Columbia Sportswear:

A shared love of the greater outdoors – and great music

Columbia Sportswear and its subsidiary Mountain Hardwear use hand-built retail soundtracks to evoke the adventurous, nature-loving spirit they share with their shoppers.

Bringing the great outdoors inside

Columbia Sportswear’s love of the “greater outdoors” is expressed chiefly through the countless innovations it has brought to the outdoor apparel market over the past 70+ years. But Columbia’s retail-design team wanted to express the brand’s adventurous spirit in a away that customers could feel while shopping. A custom retail soundtrack that evoked the outdoorsy, action-oriented spirit of the brand was needed. But getting stakeholders to agree on exactly what types of music would set the right tone for the brand had proved challenging.

Brand Timbre met this challenge with an Audio Identity Profile. Beginning with a concise distillation of Columbia Sportswear’s brand identity (which company executives subsequently used for their own brand presentations), Brand Timbre led Columbia’s brand and retail-design teams through the process of exploring and then articulating the musical implications of Columbia’s ideals and brand personality. Brand Timbre also researched the musical tastes and listening habits of Columbia’s key audiences, along with differences in the musical sensibilities of Columbia’s regional markets.

Once completed and ratified by all stakeholders, Columbia’s Audio Identity Profile provided an objective framework that guided development of a custom retail music program (or a set of programs) that everyone could get behind. Customer feedback was immediate and overwhelmingly positive, as shoppers began complimenting sales associates and requesting the titles of songs being played in stores.

 Down with the cools kids

While somewhat smaller than that of Columba Sportswear, Mountain Hardwear’s audience tended to have a much more intense relationship with music. For these performance-driven adventurers, music was often the inspiration that fueled their outdoor exploits, and they had strong opinions about what types of music were authentic to their sensation-seeking lifestyles.

In a nutshell, Mountain Hardwear’s Audio Identity Profile revealed that they needed a retail soundtrack that was as “cool” as their customers. And this made sense from a branding standpoint as well, as Mountain Hardwear was widely regarded as one of the premier performance brands for professional-caliber outdoor adventurers.

As with Columbia’s in-sore music programming, Mountain Hardwear’s retail soundtrack was a hit with shoppers, inspiring one to comment that it was the “hippest store music” he had even heard. More importantly, it confirmed to him that Mountain Hardwear “got” him and even shared was his adventurous worldview.