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Three branding lessons from Kathmandu’s head of marketing Richard Dalke

With consumer expectations and spending patterns changing rapidly, understanding what customers want has become an incredibly important skill to have. 

But how do you derive meaning from data, and where do you draw the line between asking customers what they want and showing them?

Last week, head of marketing at global outdoor  brand Kathmandu, Richard Dalke, explained to Inside Retail managing editor Heather McIlvaine how the business’ understanding of its brand, as well as its customers, played a significant role in its recent rebrand.

Here, we’ve compiled three tips Dalke shared.

You can watch the full Masterclass sponsored by Adobe here.

Listen to your (potential) customers…

Kathmandu unveiled a new brand direction in 2020, and stepped up its product redesigns in 2021. Part of that, Dalke said, involved analysing what it was that customers wanted from the brand. 

“There was a lot of work to get the positioning right. We undertook quite a lot of market research across six different markets to understand how [each] part of our brand comes to life,” Dalke said. 

“It included call groups, community-based research, terminal reviews, [and] linguistics analysis. There was quite a lot [of research] in order for us to be able to understand our customer and more about the market.”

That work taught the business that there was a huge opportunity in millennials: a segment of the outdoor market that the business hadn’t previously catered to, but which had grown massively throughout the pandemic. 

Understanding this burgeoning market played a massive role in Kathmandu’s rebrand, which chief customer officer Eva Barrett recently said is working well.

…But don’t ask for permission

Understanding your customers is one thing, Dalke said, but it’s equally important to understand your brand and its ethos.

“You can’t ask [customers] for permission to do everything that you want,” he said.

“If you’re asking permission about certain brand attributes and whether they resonate, it can be quite difficult, particularly out of context, for customers to be able to comment on that.”

This is why Kathmandu uses customer feedback as a single input in the creation of its overall brand strategy, rather than as an absolute.

“We know our end point is to be the most loved outdoor brand. That’s our North Star,” Dalke said.

“How we flex and utilise that in our go-to-market strategy is tracked, but we don’t try to get every element right – as long as we’re always tracking toward that purpose.”

Don’t be afraid to invest in your brand

Dalke noted that Kathmandu is a business with a long history, and with that comes a strong brand. Despite that, in all the businesses Dalke has worked for previously, he has seen investing in branding as a cornerstone of long-term success, even during times of economic hardship. 

“I can’t sit here and say that we don’t have the same pressure as every other brand that’s facing the daunting task of focusing on short-term sales activations, but it’s really important – probably more now than ever – that we are focused on that brand purpose,” Dalke said. 

“There’s a lot of research around the role of brand-building, even during recession times it gives you an advantage and helps with long-term growth, and you emerge a lot stronger.”

This was true for Kathmandu following the difficulties of the initial Covid-19 lockdowns, and the impact it had on retailers more broadly, and the outdoor sector acutely. 

“We saw the effect of [strong branding] as we came out of Covid, and we had one of our strongest seasons ever,” he said. 

“The role of the escape to nature and the outdoors is there, and we’re in a fortunate position that that’s what our brand platform stands for.”

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