Brand Strategy

A conversation with the CMO of The North Face

“Everything needs to be consumer-centric. That’s my school of marketing,” Sophie Bambuck told us.
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Sophie Bambuck

· 4 min read

Once a sports marketer, always a sports marketer.

In September, Sophie Bambuck joined The North Face as CMO after serving as the first CMO of Everlane for nearly a year and a half. Prior to that, she spent more than 12 years at Nike, most recently as VP of global brand marketing for Nike Sportswear.

Bambuck joined The North Face at a time when it seems to be experiencing momentum. The company saw an uptick in sales when the pandemic first hit as more people spent time outdoors, and it’s still seeing gains—in Q3, its revenue grew 7%.

Six months into her new gig, Bambuck said she’s bringing learnings from her past roles while plotting her vision for North Face as she plans her first campaign with the company this fall.

People, meet product

Bambuck said her time at Nike taught her that product and solving a consumer need (whether known or unknown) should be at the center of everything.

“Everything needs to be consumer-centric,” she said. “That’s my school of marketing.”

While on the Nike running team, Bambuck said the team realized it was better to let people choose what type of shoe they wanted to wear rather than directing people who pronate, for example, to one specific type of shoe.

Instead, she said, they took the approach of, “How do you want to run? What is the experience that you want to have when you run? Let’s serve that versus putting you in a box.”

This is a mindset Bambuck said she’s brought with her to The North Face. Getting that information, she said, requires listening to customers.

Bambuck said The North Face draws on specific consumer insights to ensure it’s speaking to its audience—like the snow community or the climbing community—in the right way. This includes working with current and former athletes on the marketing team, collecting feedback from athletes who test their products, and hosting monthly athlete forums and focus groups.

It also leans on brand loyalists: “We have very loyal followers, and they’re very, very honest and open,” she said, adding that the feedback loop is “better than what [she’s] seen in a lot of other places.” That feedback informs things like the tone, vocabulary, and images that The North Face uses in its marketing, she said.

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Earlier this year, The North Face released a campaign that emphasized its place as both a streetwear and athletic utility-wear brand, though Bambuck clarified that was in the works prior to her joining the team.

Like other brands, she said one of the brand’s ambitions moving forward is reaching a younger audience so it can “grow with the next generation.”

Turning tides

The North Face is also keeping a close eye on macrotrends, like sustainability, according to Bambuck. She cited the recent UN report that found emissions will need to fall within the next two years to limit warming to less than 1.5℃ this century, adding that “it’s going to impact our outdoor industry and our business a lot.”

In 2021, after joining Everlane—which started making sustainability pledges part of its “radical transparency” mantra in 2018 but faced scrutiny from critics who said the company didn’t live up to it—Bambuck said she spent a lot of time obsessing over how to market sustainability.

What she learned is that it’s a balancing act between saying too much and too little: “People want the story. It will create affinity and loyalty towards your brand,” she said. However, “it might not make your purchasing decision.”

When a brand finds that balance and does say something around sustainability, she emphasized that any claims the company makes should be vetted and “rock solid.”

For its part, The North Face has claimed that its “leading apparel fabrics” will originate from “recycled, responsibly sourced renewable or regeneratively grown sources by 2025.” The company is also one of many that’s investing in its own resale business.

Outside of sustainability, Bambuck said she’s watching the return to in-person events and community-building. Like everyone else, it seems, she’s also keeping an eye on AI and how it could be used for things like copywriting.

But for now, Bambuck said she’s focused on the brand’s 2023 fall/holiday campaign. “We have great stories coming. We have great collaborations coming up. People just need to pay attention,” she said. “It’s coming.”

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