expanded the firm’s communication strategy across multiple social media platforms.
The success of North Face’s robust social media campaign strategy has been partly supported by its strong following across various platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, which have a following of 3 million and 100,000 people, respectively (Tarbaj, 2020). Besides the two social media platforms, North Face also develops useful digital content for its marketing campaign through innovative YouTube videos, which reach audiences outside of its traditional “outdoor” customer group (Biron, 2019). Using these communication platforms, the company can reach a broader group of people on auxiliary media platforms beyond its loyal followers on Facebook and Twitter.
Summary and Recommendations
This report shows that the North Face Company has successfully used branding to enhance its image as a socially responsible outdoor sports company. It has done so through its product strategy, which is focused on producing sports apparel that augment the company’s outdoor heritage with contemporary lifestyle requirements. The success of the company’s jackets, as a distinct product line mentioned in this report, demonstrates the success of this strategy because consumers wear the company’s products as a normal part of their daily living. Alternatively, North Face’s marketing communication strategy has also solidified the company’s branding strategy as a successful outdoor sports company because it has allowed the firm to market its products to target audiences that are interested in sports apparel. The relevance of brand communication to the California-based company is consistent with the findings of the literature review section, which have demonstrated the importance of public relations and social media marketing in promoting corporate success.
North Face is using the same approach to improve its brand visibility through its social media and public relations campaigns that are tailored to appeal to audiences that like to be in the outdoors and that care about the environment around them. The effective use of these marcom tools means that rivals, which operate in the same industry, can effectively reach niche populations, within the sports sector to expand their brand presence.
The findings of this paper demonstrate that the North Face Company has mostly targeted a niche market segment in the sports and apparel industry, which loves outdoor activities. This strategy has largely been deployed through social media and tactical public relations programs, which have generated significant brand engagement among consumers. While it has enjoyed widespread success on this front, North Face has failed to recognise the potential of expanding its brand strategy across a wider poor of customers who have similar characteristics as its main audience. For example, the company can tap into the growing interest for outdoor activities among the upper middle-class population living in urban cities. This is an “evolving” market with similar characteristics as its core customers – outdoor sports lovers. To reach this new and emerging segment of the market, North Face should improve its innovation strategy to develop new products that appeal to upper middle class consumers as the next frontier of growth.
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