Columbia Sportswear vs. The North Face

As a self-proclaimed adventurer, I am constantly looking for clothing and gear to weather the elements. The two companies that seem to be on the cutting edge are Columbia Sportswear and The North Face. I have chosen to evaluate these two companies based on their online presence and social media impact. Let the games begin!


Columbia Sportswear began in 1938, as a hat distributor out of Portland, Oregon and grew into a multi-million dollar outerwear giant, sadly their social media has only recently started its’ growth. The company’s Facebook was started by a few brand fans in Chile talking about products and their reviews of those products. (Talk about earned media!) The company began a three-year plan in 2010 to invest in Facebook, Twitter and YouTube platforms, with a goal to build relationships with consumers online.


The North Face is a San Francisco-based company founded in 1968, as an equipment retail store for outdoor enthusiasts. Historically, they are known for sponsoring exploration endeavors and for their mantra “Never Stop Exploring”. In 2006, The North Face made the bold decision to move half of their marketing budget to their online division and they have been growing at exponential rates since.


Columbia’s website ( is simple and clean, focusing on the clothing sold. The colors used are blue and white and the font is easy to read, reinforcing their logo. This layout gives a feeling of a tranquil snowy day and accessibility of the brand. The first thing you see when you open the page is a four-photo slideshow of seasonally relevant products, which forwards to their online store. This site has a clear purpose statement at the bottom, as well as a site map and email signup. Contrary to the simple aesthetics of the site, the drop down menus take multiple clicks to go further and there are no links to social media platforms. Using HubSpot’s Marketing Grader, Columbia’s website could improve their online marketing in a few ways. The grader gave 46% for “Top of the Funnel” items, suggesting adding a link to their blog and social sharing buttons to the website home page. Overall, Marketing Grader gave Columbia a score of 76 out of 100 for online performance.

One interesting fact about Columbia Sportswear is that they buy Google ad space for both “Columbia” and “Colombia” search terms because people often spell their company name incorrectly.

The North Face’s website ( is the complete opposite of Columbia, but still aesthetically pleasing. The dark color scheme compliments the logo, while epic photos of extreme outdoor sports flash across the main page. This layout gives a feeling of adventure and motivation. The North Face’s website has links to anything and everything that you could need. They give links to their social media platforms, online store and investor information at both the top and bottom of their site. These links usually only take one click to get further into the site. The font is easy to read in most areas, except the gray on black at the bottom. Their site reinforces the idea that they focus on innovation and exploration of the outdoor sports market. According the Marketing Grader, The North Face received a 62% for “Top of the Funnel”, suggesting that they create remarkable content that is easier to share. Overall, The North Face received an extremely high score of 92 out of 100, showing that they are already taking advantage of many online opportunities and visitors are “very engaged”.

Social Media

For the purposes of this comparison I used Klout, which measures the impact and range of social media. This site draws off social media, analyzing content and interactions with the community.

Columbia was a latecomer to the social media world, so they haven’t quite mastered the art of social networking yet, but they do offer some interesting content. Columbia has 331,662 “likes” on Facebook, 42,865 followers on Twitter and 1,441 subscribers on YouTube. Most of their content is driven towards showing consumers products and innovations. This YouTube video showcases that Columbia likes to use humor and a friendly voice with their customers.

They have on average one hour between tweets, which are usually picture-based or communicating with their followers. Their custom hash tag “#tryingstuff” was implemented earlier last year, using it in all of their tweets.Additionally, Columbia does offer a blog, with an easily located RSS feed. The problem with their blog is there is no link on the website or Facebook. The Klout score for Columbia is 82,which indicates their ability to use social media effectively to communicate with their target audience. Overall, it seems like most of their social media is minimal and they lack cohesiveness between all platforms.

The North Face was recognized by Outdoor Magazine (using Fansometer) in 2011 for their outstanding social media effort, but are they maintaining the pace? The North Face has 107, 582 followers on Twitter, 3,150,152 “likes” on Facebook, and 12,313 subscribers on YouTube. The tone of their social media is encouraging, showing users the beauty of outdoor activities. This can be seen in this YouTube video, which comes from the expedition section of their YouTube channel.

They engage users on social media by releasing video and talking directly to followers. The North Face was talked about 22,000 times in conversations last week on Facebook and 11,000 people “checked-in” to stores. In addition, they offer a Pinterest page with 160 pins and an Instagram. The North Face offers three blogs, all which highlight different areas of exploration and extreme outdoor sports. Their Klout score was only an 83, due to their lengthy blog titles and complicated content. It seems that The North Face has a wider range, but does not utilize Twitter as effectively as Columbia. Overall, The North Face’s social media efforts seem to be more appealing to a wider range and are easily accessible.

Search Engine Optimization

According to the Marketing Grader, Columbia has “969,000 pages indexed by search engines” while The North Face boasts 3,000,000 pages. This means that when a person uses a search engine for content about the brand, they will find that number of pages with information. The mozRank for The North Face is 6.3(out of 10) and 6.6 for Columbia, which shows authority and popularity of links. Columbia Sportswear has 7.6 million results when searched using Google and The North Face has 563 million results. Using Google Trends, The North Face reaches internationally, while Columbia reaches mainly to North America.


Through my research, it seems as though The North Face’s head start seems to be working. Their presence online is cohesive and engaging, using many outlets and staying on top of new opportunities. Columbia Sportswear has potential for their Internet marketing to be profitable, but at this time it seems disconnected. It was a bloody fight, but the winner is…



What do you think Columbia could do to improve? Do you think Columbia is utilizing traditional media instead? Let me know by commenting or email me at

Information was verified on 2/26/2012*


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