Advertisement Session: Columbia Sportswear Taps New Media Engagement To Revive Brands

After experiencing a dip in annual income from $1.4 billion in 2007 to $1.2 billion in 2008, Columbia Sportswear Company executives decided to update the company’s marketing strategies by deploying Facebook, mobile and video marketing tactics. In a keynote presentation this month, Mick McCormick, EVP of Global Sales & Marketing for Columbia Sportswear Company, explained how the company’s new tactics resulted in a business turnaround.

After deploying a QR code initiative featuring in-depth information on products, e-Commerce conversion rates increased 500%. Additionally, for 2011, McCormick says the company is anticipating $1.7 billion in annual revenue.

During the session titled “Gear Up For Growth: Innovation In The Outdoor Industry,” McCormick explained that it was vital for the company to expand its content messaging and delivery for its multiple brands — Columbia Sportswear, Sorel, Mountainwear and Montrail. “The reality was we needed to change dramatically and reposition all four of those brands,” McCormick said. “We decided we needed to move from a commoditized portfolio to one that had energy and innovation in the marketplace. We needed a point of differentiation for each one of our brands, stand up for something that was meaningful, and we needed to rededicate our salespeople to try new things. And lastly, we needed clarity in who our consumer was in each and every one of those groups.”


In an effort to increase innovation and excitement within its consumer base, Columbia repositioned its marketing messages and deployed digital tactics in order to boost consumer reach. To increase brand awareness, the company spotlighted extreme athletes in innovative product videos for the Mountainwear brand, while Montrail rolled out a bar scale based on running and hiking skill to showcase the best sneaker for specific running behaviors. “We had to develop products and marketing communications and the Web has been critical for us, to move forward,” McCormick noted. “It’s truly an opportunity for us to go from the most technical to the every-day human being. And we had to have, as a digital asset, how you tell that story.”

However, to tackle its toughest brand, male-focused heavy utilitarian footwear provider Sorel, Columbia altered its marketing to turn the footwear into fashion-forward items for females. “This young, fashion-forward female, if you aren’t in the digital space, you can’t even talk to her,” said McCormick. “She expects a dialogue with a brand, she expects you to listen and she’s as much driving what you can do as a brand as much as you are driving your brand. We have to monitor where she lives, whether it’s on blogs, on your web site and where she talks to friends and family. We have to reach her where she wants to be reached.”

By releasing videos and advertisements with glamorous models sporting Sorel footwear, the company tripled its revenue and brand awareness spiked, according to McCormick. Media exposure for the Sorel brand on fashion blogs and sites also increased significantly, and retailers such as Barney’s, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus have begun selling the brand.

Viral Video And Advertisements Revive Columbia Sportswear
Although Columbia Sportswear enhanced awareness for its smaller brands, the company sought a solution to encourage innovation and entertaining marketing tactics to create a loyal consumer base.

“Four years ago, we launched a comprehensive innovation program as a company to make sure we could add the excitement back into the product,” McCormick said. “We have a heritage of innovation, we’ve tried stuff and failed and succeeded throughout the years and we’re on our tenth consecutive season of incredible innovations.”

In support of its new Omni-Heat Electric product line, which includes heated gloves, jackets, the company released a line of viral videos and advertisements featuring Wim Hof, a world record holder notorious for walking in snow barefoot and swimming in ice water — the complete antithesis of the product, according to McCormick. By releasing this unique and humorous series, Columbia was able to effectively reach the more than 85% of consumers who watch videos online.

“We did a lot of consumer research,” McCormick said. “I can tell you right now, even the finest athletes in the world do not want to hear about tech-talk. Those consumers want to know one thing — what is the benefit that your product is going to deliver for us.”

McCormick further spotlighted the importance of creating custom content across all channels by describing their series of ads for Pandora and Gizmodo. Following the company’s roll out of marketing strategies, Columbia experienced a 250% increase in its digital fan base and a 10% decrease of average consumer age within one year. “We built all of these tools because we see the value in the performance metrics it’s driving in our business,” he explained. “But more importantly, we share these digital tools with all of our wholesale partners.” 

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