The North Face has long prided itself on wowing both elite outdoor athletes and young trendsetters. But Sophie Bambuck, the chief marketing officer who joined the company eight months ago, said these days, that requires a new tone of voice.
"Youth are expecting brands to be almost human, to be personal, to apologize and be real," Bambuck said in a webcast for SoundBytes, a marketing collective. "We have to show emotion. We've been aspirational and beautiful, but not always an emotional brand. So we're changing our tone to make sure that we are relevant to that audience."
Part of that change stems from the recent resharpening of the company's mission. "The organization was hungry for a sharper definition as to what the North Star was and where the brand was headed. So we've just rolled out a new purpose and mission."
The company clarified its goals, which are to equip and inspire extraordinary lives. And while that means making sure people have the best-performing outdoor gear, "we also want to make sure that we are enabling them to find the incredible -- not just in nature, but also in themselves," Bambuck said.
Another goal is to push the entire industry forward regarding products, sustainability and inclusion. "One of the biggest tasks ahead of us is that we are rooted in the outdoor space, which is pretty insular, and you see a lot of older white men," she said. "There's nothing wrong with that, but it's just not representative of today's society."
The North Face's Explore Fund is vital to that inclusion, pushing to introduce underprivileged youth to outdoor activities, including climbing.
The company also recently launched an athlete development program. To break through to the elite level, outdoor athletes typically "have had to have connections. This program allows us to extend what we give our athletes and opportunities to people that don't have that kind of connections," Bambuck said.
The first cohort includes 17 young athletes "who would never have had access to products, guidance, coaches, mentorship and business advice if we hadn't launched that program."
Such efforts are significant in reaching out to newer audiences, including those coaxed into outdoor activities during the pandemic's early days. "So we're putting a lot of effort into reaching new people, helping them understand that the North Face has the right solution for them," she said. "Emotion is a core component of that."
Bambuck, who joined the North Face from Everlane and has also spent time at Nike, also said she's relishing the chance "to do brand again. Many companies have moved away from brand and are so focused on growth that they have forgotten what it's like to do emotional storytelling and brand-building. I know it's risky, but it's so much fun."
Part of what drives the brand's success, she said, is that marketers always work hand-in-hand with product developers. "And the athletes are invested right from the beginning."
Those athletes are "the sharp point" of the company's spear. "It always comes back to this question: 'What would the athlete want?'"
That ethos is what's made the North Face a hit as a streetwear brand, too. "We can't be about catering to the lowest common denominator. We have to start with that sharp point, that aspiration, then figure out how that will translate."