Columbia Sportswear has made quality outdoor gear for over 70 years. Stu Redsun, SVP & CMO for the Columbia Sportswear Company, describes how the brand regained its voice and found a new path to relevancy with the Millennial generation: by letting them tell their own rugged stories on video.

September 2016

Losing Relevance with Millennials

Our mission hasn't changed in 70 years: We make tough gear so that Pacific Northwesterners (and everyone else) can enjoy the great outdoors.

However, a few years back we switched from our classic quirky, funny storytelling to product-centric campaigns that focused instead on things like fabric technology. At the same time, the focus for our e-commerce team was different than for our social media team, which was again different than for our paid media team.

Soon enough, our data began to show that no one had any idea what the Columbia brand stood for. And our relevancy with Millennials was minimal. There was just no brand connection with anyone.

Reconnecting with Our Customers

We needed to engage a younger audience and get them in a conversation with our brand, not with individual products.


We turned to YouTube because we needed a platform where our consumers could discover, take part in, and share our message again and again.

After experimenting, we soon discovered that our professionally-shot videos never saw the kind of engagement that consumer-produced videos did—our core audience is more interested in following a friend on their hiking journey than in learning about the product features of what they're wearing.

We learned that the key micro-moments for our consumers were around discovering new adventures they could experience. So, we made sure we were matching their needs by meeting them with content they were looking for. Our long-term plan became to reclaim our brand voice and turn it over to customers around the world.

We began by creating a new job title—Director of Toughness—and invited consumers and employees to apply. 4,000 people did, and within a few days we had to close applications. Today our DOTs test gear in the most unforgiving conditions on Earth and then tell the world about it. We activate engagement with all these videos through paid media, social, and even offline campaigns.

We needed to engage a younger audience and get them in a conversation with our brand, not with individual products.

Engagement on the Rise

The results so far have been terrific. Brand engagement is up 147%. We've created a new kind of scorecard to analyze our brand health. We're learning a lot more about our audience, too: if people don't engage with a video, we can learn, iterate, and find a better way.


There's another bonus: unlike single-product campaigns, running a campaign on YouTube costs less and upholds our brand message for a much longer time. So now it's all working together: we're using all our marketing touch-points and our engaged customers to tell one cohesive, compelling story—the great story we've been telling for 70 years.

3 Takeaways for Redefining Brand Voice

Match your consumers' needs. To keep your brand relevant, be relevant to consumer needs and interests. People want to be part of your brand story, so help them do that.

Unify your brand voice. We didn't just reclaim our brand voice; we made sure that all our marketing efforts and teams were united behind the new message.

Embrace video. Nothing beats a great story, and video is a storytelling medium.