Brands redefining adventure, in riding boots?

Brands redefining adventure, in riding boots?

Picture yourself breaking new ground on an unclimbed peak in Antarctica, or at the bottom of the ocean in a deep sea submersible, or doing science in the furthest reaches of Patagonia. Were you wearing a farm hat and a pair of riding boots?

Recently in a shopping mall I was swayed off my path by the moniker "FOR THE EXPLORERS" which was plastered across the front window of a R.M.Williams store. I absent mindedly wandered into the store expecting to find a new line of footwear or clothing actually designed "for explorers", who in my mind are people who find themsleves in the most extreme conditions on earth (or in space). Explorer is a lofty job title no doubt.

It didn't take long until I felt the penny drop, like I'd been duped and suddenly a fish out of water.

At the same moment I was offered help by a staff member so I blurted out, "Do you sell Goretex?" which instantly felt like a silly question, and I'm not even on the market for any.

I quickly yet smoothly backed out of the store to return to my original mission, left with various thoughts about what had happened.

I wondered if my idea of an explorer was different to everyone elses. There aren't many true explorers left because most corners of the world have been discovered. So if they were really making clothes "for the explorers", well that's a very small target market!

Does this lack of things to explore make us all explorers now, in some modern sense? Surely not. Shackleton would probably turn in his grave.

I suppose the early white explorers of Australia did it on horseback, so maybe it's some kind of historical reference?

How do R.M.Williams' core market feel about it?

Do I need some Goretex?

R.M.Williams provide a promotional video but it offers no clues, just beautiful people driving around the outback looking for photo opps.

Where's the Goretex?

Aren't Explorers people who achieve one of the pinnacles of human existence? What's next, riding boots on Mars?!

The best I can come up with is the R.M.Williams brand has such a stronghold in outback Australia that they are looking to expand into urban markets by redefining  themselves "For the explorers." Buy our stuff and feel like an explorer. Indeed the marketing around their campaign talks about travel in the outback, to go exploring together.

Successful brands define an archetype that their market aspires to, and a tribe they can belong to. Humans have always sought to identify with their tribe, and brands play on that in the modern era. To a brand strategiest it might be a small leap from people going travelling and exploring, to being an Explorer. Those are very different things.

As rural outfitters R.M.Wiliams has a stellar line of products. And as a modern fashion brand they can be afforded a degree of theatre. But an explorer? That's a stretch.

I wonder how R.M.Williams' core market feel about this?

For brands that have grown out of sub-culture their authenticity is unquestioned, they are insiders. For example, Scarpa for bushwalkers, or Wild Country for rock climbers.

For brands that are branching out its much harder, but it can still be done with authenticity, which is far more successful on the long run.

I'll put this down to a piece of bad storytelling, like a bad movie, someone had a good idea but it wasn't well executed.

Nike SB

Brands need to be authentic, true to themsleves, and act accordingly. There's a brilliant example that shows how brands can do this well, and it also involves shoes.

Nike's skateboaring brand Nike SB is the highest selling shoe brand in skateboarding. This is the same Nike that sponsors tennis players and golfers. Achieving this was no mean feat considering skateboarding is a strong sub-culture that has always been sceptial of big business and outsiders, a place where authenticity ranks high. And skaters are very brand-savvy in the sense that they understand how they work, how they can trick us. Skaters are tough customers.  

In 2002 Nike released their first purpose-built skate shoe and it was a flop. It was a double-whammy: the sole that was too stiff, and it was Nike.

Two years later, after hiring elite skateboarders including one who was also a shoe designer, and selling only through select small skateboaring stores, Nike SB struck gold. The shoes were designed and tested by skateboarders so had improved tenfold. This was more than just sponsorship, it was run as a grassroots project.  

Nike SB wove their story into the story of skateboarding. They are the giant brand that joined a sub-culture by acting authentically, and by showing other skateboarders that they had their best interests at heart.

There's more to the story including some interesting history dating back to the 1970s. If you'd like to read more about the rise of Nike SB check out this university thesis.

Nike SB, Why So Sad?

Nike SB has put it's weight behing the project Why so sad? which is a mental health and suicide awareness campaign started by a skateboarder. The project features in Nike SB's website navigation - the 5th of 5 links - showing the importance of this topic to it's markets and to Nike SB itself. It also appears on shoes and apparel. As brand tag-lines go, it's possibly the most unusual ever, but you can't argue that it's helping raise awareness of the topic and shining a light on some skateboarders who are doing great things for other skateboarders. As a brand strategy it's genius.

Spicers Retreats, A Beautiful Adventure

Just a side note here that illustrates how people can view adventure in different ways which is perfectly fine.

Spicers Retreats is a network of luxury hotels, guest houses, and now a glamping retreat.

Stating, "Some say it’s the journey, not the destination. Can’t say we agree with that…," they are promoting adventures so long as you stay within the grounds of one of their retreats.

Push your limits, no matter how limited they are right?! Points for honesty.

But call me a romantic, they got me on their definition of adventure: "To see the beauty in everything, is life’s greatest adventure." Who doesn't want some of that in their life? This statement has broad appeal, but on balance Spicers still doesn't seem like it's for me, but I'm not their market.

What is your next tag-line?

Considering the topics I've covered, how might you use your brand tag-line to forge a stronger connection with your customers? Consider what matters most to your markets, and you might find this is also what matters most to you. It's more than just filling our cups with adrenaline.

Branding is about building strong relationships the way people do with each other every day: with honesty, by wearing your heart on your sleeve, and by taking an interest in what matters to them to find common ground. If you do that you'll have more loyalty, and you won't have to work as hard to remind them (with marketing) why they should spend more of their time with you.

And if you're considering exploring new markets like R.M.Williams or Nike, by all means think outside the box, but be humble about it and understand the territory first. If R.M.Williams wants to outfit explorers they need to join in and learn something about the equipment and culture first. Or not. But maybe use Goretex if they do.

I'll finish with this photo of a skateboarding shoe from another shoe brand. Truly, this is a skate shoe. How's the irony?

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