How Cotopaxi's Mission Informs Its Branding

Chief brand officer Brad Hiranaga shares how the outdoor apparel brand strikes meaningful collabs and experiential activations

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Creating a story around your product is an easier marketing challenge for purpose-driven brands like outdoor apparel and gear brand Cotopaxi, said Brad Hiranaga, chief brand officer, at Adweek’s Retail Media Summit in Minneapolis, Minnesota, last week.

Among other initiatives, the company donates 1% of its revenue to organizations fighting global poverty.

“You work on brands and you have to think, how can I phrase something interesting for this brand?” said Hiranaga, who previously held the chief marketing officer role at General Mills. “This brand has the opposite brief: How do I tell the story of this brand in some new way when there are so many things I can talk about it? So you layer in impact, you talk about poverty, the sustainability in terms of circularity.”

Being a purpose-led brand not only helps a company craft its marketing message but also helps a brand keep that message consistent. It can also shield companies from budget cuts.

“It’s difficult to attach purpose onto a brand as an afterthought or as a marketing campaign,” he said. “Having worked with brands like that, it’s a little trickier because when you come to the inevitable budget cuts, that’s the first thing to cut because it’s not associated with sales and revenue. When it’s hard-wired in and when it also becomes your objective of the whole business, that’s when it becomes the next level of acting behind your purpose.”

This brand DNA has led Cotopaxi to craft a unique marketing strategy, powered in part by partnerships and experiential marketing.

Meaningful brand collabs

A way for apparel brands to extend their reach is by partnering with other brands that have a slightly different customer base. But these partnerships must be crafted thoughtfully so as not to dilute brand equity.

“We all see partnerships all the time,” Hiranaga said. “Some are cool, some are not.”

Cotopaxi strives to make its partnerships meaningful by picking brands that share in its mission-driven work. Last week, the company collaborated with Headspace on a T-shirt and a hip pack, which if purchased, entitles customers to a two-month free membership to the meditation app.

Brad Hiranaga and Adweek’s Luz Corona discuss Cotopaxi brand strategy at Adweek’s Retail Media Summit.

Earlier this year, Cotopaxi partnered with sneaker brand Hoka to launch a co-branded shoe and hip bag. The companies also announced their continued support for True Colors United, which aims to end youth homelessness, especially among LGBTQ+ youth.

Cotopaxi also runs activations at events like the Maryland music festival All Things Go. The brand also runs Questival, a 24-hour adventure race to promote its mission of helping people get outside.

“The way we break down our incentives around bonuses is three things: revenue, profit and impact,” Hiranaga said. “And if we don’t impact, we don’t get the other ones.”

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