“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain
We’ve covered other archetypes of social media engagement, but the Reporter archetype may often be the most captivating. The Reporter is a brand voice reserved for the most authentic, interactive and thoughtful of companies, as it requires investment of time, money, and a willingness to face challenges in all forms publically. A Reporter crafts a lot of original content, but a really good reporter can tap into the zeitgeist, utilizing the media tools of the time, and transform user experience into the strongest forms of advertising possible. A winning line of products, paired with incredible customer service, can only be bettered by including marketing that makes that brand synonymous in the customer’s mind with its very purpose. Advertising that uses real people, not models, focusing on the experience of life with that brand, rather than on the product alone, is key to the success of the Reporter archetype.
When Yvon Chouinard founded outdoor clothing company Patagonia Inc. in the early 1970s, he was a sinewy, tanned nature devotee, having cut his business teeth selling handmade rock climbing gear out of the back of his car between excursions up mountainsides and surfing sessions. His first company, Chouinard Equipment, rapidly became the largest US supplier of climbing hardware, however Chouinard himself was increasingly dismayed with the destructive result of his products. Pitons, the anchors climbers rely on to hold their weight, were hammered into rock faces, disfiguring the rock and degrading climbing routes for future users. From the 1972 Chouinard Equipment catalog, when new aluminum chocks were introduced to replace pitons:
There is a word for it, and the word is clean. Climbing with only nuts and runners for protection is clean climbing. Clean because the rock is left unaltered by the passing climber. Clean because nothing is hammered into the rock and then hammered back out, leaving the rock scarred and the next climber’s experience less natural. Clean because the climber’s protection leaves little trace of his ascension. Clean is climbing the rock without changing it; a step closer to organic climbing for the natural man.
Soon after, Chouinard brought back a rugby jersey from a climbing trip to Scotland, where the usual climber’s apparel of chino cut-offs and an old dress shirt was not up to the rigors of the Highland climate. The durable fabric and bright colors set the garment apart, and was soon such a hit for Chouinard Equipment that in addition to jerseys sourced from New Zealand and Argentina, polyurethane rain ponchos from Scotland, Austrian boiled-wool gloves and mittens, and hand-knit reversible “schizo” hats from Boulder were soon added to the catalog. Patagonia Inc was born in 1973 out of the need to distinguish new clothing products from the climbing hardware Chouinard Equipment was known for, and to bring the products to a wider audience of outdoors aficionados.
The Ventura, California, company quickly became a leader in innovative design, both in aesthetics, like vivid color, and in functionality, using new materials and methods to make an active outdoor life easier and more enjoyable. Innovation went beyond new proprietary fabrics like Capilene and Synchilla, driving company culture: in 1984 the cafeteria at headquarters opened, serving mostly vegetarian meals; also in 1984, the company opened an on-site childcare center, one of only 130 in the nation at the time; by ‘87, the company instituted a tithe to environmental protection groups, 1% of sales, or 10% of profits, whichever was greater.
Forward-thinking and a dedication to the intended purpose of their products — enjoying nature as a part of everyday life — has served Patagonia well, and primed the company to tackle the digital disruptions to business today with aplomb.
In 2004, (coincidentally the same year Facebook launched), Patagonia made waves with a blog post entitled “Don’t Buy This Shirt Unless You Need It.” This led to the Common Threads initiative, an operations effort to make every piece of clothing Patagonia manufactures recyclable. The theme continued through to 2011, in a full-page ad in the New York Times with the headline, “Don’t buy this jacket,” above the company’s popular R2 coat.
This maneuver, focused on the greater context of how their product impacted not only customers’ lives but the planet in general, resonated deeply with consumers. In 2007, Patagonia’s topline was $270 million; sales in 2013 hit $600 million. In that time, Patagonia fully embodied the effectiveness of the Reporter Archetype.
During alt-rock band Wilco’s 2012 national concert tour, Patagonia used a social media visualization platform to curate a fan experience via Twitter, sharing why they love the environment and how that affects their voting on giant screens on stage at every show, using #BecauseILove. Integrating Patagonia’s and Wilco’s social media accounts to further these messages capitalized on the authentic sharing serving as currency for the campaign, as it tied to screens inside Patagonia’s retail stores, where real-time customers could be included in the action.
Most recently, Patagonia has fully-owned it’s role as a Reporter brand in social media, with a fleet of activity-specific Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram pages for everything from food to climbing, as well as a popular website and social account focused on user-generated content attesting to the quality of Patagonia’s clothing, Worn Wear.
Even as the world shrinks thanks to the immediacy and penetration of the digital world in to our own real one, perhaps even because of that contraction, the Reporter is an important voice for a brand that can live up to the task of genuine interaction and follow-through the role requires. “Planet first, company second” is the ethos Patagonia takes into its operations as well as its marketing, letting the context of their product out in the world, being used daily by customers, sell the product for them. A Reporter brand can be at the forefront of a movement simply by recognizing the power of experience in the relationship between consumers and their favorite brands, and then sharing that power publically.