Brand Strategy for The North Face

Defining the outdoor category in China and helping The North Face to grow through new brand communities, digital experiences, and retail

The North Face is a major global supplier of innovative, technically advanced outdoor apparel, equipment, and footwear. For more than 40 years, the company has joined forces with the world’s finest climbers, skiers, snowboarders, mountaineers, alpinists, and endurance athletes “to define the limits of what is humanly possible.” After establishing the brand in Asia, The North Face wanted to expand its presence as a market leader in the region. The company partnered with IDEO to develop ways that The North Face® brand story could resonate more deeply with consumers in China.

In the Western Hemisphere, The North Face® brand has long represented an active, sporty lifestyle that’s filled with challenges and adventures. But appreciating “the great outdoors” in China is less about extreme sports and more about convening with nature in a communal, spiritual way. This human-centered design research insight led the team to identify new opportunities for The North Face to better target its messaging. One key opportunity: Encourage Chinese consumers to escape the pressures of hectic city life by enjoying the freedom and “renewal” that comes with spending time outdoors. The North Face® brand’s new messaging links “old nature” and “new outdoors” through a combination of digital, retail, and interactive community channels.

IDEO’s insights and creative brief provided the essential brand story for The North Face in China and informed the tagline of the company’s current marketing campaign, “Go wild” (去野). Since ancient times, Chinese scholars, kings, and poets have found inspiration in nature as a means to rejuvenate and empower the soul. Today, as more people find less time to enjoy the benefits that lie just beyond China’s large cities, there is a tangible desire to return to the outdoors to refresh, reassess, and renew oneself. The North Face aims to help consumers do exactly that.

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Project date: 2012


Illustrating design principles and visual brand activations for The North Face.
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Illustrating design principles and visual brand activations for The North Face.
Illustrating design principles and visual brand activations for The North Face.
QuYeBa is The North Face's first step in creating a digital outdoor community.
QuYeBa is The North Face's first step in creating a digital outdoor community.
For China, a shift in approach from extreme outdoor to connecting with nature.
For China, a shift in approach from extreme outdoor to connecting with nature.
Rapid, rough prototyping made retail ideas more tangible, faster.
Rapid, rough prototyping made retail ideas more tangible, faster.
The North Face is beginning to bring the Chinese outdoor community into retail.
The North Face is beginning to bring the Chinese outdoor community into retail.
QuYeBa was co-designed with Chinese outdoor enthusiasts + newbies.
QuYeBa was co-designed with Chinese outdoor enthusiasts + newbies.
IDEO created a video to bring the emerging outdoor community in China to life.
IDEO created a video to bring the emerging outdoor community in China to life.
A photo exhibition in a Mongolian yurt to share consumer stories about nature.
A photo exhibition in a Mongolian yurt to share consumer stories about nature.