By  on September 27, 2007

The North Face knew that just posting a photo of Dean Karnazes, the man who ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days last year, wouldn't cut it with the brand's Web site users.

So the San Bernardino, Calif.-based company opted for an online chat — just another way The North Face taps into its performance-oriented customers. That was just one of the many examples highlighted by senior marketing manager Sarah Gallagher. "Communicating with the core customer is super critical to us," she said. "We want to communicate the soul of our brand and of our core audience."

True to The North Face's tag line, "Never Stop Exploring," the brand's Web site has changed substantially over the past five years and now its home page is entirely interactive. Visitors can get training tips from ultrarunners; podcasts from explorers — such as what it's like to trek across a frozen river and the required gear — and an assortment of other insider info.

Getting fans of the brand interested in the site has helped U.S. online sales average 25 percent annual growth, Gallagher said, although the brand's site does not have e-commerce capability as of yet. Instead, the company has partnered with 11 of its best dealers and links product on its site to their sites. The North Face also shares content with them to reenforce that performance-oriented image.

"We want people to buy our products, at the end of the day," said Gallagher. The North Face will encourage just that next year when it launches e-commerce on its own site.
Keeping an open line of communication with consumers also allows the company to gather data about their shopping habits, Gallagher said. For instance, 65 percent of Gen-Yers have bought online in general, she said.

In addition, the Web influences one in five off-line purchases, and 65 percent of consumers research online before going into a retail store, she said. As a result, North Face retailers have seen sales driven from the company's Web site rise by up to 49 percent year-to-date, Gallagher said.

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