Unlike any other, the outdoor industry provides a real chance for a lifestyle business of entrepreneurial dreams.
Like many, I started my own business for the freedom of creating my own destiny, the autonomy to go where I want to go, when I want to go. To create a business that mirrors my own values and would have the culture I sought but did not find at other places I previously worked.
For me, this meant creating a values-based agency focused on helping great companies with a mission to achieve both profit and impact. Over the last six years, we have found a values-alignment with companies across a wide array of industries with one clear standout — the outdoors.
Entrepreneurs and their teams working in outdoors have come to this business out of their passion to be outside in the beauty and serenity of nature — riding bikes, hanging at the mountain, rafting down the river, camping and drinking beer at the outdoor pub. A rich, full, community-filled lifestyle leading as their most important values.
It wasn’t until I moved my family (and my digital agency) to the outdoor mecca of the Rogue Valley, Oregon that I began to see I had been missing the mark on this thing called life. The 10-12 hours a day sitting inside, at my desk, staring at a screen, running social media & digital marketing programs for big sports and entertainment properties, and tech companies satisfied my bank account but not my soul.
As my team jumped into working with outdoor companies like my husband’s bike bling e-commerce business AVT.bike and MTO EDU member Revant Optics, I realized a tension point between the pull of outdoor professionals to be well, outside, with the push to move fast into digital.
The growing need to connect with modern day consumers, the fierce competition of big box retailers with hundreds of millions in digital advertising dollars, and digital-first, direct-to-consumer brands popping up seemingly out of nowhere felt at complete odds with the intention of the teams who work in this arena.
A conundrum, indeed.
And then, a point of clarity.
I saw the light of what happens when it all comes together. The seemingly opposite dynamics, coming together, juxtaposed into a perfect yin-yang balance.
And it’s when this balance strikes, the dream lifestyle business comes into play. Entrepreneurs, this is the promised land.
The outdoor industry values of community, connection and experiences are a perfect pairing with great social media and digital marketing. The result — the important interconnection between our physical and digital worlds, where online-offline communities coalesce into meaningful experiences, events and yes!: social sharing, evangelism and sales.
And here’s the real magic (and the reason for my personal passion) — the people who are stuck looking at a screen all day, like I was, are all in desperate need of more time outdoors, whether they know it or not.
Of course, this is the exact point of REI’s annual Black Friday #OptOutside campaign (feel encouraged to enjoy this instagram feed of over 14 million amazing outdoor photos using the hashtag).
It’s this potential for creating change, for impacting humans on a deeper level where the outdoor industry has a profound opportunity.
It’s going outside, connecting with other humans and waking up to the majestic world nature has provided that is the antidote to our addictions to technology and the dopamine fix of social media.
But for the industry to reach its full potential, for outdoor businesses to connect to consumers in this increasingly digital world, to outcompete Amazon and Backcountry.com — we need to overcome the resistance and avoidance of learning and investing in the powerful tools of data-based digital marketing, social media and e-commerce.
For business owners and marketers who would ‘rather be outside’, these key insights need to be screamed from the mountaintop.
Business Owners – I know there’s a tendency for CEOs, GMs, and Owner-Operators to think this ‘digital stuff’ is for their marketing team to cover and not something you need to concern yourself with. That’s a mistake. Just like you have to understand what’s happening in ops and finance and management, you also have to understand the impact of digital and social media, too.
You don’t have to be a pro but you do need to know some things. You need to understand the potential for your business and the path to get there. You need to know what resources and expertise you need to tap, and who can do what in-house vs what you can augment with agency and contractors (Hint: keep community managers in-house, outsource senior strategists and subject matter experts). You need to understand how much to invest and where, and you need to know how to know if you’re getting a return on your investment.
Too often business leaders do not have this knowledge and they hire young people who also do not have this knowledge. I see this so much, I’ve written a whole blog on the topic. If you’re not able to give them the guidance and management they need, likely, nobody is. And it likely means you’re investing in the wrong things and NOT showing a return on your investment. There’s a big difference between getting ‘likes’ and increasing revenue.
As the business leader, these are the absolute most basic requirements — for those that don’t want to just operate at the baseline, the next step is to actually become a social leader. All the data shows this is a beneficial and profitable investment of your time.
78% of people prefer to work for a company whose leadership is active on social media yet only 20% of CEOs have a social network account as of January of this year.
From more than a decade of teaching social, this boils down to a lack of understanding impact, prioritization or paralysis. To combat this, when I teach executives how to ‘do’ social media, I teach them with the intention of getting it down to one hour a week. One hour a week can make an enormous difference, when you have a clear path and training. Once you know how to do it, it’s just like that time you finally figure out how to not catch an edge on a snowboard — success and bliss.
Outdoor Marketers – Oh, boy do I know you’re busy right now, having just got off the Black Friday and Cyber Monday train. And now, it’s time to jump right into the holiday sales craziness to finish Q4 strong. For retailers, the last quarter of the year should deliver your biggest revenue with the first quarter a close second.
One of the biggest challenges I see with outdoor industry marketers the most is doing all the things, especially when it comes to those of you in retail: in-store, POS, email, advertising, email, print and sometimes also working the floor and/or customer service.
It’s a lot and requires you to be a generalist. Generalists are great but in this competitive environment, subject matter expertise is clutch. The big box retailers and big direct-to-consumer brands have whole teams and agencies dedicated to channel specific marketing. You don’t need a full-time team of ten to thirty marketers to compete, but you do need to be able to tap into experts when you need them most.
And while you are likely under-resourced (most small-to-midsize businesses are), you’re probably having trouble proving out your need for more resources. It’s hard to handle so many initiatives and also be deep in the data. At the same time, it’s the data that proves what’s working and what’s not. Surfacing up what’s working with hard numbers is what gets you more money and your programs better funded. I mentioned the work my team does with my husband’s bicycle company and it wasn’t until his mentor said “I pulled your advertising report this month and you should triple your ad budget.” AVT is one of our smaller clients and as a marketer himself, he’s also a tough sell. But good, clear data makes it easy for anyone to decide to invest more money into what’s working.
And most importantly of all, what I see so frequently with all the marketers and business owners in our online education program is the strong need for connection and comradery with others working through the slog of constant promotions, content distribution, data digging and day-to-day tactics. The industry is so focused on community, those doing all the marketing need that, too.
The good news is that the entire outdoor industry is absolutely in this together. Everyone has to work through this friction point, but those who do, have the potential to do something really impactful and of course, winning the digital marketing game gets you where you want to be most — outside, taking those awesome selfies from epic locations!