Patagonia®: A Brand Focused on Saving Mother Earth has a Fully Aligned Employer Brand

I was recently asked to do a training and workshop on The Brand Architecture for a company’s HR Department. It was a rather odd ask from the Branding Nerd as I’ve never trained a group of HR professionals since the inception of this blog, and initially, I wasn’t quite sure if the framework of the course would apply to them.

Fortunately, the training x workshop turned out very productive for the group and The Brand Architecture framework proved to be very effective in helping the entire HR Department understand their internal customers better, as well as enabled them to zero in on the ‘narrow focus‘ that matters most to their customers. Based on a recent conversation I had with one of their top leaders a few weeks after the engagement, it seems like they are now clearly on the path to becoming a more focused, more cohesive and more consistent internal brand within their company.

In the course of that engagement, I was compelled to reflect on the importance of ‘Employer Branding‘ and how this provides a clear competitive advantage for a company. That’s why I’ve decided that this should be the focus of Branding Nerd’s very first blog for 2023. And as we find ourselves in the midst of the so-called ‘great resignation‘, I sense that Employer Branding is certainly a timely concept that needs revisiting by companies as most economies emerge out into the post-COVID 19 era.

Employer Branding

What is ‘Employer Branding‘ and how is this different from ‘Branding’?

As we have mentioned several times in this site, we always point back to the Al Ries definition of branding which I find to be precise and concise. He says that A brand is a singular concept or idea that you own in the mind of the prospect‘. In The Brand Architecture course, this is the foundational definition on which the whole framework is built upon. The ‘prospect‘ that is referenced in this definition usually pertains to the brand’s customers or consumers.

On the other hand, ‘Employer Branding‘, while closely related to the concept of ‘Branding‘, is primarily relevant to how a brand positions itself towards prospective employees.

LinkedIn, the leading social media platform for professionals, provides this explanation:

“Similar to the way a corporate brand works (which offers a value proposition to customers, defining products or services in the marketplace), an employer brand includes the market’s perception of your company as an employer, but also describes your promise (or employee value proposition) to employees in exchange for their experience, talents, contacts, or skills.

Employer branding, then, is simply how you market your company to desired job seekers. You can do this by showcasing your organization’s unique cultural differentiators, and then working to amplify them so you can position yourself as a top place to work.”

In other words, paraphrasing the Al Ries definition of branding, I would say that ‘Employer Branding is the singular concept or idea that you own in the mind of prospective employees‘.

Therefore, employer branding is how the company’s brand as an employer is positioned and perceived in the minds of the employee market.

In branding, I always tell my students that the singular concept or idea of a brand can be usually found either in (a) the brand’s battlecry (or slogan) or (b) the mission statement. The ‘Think Different‘ slogan of Apple® and the ‘One Person, One Cup and One Neighborhood at a Time‘ mission statement of Starbucks® are examples which are discussed at length during the training course. Two of the three modules of the course are dedicated to a deep dive into the entire brand architecture of Starbucks® based on the above mission statement.

In the same breadth, a company’s employer branding can be found in their company’s slogans as an employer.

Here are a few notable examples of employer brand slogans from some leading global brands:

  • Microsoft | ‘Be the one who empowers millions.‘ – a focus on empowerment
  • Facebook | ‘Do the most meaningful work of your career.‘ – a focus on self-actualization
  • Unilever | ‘A better business. A better world. A better you.’ – a focus on alignment of purpose
  • GE | ‘Imagination at work.‘ – a focus on innovation
  • Apple | ‘Join us. Be you.’ – a focus on self-fulfillment
  • SAP | ‘Bring everything you are. Become everything you want.’ – a focus on self-fulfillment
  • L’Oreal | ‘A thrilling experience, a culture of excellence.’ – a focus on culture

The above examples are also referred to as “EVP (employee value proposition) Taglines or Slogans”.

Not all companies have separate battlecries for their brand and their employer brand. But in any case, the battlecry or mission statement serves the same purpose of providing a singular concept or idea of the brand or employer brand which effectively positions itself in the mind of their prospective customer or prospective employee, respectively.

We’re in business to save our home planet“: How Patagonia® Shines as an Employer Brand

Patagonia®, An American outdoor retailer founded in 1973

Unlike the above examples, in the case of American outdoor retailer Patagonia®, it does not have a separate employer brand slogan. Nonetheless, its mission statement effectively serves this same purpose as well.

Their mission statement is as unusual as the company itself:

“We’re in the business to save our home planet.”

Truly, Patagonia® is ‘business unusual‘.

Patagonia®’s billionaire founder Yvon Chouinard issuing a letter in September 2022 explaining the transfer of 100% ownership of the company away from his family. Since 1985, the brand has pledged 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. It has awarded over $140 million in cash and in-kind donations to domestic and international grassroots environmental groups making a difference in their local communities. 

Patagonia®, founded in 1973 and headquartered in Ventura, California, and is widely known for its activism for the planet, hit global news headlines around four months ago, back in mid-September 2022, when the brand’s billionaire founder Yvon Chouinard (estimated net worth of US$1.2Billion) announced that the company’s voting stock was being transferred 100% to help save the planet. According to Chouinard’s letter: “Here’s how it works: 100% of the company’s voting stock transfers to the Patagonia Purpose Trust, created to protect the company’s values; and 100% of the nonvoting stock had been given to the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature. The funding will come from Patagonia: Each year, the money we make after reinvesting in the business will be distributed as a dividend to help fight the crisis.

It was a powerful and awe-inspiring statement that clearly reflects the core mission statement of the brand which as been in existence since day one.

I never wanted to be a businessman. I started as a craftsman, making climbing gear for my friends and myself, then got into apparel. As we began to witness the extent of global warming and ecological destruction, and our own contribution to it, Patagonia committed to using our company to change the way business was done. If we could do the right thing while making enough to pay the bills, we could influence customers and other businesses, and maybe change the system along the way.”

Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia in his announcement letter

As a Board Director of Patagonia, Kristine McDivitt Tompkins put it: “I believe this plan that he and his family helped create is tectonic. It will make the company more competitive and its employees around the world will forever be empowered by purpose.

Some of the brand’s innovations that bring their employer brand mission statement ‘We are in the business to save our home planet‘ to life include the following examples.

Enviro Days

The brand runs what they call ‘Enviro Days’ for all new hires and take them to Apricot Lane Farms to learn about the importance of regenerative agriculture (a conservation and rehabilitation approach to food and farming systems) as a practice and as a part of Patagonia®’s mission. According to its website, “Apricot Lane Farms is a farm integrated within a reawakened ecosystem. Our focus is seeing and utilizing the interconnectedness of nature to help build soil health, maximize biodiversity, and regeneratively grow the most nutrient-dense food possible.” The farm was also the home of the award-winning, critically acclaimed 2018 feature documentary The Biggest Little Farm, directed by filmmaker and farmer John Chester.

The map of the Apricot Lane Farms, a farm integrated within a reawakened ecosystem, founded by Molly and John Chester back in 2011.

Zero Waste Week

The brand mounts big events like Zero Waste Week wherein the put the responsibility (and tools) on each store, facility, and department to go zero waste in their own sphere. Abigail Moreman (@abbeymoreman9), Patagonia®’s Regional Visual Merchandiser for Northeast and Eastern Canada, posted on Instagram: “Zero waste week for @patagonia! Swapped a ziplock bag for @beeswrap & brought my reusable @miir mug…”.

They also do similar work on a carbon footprint perspective, working with teams to embed energy reductions in their departments.

Integrating into Lifestyle of Employees

According to a feature by Universum (a company that is primarily focused on Employer Branding): “Patagonia® inspires sustainability as a lifestyle for its employees. While they attract and hire talent that already has the sustainability seed planted in their personal values, the company encourages them to practice what they preach and live those values at home.

We use (internal sustainability) goals to inspire change in personal lives… to give people tools to live more simply at home, reduce their waste, and reduce their carbon footprint.”

Patagonia®‘s former CEO Casey Sheahan, not just walking the talk but ‘biking the talk’.

To illustrate the extent of their success in translating their brand values to their workplace culture and employees’ lifestyles, Patagonia® provided us with this fun fact: “Sick or injured birds are often dropped off” for one of their R&D Managers who also runs a successful wildlife rehabilitation center. Patagonia® embraces such employee passion, and says it “speaks highly to the culture and community on campus”. Furthermore, Patagonia® has initiatives that encourage employee sustainability action, including their Ride Share Program, Bike to Work Week, and Composting Program.”

These are just a few examples of their extensive innovations which are all aligned with their mission statement and their employer brand.

This brilliant brand leaves us with two key lessons:

First, employer branding is as critical as branding itself. Both concepts, while distinct, are very much intertwined. It is therefore a must that employer branding is fully consistent with the positioning of the brand.

And second, innovations surrounding employer branding should all be aligned with its battlecry or mission statement. A cohesive execution of such innovations over time will ultimately cement the employers brand’s positioning in the mind of its prospective employees.

Employees repairing second-hand Patagonia® outdoor wear.

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