COVID-19 has produced thousands of changes in life and business. Some are temporary, but many more will have ongoing, permanent influences on how people behave, work, live, and buy. Steve Lesnard, The North Face’s CMO and Global VP of product creation, realized this shift immediately and positioned The North Face to respond.
The digital world had arrived in full force, and, for better or for worse, it was going to dictate business for the rest of 2020 and forward. Steve Lesnard’s strategy for the extreme outdoor clothing company was to make the company nimble, flexible, and responsive. Customers were cooped up at home or seeking isolated experiences to forget about the pandemic. Lesnard made sure to put the company in the position to help them get outdoors more effectively.
Search Was the First Indicator
Steve Lesnard and The North Face immediately picked up on the online search metrics. People were stuck at home in front of computers, and they were ready to buy to make themselves feel better. Even before North Face started reacting, people were already dropping money on tools and equipment to get outdoors and away from the cities. Tents were flying out the doors fast, functioning like a canary in the coal mine for North Face sales indicators.
Lesnard jumped on the wave and surfed it instead of working against the demand; North Face created and offered a North Face Summer Base Camp for families to get out and experience vacation again in a summer that would otherwise be lost. The demand response was huge. Most regular camps and parks were booked solid, so the North Face version was a welcome alternative.
Giving People What They Want
It wasn’t hard for North Face to attract customers to their products, but the sales environment shift did take some savvy to find alternative deliveries and back-end changes to stay responsive to the demand and keep the ordering fulfillment seamless. That meant ramping up the website and online capabilities so that people could experience the products and details closer to what they would have in the store. It also meant Steve Lesnard’s team could let loose on all the digital ideas they had stocked up. Everything was tried and tested in real-time because it was a boom for the website side of sales.
To support the digital side and significant increase in online ordering, North Face boosted its inventory shipping points. Every store became a shipping center as well, increasing online inventory significantly. It also allowed the company to increase its online sales return points and increase customer satisfaction in trying out items and finding the right ones that fit. That allowed for feedback and additional marketing research that otherwise would not have occurred. North Face gained a double benefit from the online world by adapting to it, even with stores originally intended for only retail in-person sales.
Brand Marketing Redux
By reshaping North Face’s presence online, Steve Lesnard and his team effectively rejuvenated North Face’s brand and repositioned the company at the same time. The results have been tremendous both in sales, brand-name reinforcement, and an increase in natural ambassadors outdoors for the company. Not to mention, a whole lot of customers have been quite pleased with how easy it has been to find what they want as well.
Going forward, Steve Lesnard fully expects the consumer world to have changed with a full expectation that those shifts are permanent. And North Face has no problem with continuing many of the benefits they’ve provided because they work. The more people spend time outdoors, the more they benefit North Face and increase the brand’s strength. And that reward will continue to pay dividends as a result.
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