Last week I spent a few days wandering around the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah at the Outdoor Retailer trade show looking at cool gear, admiring designs and chatting it up with various outdoor companies to learn more about industry marketing trends. As a lifelong passionate skier, I am like a kid in a candy store at these trade shows. I really enjoy seeing the new gear, swapping stories and admiring the great marketing that these companies have put together. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, each year the industry generates $646 Billion in consumer spending in the United States alone. So what are these companies doing to market themselves?
Marketing Through Storytelling
"Man, it was a great day. We had 30" of powder, bluebird skies and we were seven miles deep in the Tetons with no other skiers to steal our fresh snow." Sounds pretty amazing right? The biggest trend in the outdoor industry is selling the experience through storytelling. It may not be a hard pitch to sell a specific product but it is very effective, especially with millennials. Outdoor companies are busy creating photos, blogs, videos and podcasts that share unique experiences made possible by using their gear. Video is the biggest tool and many of the larger outdoor companies have become somewhat of a production company in their own right, producing tons of content for consumers to engage with. Salomon, a ski manufacturer, has a very successful series on their FreeSki TV YouTube channel that gets upwards of three quarters of a million views on their videos. All videos are branded and feature skiers shredding the mountains on every continent in Salomon gear and apparel. The stories are intriguing and engaging and share the adventerous travels that await anyone who buys their products. It is truly an inspiring way to engage the consumer. This is just one example from an industry that is churning out content at a rapid pace because it works.
Using Brand Ambassadors to Drive Social Content
The Outdoor Retailer show is mix of outdoor brands selling their products, retail shops doing their buying for next year and media members covering the latest and greatest. There are also some very good educational oppotunities to help businesses learn and grow. I sat in on a panel of five social media experts which included digital marketing directors, professional athletes and brand managers. This talk focused on the use of brand ambassadors who create content (photos, videos, blogs, etc.) from their experiences using a company's outdoor gear in exchange for money or free products. They are basically sponsored athletes that use their large network of social media followers to represent the brand. Brand ambassadors have been a very succesful tool at sharing outdoor experiences millions of social media users and inspiring them to use a brand's products. For a brand to use an ambassador it must first have some clear ideals of who they are as a company, who their target demographic is and some realistic expectations about their relationship with the brand ambassador. It has to be a good fit for both the company and the ambassador with clear lines of communication so that the company is portrayed in an authentic manner reflective of their ideals. As a small brand it can be difficult to find the right fit, but through mining hashtags it is possible to find outdoor enthusiasts that are living the lifestyle and already sharing the experiences that can sell a company's products. The concept of the brand ambassador isn't new-- Michael Jordan has been selling Nike shoes since 1983, but with social media it has opened it up to more than just professional athletes.
Helping Consumers Through Inbound Marketing
When you think of the outdoor industry you think of behemouths like The North Face, Patagonia, or K2, but when you go to an outdoor retail show you discover brands of all sizes that all aspire to sell their products around the world. These smaller companies don't have the big budgets to produce their own video stories or pay athletes to show off their gear. However, they still have the ability to reach consumers through inbound marketing. Inbound marketing is the process of creating helpful content for a specific target audience that engages them and initiates the sales process. It's a great way to create content that connects with consumers and builds a relationship which hopefully leads to sales. As a consumer, when you are getting ready for a backpacking adventure you may search for helpful information on the internet to make your trip a little easier or to inspire you. Brands are utilizing consumer's internet habits to create content that engages people who are looking for adventure and may need a little advice or some gear. In chatting with Smartwool, a Merino wool sock manufacturer, they have maintained a blog that provides everything from tips and helpful info to inspirational content and information about their products. They even rely on brand ambassadors to do some of the writing for them. Here is a great example from July, "5 Things to Try on Your Next Hike." Creating unique content doesn't only mean video storytelling. Company blogs and an inbound marketing strategy is helping smaller outdoor industry companies grow.
Content Is King
At the Outdoor Retailer, one thing was for certain, content is king! Content marketing is the standard these days. Placing ads in magazines, on TV, or even in banner ads has become very expensive and difficult to track. Creating quality content that engages and inspires consumers is where marketing is at right now and there are ways to achieve this with different types of marketing budgets. You don't have to be Columbia Sportswear to grow your brand. You can be Altai Skis or Bambool and still utlize content marketing.