This Fast Company/Co.EXIST article about Patagonia caught my eye this morning before the holiday weekend. In what might seem like the strangest of marketing plans for a retail company, Patagonia is encouraging people NOT to buy its clothes and outdoor gear. In fact, Patagonia has famously run advertisements in the holiday season using a tag line of "Don’t Buy This Jacket." Patagonia has included accompanying text explaining the (surprisingly substantial) amount of resources used to make the jacket.

So, why would Patagonia do this? It is, after all, a business–one that is very successful, generating $400 million in revenue each year and significant profits on that revenue. The key is that Patagonia is marrying its brand promise with good business sense.  As Patagonia’s Director of Environmental Strategy notes in the Fast Company article, "If I wanted to make the most money possible, I would invest in environmentally responsible supply chains."  Investments that have led to some of the most profitable years in Patagonia’s history.  Customers "buy-in" to Patagonia’s advertising message, which encourages them only to buy what they need.  In return, those customers so respect the quality of its product and integrity of its message that, when they do make a decision to spend their hard-earned dollars, they willingly choose to purchase what is some of the most expensive outdoor gear in the world.

The lesson for the rest of us? Our brands need to have promise, and we need to live that promise through our business practices. Competing on quality, price and great advertisements alone just isn’t enough anymore, if it ever was.  Maybe our product has better engineering (like Dyson), is more user-friendly (Good Grips kitchen utensils), or brings better customer service (thank you, McDonald’s).  We don’t all need to be Patagonia, but we do need to create our own "Raving Fans" for our brands (with all due respect to Ken Blanchard).

Do your products, mission and brand promise line up? Tell us how.  We’d love to hear from you.