Industry Voices: Marketing in uncertain times with The North Face

The pandemic has driven many consumers to appreciate the outdoors—especially as many continue to spend a majority of their time indoors as part of lockdown orders.

In the past few months, The North Face has seen an increase in online searches for outdoor activities, which has led the brand to get creative in how it reaches consumers. We recently spoke with Steve Lesnard, CMO and global vice president of product creation at The North Face, about what these efforts look like and why it’s important to be nimble.

After being home-bound for the majority of 2020, many people now have a greater appreciation for the outdoors. How has this trend changed your retail business?

During the pandemic and the first lockdown, we saw a massive surge [of people] searching online for outdoor activities. We also saw a massive surge of people buying tents, and starting to plan their summer vacation through local exploration—or frankly—even creating a garden and backyard camping [site] to keep themselves entertained.

With summer camps closed across the US—and with parents questioning what to do with their family in the summertime—we came up with the idea of creating The North Face Summer Base Camp, a two-week virtual summer camp that offered free classes with our athletes as a way to reach young explorers and have them [participate in] fun activities with their parents in the outdoors.

Many consumers are still wary about shopping in-store. How has The North Face leveraged its digital and social channels to engage these customers?

Most people pivoted to online. For us, it’s been a great opportunity to accelerate what we were already doing. We sell products that are very activity-specific and weather-dependent. What we’ve done is really supercharged our digital capabilities around that time so that we could serve our customers better.

We also leveraged ship-from-stores and pick-up in-store capabilities to make the customer journey as seamless as possible. As a result, it allowed us to create more personal connections with customers because they tell us what they like, what they need, and it gives us an opportunity to follow through and make sure they have the best experience throughout the journey.

We’re nearing the holiday season. What will The North Face do differently this year?

This is a time to inspire people. That’s a big part of our recent message—inspire people to give the gift of exploration or spend time outdoors. A lot of our athletes are actually sharing pledges and we have some fun activation on social, including Instagram and TikTok.

We’re also spending a lot of time making sure that we can be as appropriate and geo-specific with consumers so we can offer the right solution at the right time. Having the ability to be nimble, to be able to react and offer the right product to the right communities in the right places at the right time, is going to be a big part of our focus.

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