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Editor’s Note: This interview was originally published in 2014. Carpenter has since moved on from The North Face, but his experience still speaks volumes to what the position is like.
Aaron Carpenter had one job at The North Face: making sure that everything—the gear, the events, the advertising, and the athletes—reinforce the belief and motivate consumers worldwide to “Never Stop Exploring.” It’s a big job, but Carpenter tells us what it’s really like to be in his shoes.
What’s your typical day like?
The first thing I decide is if I’m going to ride my bike or run to work. Then I check social media to see what’s going on in the outdoor world and check my email. A lot of my time is spent working with sales and managing the marketing team of about 50 people. However, I’m traveling about half the time to help stores and go to events. I go to China and Europe a couple times each year—but I’d say 60-70 percent of my travel is in the U.S. Checking out skiing and running events are my favorite.
Do you consider your job to be creative based, business based, or outdoor based?
Creativity is used in all that we produce, whether it’s photos, copy, or video. You have to keep with the message of the brand. The competition around that is getting much higher so you have to think of ways to stay ahead of the other companies. We also plan athlete and retail events to keep people engaged with the brand.
On the business side, we have lots of stores across the country that we have to operate. If we don’t have the business side, then we can’t be as creative as we want to be. On the outdoor side, I’ve been lucky to grow up with sports, but at least once per quarter I try to do something that pushes me. That’s why I came to The North Face—to have adventures.
Is there a difference between what advertising messages resonate in the U.S. versus globally?
In general, 80 percent of the messages are similar and 20 percent are different. The core messages around exploration and the desire for people to go out and push themselves in the outdoors are the same. Yet, it can be expressed differently. For instance, we talked to hundreds of Chinese outdoors enthusiasts, and asked what the outdoors means to them. Many of them held up pictures of the open road. And in Latin America, we have to adjust our messages for warmer-weather sports.
The North Face prides itself on being athlete tested in every condition, what does this entail for your job?
For my job, that means we have to have a strong athlete team. We have to have the best skiers, climbers, and athletes in the business. They’re in here all the time giving feedback to the product designers. They go out on expeditions; we do about 10-15 each year. When they’re out there, if they notice something wrong with the gear, they’ll contact our product designers to address the problem.
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How do you choose the athlete team?
Our sports marketing team has a whole process. A lot of it comes from referrals from other athletes. We try to find people who are young, ambitions, and ready to compete at the next level. They all love being outside. They have that common bond. They all push the boundaries of their sports. It goes back to our brand purpose—helping people push themselves in the outdoors. We want them to do these crazy things and then come back and be able to tell the story. With these sports gaining popularity, we’re starting to see our athlete team compete on the global scale.
What do you do for everyday athletes?
We do a lot of projects to get people to the outdoors. We believe that if you get more kids outside and get them to fall in love with the outdoors, they’ll care about it more. We support the Explore Fund, which funds non-profit organizations that work to reconnect children with nature. Some of these are camps, and some are kids going out and connecting with nature in different ways.
You are a founding member of the Conservation Alliance. What marketing role does sustainability play at The North Face?
Sustainability is incredibly important to me. It’s imbedded in our culture as outdoor enthusiasts. It’s also a key point of what we do from a marketing perspective. If you walk around our headquarters we have posters saying how much water we have saved. We have worked with chemical engineers to reformulate our products, so our gear isn’t as harmful to the environment.
What would you change about your job?
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Originally published as a Skiing Magazine website article in June, 2014. It has since been updated with new photos, hyperlinks, and edited to reflect that Carpenter no longer works at The North Face.