Why Kathmandu is going out there with its new brand platform and purpose

Outdoor retailer's chief customer officer talks through the brand reposition work and articulation of purpose and values to drive growth

Cementing a differentiated position in the outdoors category globally while getting local consumers to reappraise and fall back in love with its brand lies at the heart of new brand positioning and vision work undertaken by Kathmandu.

The outdoor goods manufacturer and retailer last week debuted its new brand positioning, ‘We’re out there’, as well as its new purpose, to improve the wellbeing of the world through the outdoors, last week. Kathmandu’s first chief customer officer, Eva Barrett, told CMO the triggers were the group’s ambition to be a global brand, as well as need to re-establish an emotional connection with Australia and New Zealand customers once more.

“In A/NZ, we have very high awareness. People feel strongly about our brand, but we had become quite functional,” she explained. “For example, I’m cold, therefore I need a jacket, as opposed to feeing an emotional connection to Kathmandu. It was clear what we had to do.”

As part of the brand strategy work, Barrett’s team went back into the archives and history of the business to see what the story, passion and sparkle was when Kathmandu was first established more than 30 years ago.  

“When we looked through the archives and spoke to teams, it was clear Kathmandu has always been about getting people out there in nature, where we feel better – your spiritual, mental wellbeing is better when you’re out in nature. That’s why this positioning felt right for – it’s where we came from originally,” Barrett said.  

Supporting the positioning is a recent study of 20,000 people published in scientific journal, Nature, which found those who spend two hours per week in green spaces are substantially more likely to report good health and psychological wellbeing.

Kathmandu’s brand refresh work also involved a raft of qualitative research in six markets to understand consumers demographically and attitudinally, delving into motivations for getting out into the outdoors, what they care about and what the category means to them.

Attitudinally, people across countries were not different, Barrett said, adding it was the same with demographics.

“Right now, we skew slightly towards an older demographic, but the biggest opportunity is with those younger, millennial consumers. But from a psychographic and attitudinal point of view, there were many crossovers between markets and demographics,” she said.  

What was also clear in those hyper-competitive markets such as Europe and the US, where Kathmandu doesn’t have a footprint, was that a meaningful, differentiated brand was critical to driving growth, Barrett said. 

“Before going into markets we are not in, we had to build out our clear reasons for being,” she said. “It was about our forward-facing vision and purpose and how that is conveyed through our values through to behaviours of our staff.

“The brand needed clarification. Previously we talked about travel and adventure, but in itself that’s not differentiating. We reviewed more than 40 global brands in our category as part of our research, and what was clear was that the outdoor category sits in two areas: it’s very masculine and it’s about climbing Everest, pain and suffering; or it’s preachy, worthy and zen-like. That’s the dichotomy.”  

What’s more, everyone in the outdoor category has a founder story and focuses on what consumers do in the outdoors and the activities, as opposed to how the outdoors makes them feel, Barrett said.

“Through our research, we could identify our white space and that’s within that area of how the outdoors makes you feel, and that nature changes your brain for the better when you’re outside,” she said. “And in our archives, we could see this is who we are at heart. We just didn’t articulate it enough as we were too focused on talking about travel and adventure. There is a much bigger purpose there.”

Read more: CMO interview: Building sustainable brand connection at Kathmandu

As a first step towards bringing the brand repositioning to market, Kathmandu identified a vision as an organisation together with the CEO, which is to be the world’s most loved outdoor brand. It also needed to articulate its bigger purpose of improving the wellbeing of the world through the outdoors.

“Brand strategy has to flow from business strategy. In those first few months when I joined, I was part of building global brand, so we were clear about our business strategy. From there, started on brand strategy piece,” Barrett said.  

To help, Barrett built out a brand strategy committee involving the most senior leaders in the business.

“If this had been seen as a marketing team exercise, I think we would have failed. This is being driven by CEO and most senior people in the organisation. It can’t be perceived as a campaign,” Barrett said.  

Helping Kathmandu with the authenticity of its positioning is its B Corp certification in 2019. The certification denotes organisations committed to using profits and growth to generate positive impact for employees, economies, communities and the environment.

“In coming months, we’ll be announcing our community partnerships strategy, and we’ve recently gone out with our human slavery report denouncing this. There is a lot we are already doing in this space, which is why this new brand position felt right, and it’s authentic,” Barrett said.   

The robust strategy and legacy of the business, coupled with clarity on the consumer globally, all fed into the statement, ‘We’re out there’. Barrett saw the theme as a way to develop out Kathmandu’s attitude and spirit and bring the purpose to life with customers short and long-term.

“It’s also a double entendre – nature changes your brain for the better, but it also talks to freedom and spirit as a brand,” Barrett said.

The brand relaunch commenced internally with a launch to all staff where Barrett and the team rolled out the new values, behaviours and focus for A/NZ teams. The positioning is being rolled out globally and across all stores through a fresh brand identity, and Kathmandu is also showcasing a range of jackets inspired by the vibrant colours of nature. The creative was done in partnership with Special Group.

An integrated advertising campaign featuring the new brand platform went live on 6 May through a mix of TV, radio, digital, PR and social. Barrett said it’ll run the campaign at different times of the year overseas based on seasons.

In addition, Kathmandu has started working with Kantar to set up a brand tracker. Barrett said longer-term measures she’s looking to life including impact and effect leading to a reappraisal and higher brand preference.

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