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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.