CMO of the Week: Cotopaxi’s Brad Hiranaga

Presented by

Joining global adventure brand Cotopaxi has given Brad Hiranaga a new opportunity – to grow an early stage purpose-driven brand into a household name.

Joining global adventure brand Cotopaxi has given Brad Hiranaga a new opportunity – to grow an early stage purpose-driven brand into a household name.

“What I get really excited about and why this job is so compelling is that idea of creating this next iconic brand,”says Hiranaga. “As a marketer and brand person, being able to work on a brand that has as much potential is like a dream come true.”

Cotopaxi is on a mission to “build gear that fuels both outdoor experiences and global change.” The company makes and sells sustainable outerwear and gives 1% of revenues to nonprofits that support communities with poverty.

“This brand has a mission built into its business model and into its DNA,” explains Hiranaga. “The idea that we're going to be championing human sustainability and taking on this problem of really extreme poverty is really motivating. All of the brand building work that I focus on is to help create that flywheel so that we can have a bigger impact as an organization in the good that we are trying to do.”

The brand has more than a dozen stores throughout the Western United States, an online store and sells its products in partners including REI. To help tell its story, the brand often partners with other brands. For instance, the company recently launched a holiday partnership with meditation app Headspace. The Breath In and Adventure Out program offers a subscription to the app for two months with the purchase of Cotopaxi gear. Cotopaxi employees will receive a one-year subscription to the app to support their mental health 

Prior to joining Cotopaxi, Hiranaga started his career at Pepsi and then spent more than a decade at General Mills. He has also served as interim chief marketing officer of Beyond Meat. Brand Innovators caught up with Hiranaga from his home office in Minneapolis, MN to talk brand purpose, the importance of customer experience and about his foundational experience at General Mills. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What is your approach to brand building and storytelling?

Cotopaxi was built as a direct-to-consumer brand through its own channels and these channels are a big part of telling that story. For a brand that's our size and still pretty young, we're into multi-layered storytelling. We tell stories about our products and the outdoor gear that we make and the activities that we enable people to do. We have this belief about inspiring people to see the world and make it better. We make gear and apparel that allows people to go have those adventures big or small. 

Then the other part of the story that has to be really compelling is how we talk about this mission of our brand and what we're trying to achieve. That’s a little bit different, because those stories are usually more for folks who are familiar with the brand and want to take a step deeper and learn more about what we're trying to do there so we can amplify the impact that we have. 

What is your approach to customer experience?

It is super important for any brand to be consumer centric. The way that we approach things starts with the products that we make –how we think about jackets and packs. We're a lifestyle brand for people that like hiking, walking and running. Our product team is pretty amazing and makes sure that the fit is right, the quality is right and you can do these outdoor activities with the right functional support. 

The idea of our stores and how you enter a retail experience and we can tell the story is really important. What is the consumer journey there? A big chunk of our sales and how people run into the brand for the first time through ecommerce through our direct-to-consumer site, so we talk a lot about the journey there and making sure that every place that they go to within our retail experience feels additive. They learn something or find something they are looking for. It solves a problem. 

Then we work closely with our wholesale partners like REI to make sure that our brand really comes through and we're able to tell a story meaningfully within their ecosystem. There's multiple consumer journeys happening. It's really important for us to be rooted in the consumer across all those things. 

Who is your target audience and what channels are you using to reach them?

We call our audience the Globescout. Outdoor brands actually do some of the most compelling brand building that's out there. we're in a really great category for marketing, but what makes Cotopaxi different outside of our mission and what we are known for – more colorful and really sustainably designed products– is probably who we are for. Globescout is your typical outdoor consumer, a little bit younger, we say a little more female and definitely much more diverse. We really try to lead into being extremely inclusive in the way that we think about who we're for and what we're enabling them to do. 

Our brand is an outdoor brand. It's an adventure brand, but it's not necessarily a brand that you have to be at the top of the summit of a mountain to wear. You can wear our brand and have those experiences, but you can also do it if you're just getting outdoors for the first time. This person oftentimes is a little more urban, isn't an outdoor expert. Cotopaxi is a great gateway for them to take that first step into experiencing the outdoors and having adventures. We don't presume that it has to be in a National Park. It can really be an adventure at a park in your neighborhood. The idea for us is really about connection. For that target consumer it's really about how do we create a great connection outdoors with other people and have experiences learning about other cultures. The outdoors also is a way for people to build community to learn about other people to build empathy and compassion out there in the world.

We're a very social brand. We're very active in creating content stories for our audience, but also we're a brand that is important to experience in real life and we do that through our stores. We're also doing that more through events and experiences. We put on our own festival– a 24-hour adventure race. We're doing that across 10 colleges this year. We have interns put those events on and they draw hundreds, if not thousands of people and create amazing amounts of content and people have amazing experiences. We're also taking that and pushing into other types of experiential things. We were at an outdoor music festival in the DC area, which allowed us to get into music and culture and activate a different way. That’s an area that our brand really leans in because we want people to be able to touch, feel and learn about the brand, especially a brand that has many stories about sustainability and about our mission as we do.

Can you talk about how working for other brands such as General Mills helped shape your approach to this role?

Most of the companies and brands I've worked at are much larger and much more mature. When you work for those kinds of companies, you just get a lot of great foundational fundamentals. How do you build a brand? How do you go to market? What do you think about driving sales and profit? All those experiences across many different kinds of brands really are useful every day. The difference with this job is that it's much more early stage in a brand and the growth is so much more rapid that things are changing just so much more quickly. 

It's about taking those more foundational skills and finding the right balance with a highly dynamic high growth environment to really make sure that processes are done with the right balance that still allows experimentation and being entrepreneurial in a way that Cotopaxi needs. I chose here for this reason. I know how to build brands and do marketing, but doing it in this environment in this brand, which is laden with potential and is highly dynamic. There's a lot of change happening. I wanted that experience. It's a great learning opportunity because I get thrust into something that's different every day.

What are your plans for marketing during the holiday season?

We're introduced to a lot of people through the holidays and gift guides. It's about not just giving gifts but giving good. When somebody buys something at Cotopaxi, at least 1% goes towards our foundation that is working towards with other partners and providing grants to alleviate poverty. By nature buying from Cotopaxi, you're doing good. We also allow people to give more good if they want through other donations. That's really the theme that goes throughout our holiday season. 

We are also doing something new this year and kicking off our holidays though with a collab with headspace. Headspace does a phenomenal job in championing mental wellness. That's become such a much more talked about and needed type of service and needed type of tool. We’re excited to partner with them because mental wellness in general is getting outside and being able to connect with people in a different way and doing the different outdoor activities that you people want to do every day. 

It was an amazing way to come together and collaborate to really help us support the message of what they're doing and introduce more people to their brand and their platform and vice versa for them to introduce more people to us as a way to get into the outdoors. We've done some customized content that they'll be running to help people get outdoors and think through different ways that they want to become more aligned with nature.

Interested in our events?


Learn More


Miller High Life bows branded holiday tree

Read More

Pop-Tarts challenges fans to make predictions ahead of Pop-Tarts Bowl

Read More