Retail's nature-loving outdoor brands 
seek e-commerce balance

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Retail's nature-loving outdoor brands 
seek e-commerce balance
Retail's nature-loving outdoor brands 
seek e-commerce balance
Both companies also sell their products through catalog, and in this channel, Patagonia improves. Its 2011 winter catalog is effective at both promoting its product and brand. Unlike its e-commerce site, the catalog's product photos are attractive and take up much of the page. The majority of the photos are adjacent to exotic skiing spots such as Mount Tuscarora, UT, or the Skeena Mountains in British Columbia, Canada. Interspersed between the product and location shots are stories like Earth Juice by wildlife biologist Douglas H. Chadwick, that make the reader feel as if buying a Patagonia product will transport him onto an expedition. 


Yet, once again the e-commerce site is an afterthought. The only instance of driving catalog readers to its site comes in the form of small font tucked away at the bottom right corner of every few spreads. Readers aren't asked to join the e-mail list until page 33, 
a request that is also made in small font on the bottom right corner. 


The North Face 2010 Gift Guide does a better job of driving readers to the brand's digital channels, where unlike its catalog, it does an admirable job promoting its products. The catalog's opening spread invites readers to join a sweepstakes to "Win gear for a year." Interested participants are asked to register at North Face stores or online for a chance to win. The retailer, like Patagonia, provides exotic stories and photos. Unlike Patagonia's catalog, though, the stories in North Face's book are on separate spreads than the products, so the reader is pulled away from the shopping experience as he reads. North Face's product photos pale in comparison to those on its website. Most products take up less than one inch of the page and are surrounded by six or seven other products.

In terms of social media marketing, Patagonia's strong customer connection indicates that it might have fewer "fans" than the North Face, but it takes the time to engage them all. The retailer has only 78,825 Facebook fans and 20,962 Twitter followers. "If Patagonia was going to a party, it would bring its two best friends," says Adam Metz, director of social business at The Pedowitz Group. "North Face would bring 
100 acquaintances." North Face's Facebook and Twitter pages are jam-packed with information. As of January 25, the retailer had 768,917 Facebook fans and 24,845 Twitter followers. Unlike Patagonia, however, each conversation is posted by the company itself on its Facebook page. "Our primary focus is to get our content out," says Ketcheson. "We don't address consumer concerns in a public forum. Instead, we send private Facebook messages and Twitter direct messages."

Brand Champion

If Patagonia upgraded its e-commerce site and adapted a more sales-driven e-mail and social marketing philosophy, it could pose a threat to other marketers in this space. The brand is more dedicated to capturing the interest of fans than direct response selling. Although The North Face could spend more time talking to its customers, it consistently offers impressive direct response opportunities alongside compelling content.

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