In the previous blog on Amarula®, we discussed how brands deploy CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programs as a way of giving back which in turn help further enhance and strengthen their brand identity. We learned about Amarula®’s ongoing fight to help prevent the extinction of the majestic African Elephant through its #DontLetThemDisappear campaign.
In a separate blog on Oishi®, we discussed the sixth P of the marketing mix, which is ‘Process‘ and how this integral part helps establish the competitive advantage of the brand consistently across its various international markets. We learned about Oishi®’s The Good Chef policy which provides a simple, yet compelling framework to ensure the brand’s product consistent high and world-class quality across its growing product portfolio.
In this blog, we will discuss how a relatively young eight-year old brand based in Salt Lake City, Utah, was launched wherein its overall business process itself represents the brand’s perpetual CSR program.
In fact, its CSR is not just a program. Its entire business itself embodies the fundamental essence of CSR.
Its culture and practice of giving back is the very core and DNA of the business model of the brand from its inception. The brand was deliberately created to do good.
I am referring to the maverick outdoor gear brand Cotopaxi®.
“If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good.”Pope Francis
‘Doing Good‘ is the very nature of Cotopaxi®, hence their slogan, ‘Gear for Good‘.
As I’ve always emphasized in previous blogs like the ones on BTS and Kongō Gumi, the starting point of a brilliant brand is having a singular and narrow focus targeting an open hole in its chosen market. And in the case of Cotopaxi®, its singular and narrow focus is all about the ‘outdoors‘ and it’s all about ‘doing good‘.
And this positioning of Cotopaxi® is encountered in every aspect of its brand architecture, which I must say, is one of the most consistent, cohesive and inspiring brand architectures I have had the pleasure of studying. Consistency and cohesiveness are hallmark features of a brilliant brand. ‘Inspiring‘ makes it even extra special.
Founded in 2013 by Davis Smith, together with his partners Stephan Jacob, his friend from Wharton Business School, and CJ Whittaker, an outdoor industry veteran, Cotopaxi® is a brand that was compelled into being based on the childhood experience of Smith. The son of a civil engineer, the Utah native had spent most of his childhood living in some of the most impoverished countries in Central America and South America: Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru.
“I remember being four years old and seeing kids younger than me on the side of the streets, completely naked, (malnourished and begging for food)” he says. “I felt that I had a responsibility to give back from an early age,” says Smith in an interview with Bloomberg in 2017. The article shares that as an undergraduate Smith spent time in Brazil, where he saw how he could make a difference simply by giving away his lunch or spare change. “I’ve never forgotten that image (of naked malnourished kids begging),” Smith tells Peter Lane Taylor in an interview with Forbes in 2017. “I didn’t really know what the emotion was at the time but I guess in retrospect I now know that it was empathy. This was poverty at the most desperate level. Most people in America don’t even know what this looks like. That there are still places in the world where there are no safety nets at all. Where children still die because they don’t have clean water.” It was around that time that he committed to “the idea of building a brand around giving back,” Smith explains.
Cotopaxi® does many ‘doing good‘ things as a brand. In this blog, I would like to focus on its processes relating to product design, supply chain management and marketing.
Doing Good Through Its Product Design Process
“We’re into funky; we’re into recycled; we’re into treating those who sew our products with respect,” says its website.
The brand is also known to empower its Bataan factory workers in the Philippines by giving them the freedom to decide on final design touches on its Del Dia collection of backpacks and other pack products, thereby rendering every single product unique and one-of-a-kind! In addition to fair wages and hours, the people who sew together Cotopaxi’s expedition-level backpacks are given the opportunity to participate in design process instead of simply being told what to do. So most of them add their own custom stitching, pockets, or customized design accents. It is this kind of unorthodox product design process that gives respect to those who sew their products which makes this brand endearing to its largely millennial target consumers.
“Our customers love the creative uniqueness of each of our backpacks,” Smith told Forbes. “And the people we work with love feeling that they’re involved in creating something that becomes a personal piece of art. If you start thinking about people throughout your entire product process as a core value these are the little things that emerge that can change your company’s entire approach to design and development.”
Doing Good Through Its Supply Chain Management Process
The brand is highly focused on ‘sustainability‘ when it comes to its supply chain management process. In their model of ‘circularity‘ as shown below, ‘sustainability‘ is at the heart of everything the brand does. ‘Doing good for the planet‘ is one of the pillars of its mission as a brand. And as can be seen in its supply chain management process, every single thing they do is geared towards that end.
One of the things that caught my attention in the above chart is their ‘repair‘ and ‘re-sell‘ processes which are integral in their circularity model. The brand actually has a 61-year warranty on its products! Why 61 years? It’s because the brand wants to highlight the fact that in underdeveloped countries, the average life expectancy of a person is only 61 years vis-a-vis more than 75 years in developed countries like the US, and more than 80 years in advanced nations like Switzerland, Singapore and Japan. “Just a reminder to people that that’s the case,” says Smith, “and that we need to do something about it.”
Doing Good Through Its Marketing Process
One of the maiden marketing programs deployed by the brand is their annual event called ‘Questival‘. First launched in 2014, it is now held in collaboration with performance wear brand HOKA® and there are now multiple locations around the US where this is held. This unique marketing campaign has clearly caught the imagination of its young market. It involves outdoor challenges, self-designed adventures, team work, and of course, doing good!
“The Cotopaxi® x HOKA® Questival is a 24-hour adventure race where teams of two to six friends team up to complete COVID-responsible, community-oriented challenges that push them to explore the unknown in their city and the wild spaces around it. An experience like no other, this unique collab Questival is all about getting on your feet and relishing the kaleidoscopic wonders of our great planet. Now is your chance to Chase the Bright Side,” says its website.
The challenge involves a 6-step process that participants complete.
According to Forbes: “Over 4,000 students and other supporters, particularly Millennials, participated in Cotopaxi’s first Questival event in 2014. It trended nationally on Twitter. Most of the early adopting participants remain loyal Cotopaxi evangelists and continue to organize community events with Cotopaxi’s support every year including donating mosquito nets, working with food banks, and environmental preservation efforts.”
And what has been the result for Cotopaxi®?
Their annual report is noteworthy even by its name: “Cotopaxi 2020 Impact Report”. For the pandemic year 2020, the key highlights of their annual report is all about their impact on ‘doing good‘, not how much sales they made or profits they realized.
“Courtesy of the courageous and measured leadership our team showed, Cotopaxi was able to turn an unprecedented global disruption into an opportunity. Not only did our business survive, it thrived.”Annie Agle, Cotopaxi® Director of Brand and Impact
“We are in the business of making a difference. And despite the year’s setbacks, 2020 proved our highest performing giving year to date. Through collaboration, impact campaigns, and adaptive programming with impact partners, we found creative pathways to respond to the crisis,“ says its 2020 report.
Cotopaxi® is also ‘B Corp Certified‘.
According to the Certified B Corporation website: “Certified B Corporations are a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. This is a community of leaders, driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good.”
This extraordinary brand teaches us some key lessons with respect to overall business processes and social responsibility:
- Business can be created specifically to be a force for good.
- Consistency and cohesiveness of a brand’s processes are key in building a highly focused and compelling brand architecture.
- And finally, corporate social responsibility need not be just a program of a company, but it can define the very foundation of the brand’s positioning itself and the company’s purpose and business model as whole.
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