By Kevin Lund published November 12, 2010

How a Print Strategy Could Save the World: A Case Study

Recently, I finished reading the book Let My People Go Surfing, by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. It’s a fascinating story by an inspirational business leader. He not only grew a successful company while being beloved by his employees and revered by his peers, but he also intends to continue doing so without destroying the planet—a tall order for a clothing manufacturer that outsources to factories in emerging markets.

I can relate to Chouinard’s paradox. I’m a print guy. That’s how I started in this business and how I plan to sustain it. As a print publisher, I too have a responsibility to seek out ways to make sure that sustaining our business doesn’t compromise the earth’s business—which isn’t always easy.

However, while buzz phrases about being eco-friendly stewards—“sustainable living,” “socially responsible,” “lower your carbon footprint,”—are rampant, such messaging tends to fall on deaf ears.  Quite frankly, it’s perceived by the public at large as unrealistic, inconvenient and if you run a business, more than likely unprofitable.

This makes Chouinard’s story even more powerful, though it’s pretty safe to say that the business of saving the planet could really use a massive content marketing overhaul. Perhaps it has already begun with Patagonia.

A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a content strategy

My journey to finding Chouinard’s book and becoming a customer of Patagonia is a good example of a simple content strategy at work, where seemingly disparate parts came together in a seamless experience. Bear in mind, not a single touch point along the way was through a digital channel.

I first read an article on how to build a better workplace (not how to save the world) featuring Mr. Chouinard in a printed copy of one of my favorite business magazines. In the article, he mentions Surfing. Now, it’s important to note that I’ve never been a Patagonia customer. However, the article inspired me to learn more about the man, his mission and his company. Right after I put the magazine down, I drove 25 miles to the nearest Patagonia store to check out their goods, where I bought a few items including Surfing (yes, the non-Kindle version).

The take-away from the book isn’t about the great things Mr. Chouinard has done or is doing. And it’s not about preaching to readers of the book to change what they’re doing. This is a good thing, because I’m not exactly what you’d call a total “greenie.” Though I recycle everything and use low-wattage bulbs, I drive an SUV, I eat fast food cheeseburgers on occasion, and yes, I still drink coffee from paper cups.

But despite my shortcomings as a part-time conservationist, after reading Chouinard’s book I was moved by his story and his sincere desire to help make the world a better place—not only by his company’s practices, but by his personal conservation efforts that include starting the foundation, 1% for the Planet. Now, not only am I a Patagonia customer, but I am also a supporter of his cause as well.

It starts at the top

Patagonia used a simple, shrewd content strategy to tell its story, not only to grow its business, but “keeping the earth in business” as well—and doing so very profitably. Though my experience is a single example, it has important lessons for content marketers.

Use multiple channels to tell your story

It’s important to understand that we all receive information through a multitude of channels, and all of those channels don’t need to be digital. In other words, iPads won’t replace print magazines any more than cycling will replace driving cars to work.

Think beyond your cause

Ironically, I stumbled onto a green company I now admire by reading an article in a print magazine that essentially talked about cool bosses, which had nothing to do with sustainable living.  Before the article, I didn’t think twice about Patagonia or who it was. Today, I’m a customer as well as a supporter of Chouinard’s cause. And you can bet I’m going to talk about it to others. I just did.

To think it all started with a single article in a printed magazine…no, wait. It started with content marketing.

Author: Kevin Lund

Kevin Lund is President and Founder of T3 Custom, a financial content strategy and publishing firm, specializing in bridging the marketing needs of businesses with the information needs of their customers. T3 Custom is a leader in the content revolution taking place, and Kevin is passionate about helping companies use conversation —written or verbal—as a means for driving behavior. You can follow him on Twitter @KLundT3.

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  • Beth Ryan

    This was pretty affirming, because I too believe that print has an important place in a channel strategy because, in industrial manufacturing anyway, so many companies have downsized and re-assigned responsbilities that the email that you had 1 year or even 3 months ago is now a bounce, where a gatekeeper can forward print to the appropriate person. Second, I know technical information in long form is easier to read in print, but of course, easier to pass around in digital – so you need both formats. I know printers understand that their future is linked to utilizing technology to reduce costs and increase quality so it is no longer that difficult to provide both print & digital.

    • Kevin Lund

      Thanks Beth. Everything has its place. There are things print can do that digital can’t, and vice versa. Holistic content strategy takes into account the client’s needs with those of their customers and utilizes the most appropriate channels. Sometimes a Twitter account just doesn’t factor in, and that’s okay!

  • globalcopywrite

    Hi Kevin,The same thing happened to me when I read Anita Roddick’s book, “Body and Soul”. I had never been into a Body Shop store before that. Now I can’t walk past one without at least having a look in the window. Roddick was an activist almost more than she was a business person which is saying a lot. Her passion was infectious and reading her thoughts and opinion convinced me I wanted to support her business.