Can brands do marketing without advertising [part one]

How brands like Gymshark and Patagonia have invested on alternate forms of marketing to reach out to their consumer than the traditional advertising route.

A marketing manager recently asked - Can we do marketing without advertising in the coming years? For a moment I was bit surprised. Before telling him a yes, I wondered if this about cutting costs. In fact it is not about costs but it is transforming the brand’s marketing culture. It is about creating value and following the pull mechanism rather than push mechanism. Unfortunately, today advertising largely is all about the push.

The answer is yes – brands can do marketing without advertising. But how you do it matters and it won’t happen in a day or two. A brand which wants to walk the path will have to ingrain it into its DNA and will have to work diligently.

There are quite a few global and Indian brands who have looked beyond traditional advertising. From the likes of Redbull, Zara, GoPro, to Royal Enfield – almost all of them have invested in different forms of marketing to feed the needs of their consumer.

Marketing pillars of Gymshark’s success

But let’s look at examples that you might not have heard of. I am an ardent fan of Gymshark – a UK based sportswear brand valued between £300 and £400 million. Established in 2012, by a 19 year old Ben Francis, Gymshark sells sports clothing directly to consumers, forgoing traditional retail methods and engaging consumers through social media. Known as one of the fastest growing brand it tripled sales in 12 months to July 2018, growing by a huge 217% to reach £41 million.

Over the years Gymshark’s marketing strategy has largely focused on leveraging the power of community and building an army of brand ambassadors. The brand has a set of selected athletes listed on its blog who are the face of the brand and drive almost every online and offline conversations.

The brand is present on almost all social media platforms like Tik Tok, Sanpchat, Spotify, Instagram, YouTube, etc. while keeping a sharp focus on the objective of the particular social media platform. The sole purpose of social media is to communicate with its community. These conversations are largely led by the brand ambassadors and not by the brand.

Being a fitness enthusiast, I don’t want to read conversations preached by a brand on social media but if David Laid is sharing his workout routine on Instagram, I am sold. I would also love to have the Gymshark gear David is wearing.

The brand has also mastered the art of bridging the gap between online and offline. With a powerful and active blog, the brand has powered meet-ups and expo events for its community. All these offline events are places where the community gets a chance to meet their favorite fitness ambassadors or influencers. The brand has taken these expo meet-ups to the next level by creating pop-up stores, where it now holds ticketed events featuring select athletes or ambassadors.

Finally the brand, isn’t all about sales and discount like most ecommerce players. It does participate in two sales event in a year – it’s birthday and Black Friday. Interestingly 2017 Black Friday sale was a nightmare for the brand. It rectified its mistake and in 2018 for the Black Friday sale it partnered with Facebook Creative Group to launch an impactful and innovative campaign.

Marketing pillars of Patagonia’s success

Have you ever heard a brand saying in bold letters - don’t buy our goods? Very rare! But you have to be crazy to make a dent. Patagonia is one such brand which launched “Don’t Buy this Jacket” advertisement in 2011. Manufacturer of upscale outdoor clothing and gear for the silent sports, published ads in the New York Times with one of their bestselling jackets encouraging consumers to not buy this jacket. The Black Friday campaign was a huge hit and the company saw its revenues spike.

For 2016 Black Friday campaign, the company decided to give all the revenue away to environmental causes. Not just the profits. All of the revenue earned on the day. As a result, the sales quadrupled, from $2.5 million the previous year to over $10 million for Black Friday 2016. Patagonia gave $10 million—in addition to the $9 million contribution that same year in line with the annual commitment to contribute 1 percent of the sales to charity.

To understand such crazy marketing campaigns, one has to understand the vision and the journey of the company so far. “We are in the business to save our home planet,” – is Patagonia’s mission statement. It all started in 1953 when Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s founder, got his start as a climber. As Yvon became fond of the sport, he also realized that the pitons available at that time were no good for him. He started making his own; the word spread and before he could realize it was already a business.

In 1965 he went into partnership with Tom Frost and by 1970, Chouinard Equipment had become the largest supplier of climbing hardware in the U.S. Gradually the company shifted towards clothes for climbers. While there are too many milestones for the company but for me it is the genuine association with environment. From giving early donations, creating its first campaign in 1988 to switching to organic cotton; the company has believed in making grass root level impact.

The company states that: “In the future, it should be possible for consumers to return a polyester-based jacket to us to then forward onto a processor to be re-made into fiber or other forms of plastic.”

“Marketing isn’t about moving goods. It’s about moving people” - Yvon Chouinard

Storytelling is a big marketing pillar for Patagonia – the activist company. For the Worn Wear campaign it created a 30 minute long documentary - featuring the consumers and their tattered apparel. The company also has a Truth to Materials initiative that was turned into a short film about reclaimed wool and cotton.

Patagonia’s blog is another tool for storytelling. Speaking to Fast Company Patagonia’s Vice President of Global Marketing, Joy Howard, stated, “One constant that’s always been with the brand is that the catalog has always been the core marketing vehicle, with an editorial sensibility and journalistic approach to storytelling that’s ingrained in the company.”

The company participates in, and contributes to a number of different grassroots environmental initiatives and they use this as the content for their social media marketing strategy. One more example is the interactive film experience Defend Bears Ears.

Patagonia is a company that is focused to support the environment and is not a lip service. The consumers know it. From selecting brand ambassadors to supporting various environmental causes, the brand takes the responsibility very seriously.

In 2015, a New Yorker brand profile put it: “It is confounding to try to draw lines around when Patagonia’s marketing encourages sales and when it discourages them.”

Gymshark and Patagonia are classic case studies on how the brand has moved away from the traditional route of advertising and tried connecting with its consumers via other innovative forms of marketing. Obviously they also have products that gives value to their consumers.

Royal Enfield and Xiaomi also adopted some unconventional marketing strategies in India to reach out to their consumers. To know more on how they did, watch out for the second part - Can brands do marketing without advertising?