Steve Lesnard and The North Face Deliver FUTURELIGHT – A Sports Marketing Masterpiece

Newly appointed VP of marketing and FUTURELIGHT campaign head Steve Lesnard on the art of product marketing.

It hangs on your shoulders, not on a wall, and rather than hiding it underneath heavy panels of UV filtering glass, its creator implores you to take it for a spin in the rain and a jump in the mud. While FUTURELIGHT, the showcase product for The North Face’s new groundbreaking marketing campaign, is not a work of art the likes of the Mona Lisa, it is nonetheless a masterpiece.

Art in its most basic sense is simply a form of communication; the artist using various forms, materials, and techniques to evoke specific feelings and ideas in his or her viewers. FUTURELIGHT does just that. With its tagline – “Defy the past; wear the future” – the FUTURELIGHT campaign invites consumers to create their own epic stories of exploration and adventure. With its next level nano-spinning technology designed to disrupt the paradigm of how people use and design gear, The North Face wipes the canvas clean, creating space for imagination, creation, and transformation in consumers’ lives.

Steve Lesnard

Brand marketing guru Steve Lesnard, The North Face’s newly appointed chief of marketing, is the brains behind the company’s new take-notice pivot in product branding. Here, we’ll drill down on Steve Lesnard’s strategies that have earned him a reputation for designing brands that cut through the clutter and take the “art” of marketing to the next level.

Know your consumer, learn what they want, and keep it simple.

With multiple modes of communication barraging consumers from every direction, a successful marketing strategy must stand apart. The best way to do this is by being crystal clear about your target consumer and the solutions you offer them. While this concept seems simple, the ability to stay laser focused on your consumer and their needs is exceedingly difficult in our environment of increasing data and complexity. But simplicity is essential; when your team learns to cut to the core, you’ll be able to create a crisp piece of communication and a consumer experience that your target consumer will remember.

The North Face’s latest branding campaign, under Steve Lesnard’s watch, is a good example of this principle in action. With the October 1 introduction of its “game changing” FUTURELIGHT material, The North Face aimed to create a new paradigm for what explorers and expeditionists can expect out of waterproof materials. But first, The North Face had to acknowledge that the paradigm needed shifting.

Like many gear manufacturers, The North Face has long recruited its own team of global athletes visibly outfitted in the brand’s latest state-of-the-art gear. However, the members of this particular team serve as more than just “poster-children;” these athletes act as the purest representation of the company’s target consumer. And by listening acutely, The North Face discovered that its athlete cadre was pining for waterproof gear that was more breathable and less constricting.

The result was a multi-year journey by the company to create a waterproof fabric that defies the bounds of flexibility, breathability, and comfort, while providing maximum protection from the elements. With the launch of FUTURELIGHT, the product story takes center stage in the company’s brand marketing strategy.

Now, instead of athletes having to adapt to the environment, FUTURELIGHT flips the script. In the campaign’s own words:

“What if you could wear a jacket that feels alive? What if your gear could breathe as hard as you do? What if you could wear the future? What if … there was no if?”

Who is your target consumer and what do they really want? If you listen and deliver, you’ll be poised to deliver a product that unleashes unlimited possibilities.

Add value to inspire loyalty.

As a marketer, you not only need to know your consumer, but you must also be able to predict what they want. And with so many channels of communication in the marketplace, consumers’ expectations are forcing brands to continually innovate or be left behind. Luckily, in today’s age of big data, it’s easier than ever to glean continuous insight into consumer expectations. Brands that can leverage this data to keep in step with continually changing consumer demands will continue to stand out.

Steve Lesnard calls this a “consumer centric” approach; he advises others to move away from a selling mindset and focus instead on providing products and services that add value and benefit to consumers’ lives.

For example, The North Face knew that to disrupt the industry, it needed to create a product that would truly deliver on its promise. Others before have promised as much but fallen short. Determined to disrupt the paradigm, the North Face committed to the design process with a tremendous investment in time and resources: three years of research, development, and extensive testing in the lab and in the field. From the world’s highest peaks to the harshest climates with temperatures ranging from -50 to 60 degrees farhrenheit, FUTURELIGHT was tested extensively by the brand’s global athlete team of climbers, skiers, alpinists, snowboarders, and trail runners. The material also endured rigorous third-party testing by Underwriter Labs, the same organization that tests gear donned by hazmat specialists and first responders.

According to Hilaree Nelson, the brand’s athlete team captain, the wait was worth it. “In all my years in the mountains, I’ve never experienced a product that moved and performed as well as FUTURELIGHT,” she said. “It is creating a new paradigm for what I expect out of a waterproof material.”

FUTURELIGHT is made possible through a process called nano-spinning, wherein microscopic nozzles spin webs of ultra-thin fibers into a waterproof fabric with unmatched air permeability. The North Face’s proprietary technology pushes the limits of innovation in equipment and apparel. With a wide range of variability in weight, stretch, breathability, durability, construction, and texture, the technology unleashes unlimited permutations for maximum customization.

As an advocate for the environment, The North Face also knew that it had to develop a product that would not only sustain the test time but also hold to the company’s ethos of environmental sustainability. According to Steve Lesnard, “leading on product integrity and product sustainability is something consumers, particularly in the outdoor space, truly resonate with.”

Unlike Gore-Tex, FUTURELIGHT is free of perfluorocarbon, thanks to a manufacturing process that cuts down on the use of chemicals. The company also touts the use of recycled materials and solar power at its FUTURELIGHT manufacturing facilities.

“One thing that is really unique about The North Face is the ability to push the boundaries of performance innovation without making any trade-off on sustainability,” says Steve Lesnard. The company hopes that its dedication to “making the very best … in the most sustainable way,” in Lesnard’s words, will endear it to a new generation of consumers for whom sustainability is one of the most important factors in their purchasing decisions.

Enlist consumers in the creative process.
For Steve Lesnard, a keystone of the art of marketing is the ability to form and grow a genuine relationship with your target consumers. When you provide products and services that enrich their lives and increasingly meet their expectations, they will be driven back to your brand again and again. Lesnard refers to this process as “personalization at scale.”

In the case of FUTURELIGHT, The North Face issues a clear invitation to consumers: “Defy the past, wear the future.” Its tagline doesn’t just tell; it directly enlists consumers in the process of redefining the expectations around weather protective gear and enables them to envision the new possibilities that FUTURELIGHT brings.

What does it really mean to “defy the past” or “wear the future?” The North Face doesn’t know, and it’s okay with that. It’s trusting its loyal consumers to write the next chapter in its marketing masterpiece. This is just the beginning of the story, and for now, the possibilities seem to be endless.

About Steve Lesnard

Steve Lesnard is the newly appointed global VP of marketing at The North Face. In his previous tenure with one of the largest athletic brands in the world, Lesnard launched industry-changing innovations, driving a $5.3 billion business while serving as the global vice president and general manager of the company’s running division.

While there, Lesnard led the company’s running business to its current position as a global leader in the sporting industry, led two Olympic marketing campaigns, and ran the European marketing organization. Steve Lesnard also headed the development of the women’s marketing business across the world, turning a niche industry into a multi-billion-dollar division.

As a sports fanatic and outdoor enthusiast since childhood, Steve Lesnard has also provided consulting services on various global marketing campaigns for several other brands in the athletics sector. He releases regular podcasts, on which he shares his experience and insights with consumer-centric global marketing and branding campaigns.

Steve Lesnard’s passion for creating global branding campaigns in the athletic sector is fueled by his personal zest for sports and the outdoors. From martial arts to running, mountain biking, kite surfing, and snowboarding, Lesnard relishes any activity that allows him to appreciate the “strength, power, and beauty” of Mother Nature. Lesnard currently resides in Denver with his wife and three children.