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Hudson Trail Outfitters and Their Flawed Brand Positioning
By: Sarah Jane Dunaway
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In the Washington, DC metro area (specifically Annapolis, Maryland) there is a billboard with copy that reads, “Built for the World’s Hardest Climbs.” Next to the text is an image of a North Face jacket “climbing” its way out from a mountain cliff.

When I first saw this billboard a couple weeks ago I thought, “Cool, North Face. REI must be around here somewhere.” After my fourth take I noticed the tiny Hudson Trail Outfitters logo located at the bottom of the ad.

Hudson Trail Outfitters’ ad campaign reveals an unfortunate but valuable lesson in the importance of brand positioning (and use of positioning statements). Researching your brand’s perception in the marketplace can be beneficial in sparking a creative concept or shedding light on a potential new market.

More importantly, brand positioning recognizes the perception of your brand in the minds of your target audience. Me driving down the road, seeing a billboard for North Face, and immediately thinking of REI is probably the number one error for HTO.

Why pick the one product and brand that everyone already sells? Research your competitors’ brand positions. Who is their target audience and why are they different (or the same) as your target audience? 

If REI is your competition, don’t highlight a product line that is heavily carried at your competitor’s store; it only reminds your audience of the product line (and not you). If your competitor has done their homework, reminding your audience about that product will remind your audience about your competitor. Not good.

Focus on something different or a specific product line you carry that your competitor doesn’t offer and think about why it’s important to your target audience. Know what products are offered by your competitor and other stores offering such a popular product as North Face.

I imagine that in this real-life scenario, HTO assumed they could flawlessly advertise North Face because the closest REI is 30 miles away (from where the billboard is located). Given traffic in Washington, DC, 30 miles can take up to 90 minutes travel time, but guess what’s closer? REI.com, Amazon.com, and even NorthFace.com.

The other hidden flaw in this advertising campaign is that Hudson Trail Outfitters has highlighted a product that is not cheap; whose demographic is physically active and loves the outdoors. In the Washington, DC area that includes most of the military. This is extremely important to know when advertising a product that can easily range from $100–$500. For outdoor gear the military will go to the Navy Exchange, for example, which often sells North Face products at a discount and tax free.

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About the Author

Sarah Jane Dunaway is a brand strategist and design consultant, and the writer and creator behind the blog Clean & Proper. A former member of the paper and printing industry, Sarah Jane specializes in helping businesses of all sizes streamline marketing communications by creating compelling brand identity systems and corporate identity packages. Find her online here

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