The story of how the founders of Patagonia and The North Face, Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins, got started in life and both ended up starting two of the biggest outdoor clothing brands in the world is fascinating. The legend of how these two guys started these companies and lived their lives is truly epic, and I recommend watching 180 degrees south if you want to learn more about it. For now, though, let’s take a look at how their email marketing programs compare to each other in my first email faceoff!
The North face
Email Sign up
Like many ecommerce websites, North Face has implemented a pop-up subscription form for new visitors to their site. The messaging is on-brand, to the point and descriptive enough in my opinion.
I have to admit that content isn’t the strongest area for The North Face. Like most brands, they focus on promoting new products and sales in pretty much every email. Occasionally there will be some content around events or something other than product, but it’s few and far between. For me personally this is a real turn-off as I’m not typically looking to purchase something new every week, so I tend to only open their emails occasionally.
North Face usually send between 8 - 13 emails per month, with more sent during the holiday season. This is a pretty common frequency for a clothing company, but as I mentioned earlier, their email content is mainly focused on new products and doesn’t include much value added content such as tips, interviews or other editorial led content. Unfortunately there isn’t a preference center or option for reducing the number of emails you receive, so I feel like they must have a big drop in opens after a few months.
The North face uses animated gifs in several ways within their emails. The first way is to show off the different variations or colors of a product or even how it’s built, like this example below. I would call these functional gifs and they definitely enhance the content of their emails.
I have also seen less functional, yet very beautiful gifs within their emails like this:
The team at Northface know what they are doing when it comes to image blocking! Many of their emails have a good ratio of HTML text to images and they usually include HTML navigation bars, descriptions and Alt text in images, although they could probably work on some more creative Alt text descriptions. What I also really like about their emails is that they often do some interesting things with background colors, large HTML fonts and bulletproof buttons.
Sadly I haven’t received any automated emails from North Face, not even a welcome email! This is obviously one area that they could make some major improvements and probably generate a lot of additional revenue.
The North Face have a fairly typical email marketing strategy, focusing on one-off campaigns which promote the latest products and offers. This probably works fine for them, I’m sure they still have great open, click through and conversion rates, but it seems like a layer of automation could really help them uplevel. Unless I’m missing something, I’d suggest implementing a welcome program and cart abandonment email ASAP and then look into more advanced types of triggers based on their customers buying lifecycle.
Nothing too out of the ordinary here. Very similar pop-up light-box used by North Face. It's quick, to the point and does what it says on the tin. They also have some nice sign up calls to action within the header and footer of the website.
Patagonia hands down has the best email content of any brand in my opinion. Their emails often feature interesting blog posts, interviews, details of film tours, or information on social issues they are trying to raise awareness for. Of course they also have promotions and updates on new products, but they do a great job of keeping people engaged when they might not be looking to purchase.
Not only does Patagonia nail it when it comes to great content, they also have a preference center where you can update your basic demographics and email frequency.
Patagonia has a similar sending cadence to The North Face, sending 8 - 13 emails per month depending on seasonality. The key difference between the two brands really comes down to their email content. As I already mentioned, Patagonia has some of the best content in their emails around, so I actually have a reason to keep opening, even if I don’t want to buy something. That’s why I think Patagonia can get away with this fairly high sending frequency.
Patagonia also uses animated gifs to show off product colors or variations and occasionally just to add some liveliness to their campaigns. Overall I have noticed that they use animated gifs far less than North Face. It’s something I’d personally love to see more of in their emails.
Nice subtle cinemagraph
Surprisingly both Patagonia and The North Face have really put some effort into optimizing their emails for image blocking, which is awesome to see! Most of Patagonia’s emails follow a similar approach to North Face, with lots of HTML text, background colors in table cells, styled Alt text and bullet proof buttons. I’d say the main difference is that North Face is a bit more creative with their table layouts, which makes their emails stand out a little bit more with images blocked.
Patagonia have a couple of really well executed automated emails, starting off with this great welcome email which seems to follow most of the best practices - All of the text is HTML, expectations are set about when you will receive your next email and they remind you what you will be receiving from them in the future. There is also some nice value-added content on Patagonia’s mission, social responsibility, and their new food products.
Great to see that Patagonia has implemented a cart abandonment email, although it could be more personalized. As you can see, it doesn’t include any of the products I abandoned, but does at least have a link back to my shopping cart where I can easily complete my purchase.
Patagonia does a lot of things right. They obviously get content marketing and realize that their subscribers aren’t going to stay engaged if they JUST send them new products and promotions. The buy now, buy now, buy now approach doesn’t work long term and Patagonia puts a lot of effort into keeping their subscribers engaged with interesting blog posts, events and social issues which they support. They also have great email design, follow the best practices when it comes to email HTML and have some automation. The only thing I’d change is the amount of automation that they have. More lifecycle triggers wouldn’t hurt before and after someone makes a purchase. Otherwise, keep up the good work!