We try to speak authentically to friends and family. We’re encouraged to portray our ‘authentic’ selves through social media platforms like BeReal. So, why is it so difficult to be authentic in a corporate sphere?
It’s a nebulous concept, authenticity. But one company can help drag it down from this conceptual stratosphere and into the real world: Patagonia.
Actions speak louder than words
Patagonia’s owner Yvon Chouinard is a self-declared “dirtbag” , a ‘walks the walk’-CEO whose commitment to slow fashion means he wears the same 20-year-old flannel shirts each day.
Now Chouinard has given his company away, pledging any profit not reinvested into running the business to help fight climate change. This seemingly drastic move made headlines, but it should perhaps come as no surprise. Patagonia has been doing this for a long time and they know their actions speak louder than words.
Patagonia is a B-Corp that offers both a lifetime warranty and a repair service for free. They are one of few companies to recycle PET bottles into their clothes and, in 2015, when animal activist group PETA released distressing footage filmed at one of Patagonia’s wool partners, the clothing brand cut ties with the Argentinian network of farms.
Then of course there’s their famous ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ ad, and a pledge in 2016 to donate all their profits from Black Friday to good causes. They made a record $10 million in sales from that day alone.
These moves are quintessentially and unmistakably Patagonia. Proof, if you need it, that authenticity sells.
What can this teach communicators?
Patagonia’s continued commitment to environmental responsibility, accountability and charity makes them come across not as a faceless corporation hellbent on a profit at all costs, but as an ethical brand headed by a human being – an everyday person in second-hand shirts – who cares about the planet and the people around them.
We feel like they empathise with us, understand us.
We can learn from this as communicators. We should be ‘human beings first, communication experts second’. And we must say what we believe, speak with a clear and consistent voice and back up our words with actions.
Prioritising the Earth over brand growth epitomises Patagonia’s approach to business, and the action they’ve taken over the past 30 years means that whenever Patagonia speaks, people tend to listen.
As AB’s managing director Katie Macaulay asks in her book From Cascade to Conversation: ‘If you took your own name off a corporate communication, could you even tell if it was yours?’
Patagonia are a company for people, not consumers. Their communication is dependably authentic.