In Conversation with Hayden Stevens from Arc’teryx

Natalie Dean-Weymark


January 31, 2024

This journal article is taken from Episode 3 of Compass Studio’s podcast series “In Conversation” hosted by Co-Founder and Director Natalie Dean-Weymark.

People love Arc’teryx, and for good reason. The brand has done an exceptional job at building a genuine community, and catering to their niche of outdoor enthusiasts. How'd they do it? We sat down with Omnichannel Marketing Manager at Arc’teryx AU/NZ, Hayden Stevens, on this week's episode of In Conversation to find out.

For starters, Arc’teryx selected a range of incredible ambassadors and influencers that truly resonate with their growing community, and put them in front of the camera. From trail runners, to expert climbers and best-in-class skiers. Why? Well, as Hayden put it — "people don’t trust brands - people trust people."

In this week’s episode of In Conversation, we delve into how Arc’teryx leverages genuine human connection and invites their community behind the scenes to cultivate a robust community. Read on, or listen here 👇

Q: Tell me about your favourite campaign and why it's your favourite.

A: Last year, we launched the Arc’teryx ReBird program in Australia, a global circularity initiative. The aim was to keep materials out of landfills by promoting product care, repair, and upcycling. Aligning the entire business around this marketing campaign involved a complex process spanning several months. We engaged the warehouse team, internal processes, repair facilities, and even enlisted a local design ambassador for community events. The focus was on encouraging customers to engage with the brand through their existing products, challenging the traditional recycling model.

Implementing a campaign that didn't emphasize new product sales posed a bit of a challenge. Convincing stakeholders and retailers to support a campaign centered around sustainability and customer engagement, rather than driving sales, required careful navigation. It was crucial to communicate the broader brand message and values here.

The Arc'teryx ReBird Programme, their global sustainable circularity campaign; ReCARE, ReGEAR, ReCUT.

Q: What do you wish you knew at the start of this campaign?

A: The crucial lesson was the impossibility of achieving a perfect launch. Whether it's a standard commercial campaign or a sustainability initiative, perfection is unattainable. Emphasizing the importance of communication being understood rather than flawless, the goal was to release an imperfect form into the world, gather feedback, and allow it to evolve organically.

Q: What's the secret recipe for success in the purpose-led space?

A: There's so much value in having purpose and to stand for something more than purely commercial. However, I think the rising acknowledgement of that has led people to put square pegs in round holes and try to cram too much purpose in or to even go down avenues that don't necessarily align well with the brand.

Finding that purpose is 90% of the challenge, when it's done right, marketing is easy.

Arc’teryx focuses on its core value, 'there's always a better way,' and ensuring purpose-driven marketing is an integral part of its existence.

Q: How does Arc’teryx acknowledge the ongoing journey towards global sustainability?

A: Acknowledging that current efforts aren't the end goal, Arc’teryx maintains a commitment to continuous improvement. The core value of 'there's always a better way' drives a culture of constant change, feedback integration, and refinement to stay culturally relevant and impactful.

Q: Big marketing budget, what do you think moves the needle most?

A: Excess share of voice is critical regardless of budget size. Consistency in communication across various channels, beyond digital, is vital. Embracing emotive, brand-driven narratives and focusing on long-term strategies rather than short-term commercial work contributes to sustained growth.

Q: Small budgets, what do you think moves the needle most?

A: Small budgets require a focus on execution. Quality over quantity in building relationships with customers through community engagement is key. Investing time in hands-on support and cultivating trust helps foster a community which leads to business growth.

Q: What has been your biggest external challenge and how have you got around it?

A: As a regional center for a global brand, the challenge lies in localizing a global message. Balancing global and local perspectives is essential. As a North American brand that's very built up and has a much stronger following there, entering a new market and trying to actually lay solid foundations is a challenge. We can't just copy paste things. So most of my challenge at the moment is both working with the global team, but also our local community and resources here and trying to figure out what's actually valuable. 

Q: What inspires your developmental reading?

A: "The Experience Economy" by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore is a great read. It explores the evolution of value from commodity to experience and aligns with Arc’teryx's approach of adding value to products through experiences like testing events, where you can come out for a hike in the rain with us and wear one of our jackets where it's meant to be used. It not only lowers the barrier to entry, but it also adds so much more value to it.

Q: What are you listening to at the moment?

A: "Black T-shirts" by Brent Smart who is the Telstra CMO and Adam Ferrier who is the founder of creative agency, Thinkerbelle. It focuses on creativity in marketing: talking with creative directors and advertising executives on playing with ideas and what the creative process looks like. As a marketer, there's obviously a lot of science, data and analytics. Emphasizing the importance of ideation and creative concept validation before diving into metrics like ROI, offers valuable insights for marketers seeking a balance between data and creativity.

Q: The marketing landscape has changed so much in recent years, how are you as a brand adapting to this change?

A: The new wave of content consumption and social media habits is an absolute blessing for us because it's focused on accessible, everyday people. It's not highly produced, it's real. I think the influencer economy is a response to the world being sick of traditional advertising and marketing. People can spot an ad a million miles away.

I very much subscribe to the notion that people don't trust brands, people trust people. So when we're putting local, homegrown runners and climbers and skiers in front of the camera, as opposed to some stuffy model, that's where connection happens.

Arc'teryx uses expert climbers, skiers and trail runners to leverage genuine human connection and build a strong brand community.

Q: So do you use ambassadors and influencers as a key content strategy?

A: I think that with influencers, we're seeing the other side of that now. It's become a little bit too commercial, a little bit too transactional. Coming back to connection and to community, I think ambassadors, athletes, community leaders and real people doing real things as opposed to some faceless global brand has much more connection.

I'm acutely aware that with this strategy, it only works because we are a global brand and the brand positioning is locked in. I completely understand for smaller businesses, for local businesses to maintain and actually build up that branding first and to make sure that they've actually got that foundation set before you deviate from it. 

Q: Why would you say that brand has to come before building?

A: Brand is consistency. Brand is making sure that every consumer journey feels the same and we're communicating the same messages and values at every step. I think this lo-fi accessible model is perfect if that's your brand. But if you're trying to build something premium, you're trying to build something at the higher end of the market, you've got to be able to build that foundation and to communicate those values first and foremost before you dilute yourself. I think it's easy to have an identity crisis in those situations.

Like what you read? Listen to the full episode podcast with Hayden Stevens here or read more from our other In Conversation guests over on the Compass journal here.

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