As a marketing professional, brand origination (e.g., history, logo, persona, etc.), management and strategy always fascinates me, and there is one company that I always marvel at when it comes to branding, The North Face.
Many years ago, I was skiing in New Hampshire with friends and, while waiting on line for the chair lift, I noticed a company name and logo that I had never seen before, The North Face. But, as new and different as the company name and logo were to me, what really struck me in the moment was that I was seeing the name and logo on the back of the ski jacket of the person standing on line in front of me. Until then, I had never seen a company name and logo on the back of a piece of apparel or outerwear. Sure, a sports company such as Adidas might have had a name and logo on the back of a t-shirt, but not on more expensive, or more substantive, piece of apparel like a jacket. How original, how innovative, how brilliant.
Then, as now, The North Face is a company that understands the power of branding, and realizes that the back of a ski jacket, shirt, pants, hat, etc. can serve as a brand billboard just as much as the front. Think of it, just as many people will see the back of a piece of apparel as the front so, why not take advantage of the available real estate and mark it with a logo? What also intrigues me about The North Face’s brand strategy is that while others zigged, they zagged. Instead of blindly following the trend, The North Face decided to change direction and, as a result, they truly set themselves apart, in this respect, within the clothing industry. In fact, they set themselves so far apart that nowadays it is quite common to see other companies, across industries, emulate The North Face’s strategy. How does the saying go, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?
Whenever I see a product, whether it’s clothing or something else, where the company name and/or logo are placed in a location that’s different then one might expect, I am always reminded of The North Face, and the term asymmetry comes to mind. In warfare, which marketing has and is often compared to, asymmetry refers to a strategy or tactic that is significantly different from the opposing forces. Not that an asymmetric way of thinking always wins, but I believe there is enough proof in the marketplace, aside from The North Face, to see that this line of thinking does have its merits. At a minimum, sometimes it does a company good to zag a little and experiment.
In addition, this line of thinking, I believe, makes sense with marketing in general, not just with branding. So many companies follow the herd/trend and never stop to ask, are we being innovative or original enough? Maybe we need to swim in another direction. Think about it.