Designing A Pandemic-Proof Brand With The North Face’s Steve Lesnard

56% of businesses saw a decrease in product demand because of COVID-19. While many large and beloved brands were forced to make difficult decisions to survive, other brands, like The North Face, managed to find opportunities in these difficult times.

When people couldn’t frequent restaurants or movie theaters during quarantine, many flocked to the great outdoors. While an increase in outdoorsmanship had an impact on The North Face’s resilience in a pandemic, its success is due in large part to the vision of its CMO and Global VP of Product Creation, Steve Lesnard.

In an interview with Tribe Dynamics, Steve Lesnard shared how The North Face adjusted to COVID-19 and the steps his team took to grow the brand during these unusual circumstances.

About Steve Lesnard

Steve Lesnard is one of the most active and brilliant minds in sports and brand marketing. With a career spanning over two decades, Lesnard has worked with some of the greatest athletes and influencers in the world, from Olympians to mountain climbers to fashion icons.

Steve Lesnard grew up in France, but came to the United States to earn his MBA and frequently traveled around the world for his work. This experience gave Lesnard a uniquely global perspective and clarity of vision.

The North Face, a premium outdoor brand originally out of Berkeley, California, brought on Lesnard as its CMO and Global VP of Product creation just before the pandemic.

How The North Face weathered the pandemic

Steve Lesnard served for less than a year at The North Face before the pandemic hit. “The last 18 months have been a challenge, to say the least,” Lesnard says, “Managing large teams and a large budget is challenging in a changing environment.”

For starters, just before the pandemic, The North Face moved from its longtime headquarters in the Bay Area to Denver, Colorado. Although the brand recruited new team members locally, it transplanted much of its existing California team to Denver, too.

Unfortunately, the pandemic hit soon after The North Face made its big move. “It felt awful asking people to move, and then they had to work from home. Some people had been in the new office for less than a week,” Lesnard explains.

The North Face wanted to give people the ability to explore the outdoors, but Lesnard’s team knew the pandemic would test their values. However, The North Face was able to become a beloved brand—even during a pandemic—thanks to its fluid approach.

First responders support

The North Face regularly partners with elite climbers, skiers, and other athletes to promote the brand. But when COVID-19 hit, one of Lesnard’s athletes, who also happened to be a first responder, stopped her training and went to the ICU to pitch in. “We quickly rallied and said, ‘What can we do to help the medical and first responder communities?’” Lesnard says.

Within 24 hours, The North Face created a first responders program to support relief efforts. The brand used its supply chain to donate personal protective equipment, gloves, and masks. Additionally, The North Face offered a 50% discount to all first responders, which gave them access to exclusive gear and field testing options, too.

Facebook and Instagram Ads pause

Steve Lesnard saw the pandemic as an opportunity to clarify The North Face’s values. Although the pandemic raged on, the brand also took care to participate in social justice reform.

The team stopped Instagram and Facebook Ads in social justice solidarity. It wasn’t an easy choice, considering the fact that the brand previously earned 15 billion impressions from both advertising platforms. 

But Lesnard wouldn’t change a thing. In the months since The North Face has worked with Facebook to make meaningful changes on the platform. “We’re really pleased with the progress that has been made,” Lesnard adds.

Internal readjustments

The pandemic was a learning experience for everyone, including The North Face’s team. The shift to remote work came with a few bumps in the road for Lesnard’s team.

After realizing that his employees spent way too much time on Zoom, Lesnard noted that it was in direct conflict with The North Face’s values. Outdoors enthusiasts didn’t want to stare at a screen all day, and it certainly wasn’t healthy or in line with the lifestyle, The North Face preached.

That’s why the North Face announced Explore Days, which are days during the week when their team isn’t allowed to have any Zoom calls. This didn’t do away with the team’s Zoom fatigue entirely, but it gave everyone time to do their work and take much-needed hiking breaks.

In terms of long-term change, the pandemic shifted The North Face’s perception of remote work. Lesnard learned that there was no need to relocate team members; they could work from anywhere in the world, be near their family, and still perform at their peak. “Remote work isn’t affecting their performance at all,” Lesnard explanathlete partnerships

Although Steve Lesnard has experience partnering with elite athletes and Olympians, he’s impressed with The North Face’s brand of outdoor athletes. They’re not only trying to prevent injury, but they’re also trying to survive life-threatening situations. “Their brains are constantly working,” Lesnard says.

Lesnard knew The North Face was a staple with outdoor athletes, but his team wanted to make it a beloved lifestyle brand, too. That’s why The North Face is leaning heavily into athlete influencer relationships.

During the height of the pandemic, the brand leaned heavily on athletes to create content, especially as consumers wanted ideas for staying fit during quarantine. “These influencers get millions of views on something that they film in their garage on their phone,” Lesnard says, “But the beauty of these athletes is that they’re people first. They’re relatable and personable.”

A bright future for The North Face

Regardless of nation, color, or sex, an appreciation for the outdoors is universal. While many brands suffered during the early days of COVID-19, The North Face managed to build a beloved lifestyle brand with Lesnard’s innovative new approaches. By clarifying The North Face’s vision and acting in line with its values, Steve Lesnard sees a bright future ahead of the outdoor lifestyle brand.

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