Content Marketing & Sailing: the lesson from North Sails


Finally, summer time! Best time for sun, beach and relax.

For some of us, time for sailing. I’ve spent the last two weekends sailing in Newport, Rhode Island, on the Atlantic coastline. Newport, the recognised sailing capital of the States (not to be confused con Newport Beach, CA). One of the best 50 places for sailing around the world.

Sailing: long time passion, but only this summer, for the very first time, I had the chance to get things seriously. It was a lifetime opportunity. I decided to take it.

I am passionate about Content Marketing, too. Not a big news. I have been writing and speaking about content marketing for the last 12 months. People who visit this blog (mostly friends & relatives) know it well. It was natural for me to combine the two passions and write about great examples of content marketing in the sailing sector. Even if B2C is not really my comfort zone.

I was looking for a superb example of content marketing. But, despite all efforts, I couldn’t find any. Which is very interesting, considering the huge narrative and the fascinating stories that sailing and events like the America’s Cup or the Volvo Ocean Race can generate. Think about the recent victory of UK’s BAR in Portsmouth and the possibility to “bring the cup back” to the UK (#BringTheCupHome) after centuries of missed victories. Think about the amazing stories of Oceans, races, sailors and their boats.

Unfortunately not so many brands are making full advantage of this narrative today, from a content marketing perspective. With very few exceptions. Volvo is sponsoring the Volvo Ocean Race, for example (where teams are forced to use Volvo’s catamaran models). BMW, Louis Vuitton, Henri Lloyds are among sponsors of the UK’s team within the America’s Cup race. Not surprisingly the event is generating sponsorship opportunities (see also the recent article from the Guardian: “Will UK brands jump into the slipstream created by Froome and Ainslie?”); but, with all respect for these and other examples, I was looking for something different (= Content).

And then I found it.

North Sails (NS) is the world leading sailmaker. It has a market share of +95% (data coming from my queries in Newport among the sailors community…). Company’s name comes after Lowell North, the founder. Engineer, sailor and entrepreneur. A few years ago NS started selling sailing apparel and accessories in Italy. Target: mass consumer market. Italy, the country of fashion. With few exceptions, nobody knew about NS in Italy. Neither as a sailmaker, nor as an apparel company. The brand had to enter into a new territory with very fierce competition, and had to position itself as a brand with a long experience in the sailing sector. How would you do that? How could you tell the market that this “new” brand (new in the Italian clothing sector) has a so long and successful history in sailing? The company decided to tell the story of his founder and his team, and released a short movie. “Tigers”.

It was early 2012.

And then a magazine with the same title was made available the same year in all stores and mailed to subscribers and clients.

Michael Levitt, writer and sailor, and author of a book about NS and its founders, writes: “The story of North Sails closely mirrors that of professional sailing in the modern era – many of the most famous names in the sport spent at least part of their careers at North. The title (Tigers) comes from the name Lowell North, the company founder, gave to his sailmakers”.


“Tigers” are all men who decided to follow Mr. North in his business and sailing adventure. Lowell North, Tom Whidden, Peter Barrett, Tom Schnackenberg, John Marshall and Terry Kohler – all great sailors. All featured by NS’s content approach. Each piece of NS’s collections was dedicated to one of these well-known sailors; the founding fathers of NS. This can be seen through the beautiful patches and graphics on the garments. These are related to the special sailing events they have participated in, like the Olympic games, or the America’s Cup, and the titles they have won.

‘Tigers’ comes from the name Lowell North, the company founder, gave to his sailmakers.

It’s overall a great example of content marketing, dated 2012-2013. I wonder why NS decided to stop the approach after this excellent and inspiring start. I can read on NS’s US website:

North Sails has recently established a focused presence in North America through the launch of a North American webstore, where you purchase your favorite North Sails products delivered directly to you. North Sails will soon be announcing its opening of stores within North America.

Hopefully the story of Mr. North and the Tigers will continue, maybe with new details and anecdotes, jumping across the years, from 2012 to 2016, and the geographical boundaries, from Italy to the States.

It would be a shame to end it here.

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