Outdoor brands sell the experience, but from the outside it seems that many could do better.
I’ve worked with brands big and small, in a number of industries ranging from tactical gear manufacturers, to doctors and attorneys, to convenience stores, and even a NASCAR driver.
All of these brands had something in common. They worked very hard to sell their products and services. Some figured out the formula and others missed it, often resulting in shouting at the top of their lungs to a largely indifferent audience.
When we started Trail Sherpa to specifically assist outdoor brands with their storytelling online we expected to see more of the same. But that hasn’t been the case.
Are outdoor brands different?
I really think that outdoor brands as a whole are different. So much of what sells outdoor gear is the experience, that lingering feeling you still have for that climbing trip to JTree last year or the smell of the air that you swear is better at the summit. We associate our gear with the sensation of accomplishment.
Gear holds a promise for the future adventures that will most certainly top what we did last time. It has too, right? Why else would we spend the extra money on down fill or cuben fiber.
Outdoor brands, by the very nature of their products, sell the experience.
Show me, don’t tell me
The problem that we have faced as a digital strategy advisor in other industries is that brands try too hard to “sell” the product. It’s always hard to convince a stakeholder that they will find more success in problem solving than in broadcasting. Dell has proven that in their efforts to help would-be laptop shoppers at the point of need.
Other brands are experimenting with near field communications to satisfy retail clients when they enter the store or pass nearby.
The challenge for outdoor brands is to go beyond just selling the experience.
My sleeping bag is warm, so how will down fill make my experience better? I don’t feel like I have a pack weight problem at this point, so why should I buy cuben fiber poles or switch to a bivy?
Outdoor brands need to find a way to move from telling me why I need the newest piece of gear to showing me how it will change my experience.
In every industry, there are brands that are exploring the fringe, looking for ways to be progressive. The outdoor industry is no exception. So who are the brands that are laying digital cairns for the rest to follow?
- Columbia is doing a great job of painting the picture with their #OmniTen program and the experiences they gave the team at Havasu Falls this year
- Patagonia has long been a walk the talk organization and their #becauseilove campaign is front and center on their home page
- GoPro can’t help but sell you the experience but using unpolished footage that screams “a real person did this” is the key to their marketing in my opinion
It’s the unfiltered perspective that seems to resonate in the digital world. It’s the moment when a consumer thinks “I so want to do that!” that the brands realize the point of need even if the consumer doesn’t yet recognize it.
In general, I think the outdoor brands are doing a better job of selling the experience than many other industries. But I still think many can do it better.
Focus on the experience
I’m a consumer too. I discover new brands and products all the time. My blogger friends like Brian Green break news on new products pretty frequently and his blog posts force me to take a closer look. Sometimes it’s those discoveries that alert me to a need that I was yet to know I had.
Tip #1: Brand sponsors need to foster conversations that explore their market segment in broader terms rather than the specific performance specs of their individual product. Seeing a product in a real world context can help consumers understand how it might impact their adventures.
Give consumers a venue
Brand sponsored venues are nothing new. We worked with Geigerrig in June to host a month long conversation about hydration. Lots of outdoor brands have sponsored ambassador programs that I would argue serve a similar purpose. Brands want people talking about their products. But sometimes it can be more powerful to explore the problems and assumptions rather than the product itself.
A lively discussion will bring consumers to a conclusion about your product and do so in light of a problem or challenge that they think it could solve. Isn’t that where the real point of need for consumers really counts anyway?
Tip #2: Give the conversations about your brand, products, and specific market segment a home online. Consumers will jump at the opportunity to discuss products and the problems they fix with their peers and the brands in that space.
Syndicate the content
The Hydration Summit was by design a gathering place for outdoor folks to talk about hydration. The conversations were led by well established outdoor bloggers and the brands behind the products were able to add to the conversation.
We intentionally aggregated the conversation on a dedicated site rather than dispersing it across 16 various blogger websites so that consumers could see the archive of content in a single place. This made following the conversations easier, it helped bolster the value of the site in the eyes of search engines, and it gave a face to the discussion.
Tip #3: The social web is a fantastic resource if you know how to use it or where to look for the answers to your questions. But for many, that can be a challenge. Use your venue to syndicate content on the focus topic making it easier for consumers to surface the content and join the conversation. The bonus is that the aggregated content can be a magnate for long tail search traffic and a venue that lives on well beyond the life of the initial campaign.
The bottom line
Outdoor brands may have an advantage over other industries because of the physical nature of the products and services that are offered. The key is to make the experience that the consumer has with nature more rewarding, deeper, or more inspiring. This is where I think many outdoor brands can do better.