3 Ways Outdoor Brands Can Retain Pandemic-Era Participants
The growth seen by the outdoor industry in 2020 represents a major opportunity for brands to reach a more diverse and broader audience.
About 70% of people say they have a greater appreciation of their surroundings when outdoors, according to the Harris Poll. But as pandemic-related restrictions continue to loosen, the outdoor activity boom will have some competition. Whether they’re eating at a restaurant, going to the gym, or simply spending time with friends and family, consumers are excited to return to normal activities.
Recent research conducted by the Outdoor Industry Association found that — due to factors like activities resuming, travel, and family demands — almost a quarter of consumers don’t intend to continue their outdoor activities once the pandemic ends. While it might be challenging to change those minds, the remaining three-quarters of new participants represent potential opportunities for industry marketers to continue expanding their audiences.
The pandemic has been a catalyst of digital transformation for consumers and businesses alike. Outdoor brands that want to retain pandemic-era customers need to adopt a hybrid approach of connecting via digital and physical touchpoints. Here’s how to engage audiences and keep them outdoors as the world journeys into the next normal:
1. Invest in content creation.
Branded content has surged in popularity due to the digital acceleration caused by the pandemic. Films, podcasts, shows, editorial content, and more can be powerful tools for brand storytelling that authentically connects with pandemic-era customers.
Recreational Equipment Inc., which has long been a leader in the outdoor community, announced in May 2021 that it started an in-house content group called Co-op Studios. REI aims to shift perceptions of the outdoor experience through its new content initiative while complementing its sustainability and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
Brands don’t need to form a whole group like REI, though. Creating educational videos or audio content regularly will be enough to engage new outdoor participants and make activities more approachable to a broader audience.
2. Leverage experiential marketing.
The appetite for live experiences is sky-high in the U.S. as consumers return to sporting events, concerts, and more. Outdoor industry brands can leverage experiential marketing to capitalize on this returning trend. For example, when Jeep sought to connect with the adventurous outdoor consumers at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado, Inspira Marketing Group designed a vehicle-led, immersive experience.
Inside a 30-foot-tall dome, a 360-degree film took attendees on a virtual mountain drive that transported them over boulders and mountain trails in Big Bear Lake, California, from behind the wheel of a Jeep Wrangler. The journey was further enhanced by elements designed to trigger the senses, including heated seats, blowing wind, pine scent, and nature sounds. Afterward, attendees were invited to enjoy a freshly made waffle, customize their own leather keychain with GPS coordinates of their favorite adventure spot, and get behind the wheel of a Wrangler to start dreaming up adventures.
3. Cater to a broader audience.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s research, new outdoor participants are more likely to be diverse, young, female, and living in urban areas. To hang onto these pandemic-era participants and continue to bring people from different backgrounds into the industry, brands must help broaden the scope of outdoor activities and create opportunities for folks who lack access or experience.
Merrell has taken this approach in its recent marketing efforts. As part of a collaboration with Dick’s Sporting Goods to attract younger urban consumers and bring a sense of outdoor adventure to everyday places, Merrell created the “Take a Hike” ad campaign. The videos highlight Merrell’s new multipurpose shoes and encourage people to think about hikes as something that can be taken anywhere, not just through woods or over mountains. The brand has also released voice-powered apps for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant to help people find nearby hiking trails.
The business world has experienced plenty of shifts over the past year and a half, but these changes have also opened new opportunities. Outdoor brands that maximize their engagement and marketing efforts with new customers moving forward will be positioned to generate continued success.