This article is second in a series on branding in the outdoor industry and adventure tourism.
Fact: To turn the right customers on to your brand you need to send the right signals at the right time. This works for winning new prospects, and nurturing your existing customers.
So what do we need to do in the outdoors? The answer is in what makes outdoor and adventure brands different to other brands, and why people come to the outdoors. What are their expectations? What do they care about? What are we actually selling?
Sell steaks and the sizzle
The experiences and products on offer from the outdoor and adventure tourism industry target a broad market with different demographics, but they promise the same basic things: enjoyment, adventure and fulfilment. Even outdoor products are about selling an experience, because they play a vital role in whatever the customer is planning.
So if we're all selling experiences, what are they exactly? Abseil down this, ski across that... These are the steaks.
If that's all you're selling then you're missing the heart of the story. The sizzle is the way the steak captures your senses, how it makes you feel, creates anticipation and makes you salivate.
Most people will tell you that they come to the outdoors and adventure tourism to fill their cup with adventure and adrenaline. Even if they don't realise it, we all know that there's more to it than that. Being pushed to your limits and spending time in nature are deeply personal experiences and an opportunity for growth. It's hard to put your finger on these things, let alone articulate it to a customer and make a promise about it. And as every outdoor guide will tell you, every client has a unique experience.
So how do we do it? We need to talk about brand values, emotions, setting expectations and building trust.
"When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion."– Dale Carnegie
The opportunities for achievement and personal growth in the outdoors puts the spotlight on a important feature of brand theory: emotional rewards. In very simple terms, these are the positive feelings someone gets from a product, experience or place.
You don't buy a hiking boot just for ankle support. The right boot will improve confidence in safety and performance - an insurance policy.
Seven days splitboarding in NSW backcountry? Some of it's going to hurt, but you'll tell the story over and over and come back for more.
The promise of an outdoor experience is all the excitement, fear and expectations prior to the trip, the thrill of the trip itself, and how life improves afterwards. It's one long fun emotional rollercoaster.
“Jobs fill your pockets. Adventures fill your soul.” – Jaime Lyn Beatty
Many industries define emotional rewards in their brand strategy, but for outdoor and adventure brands it is central to our promise and offering.
Emotions are important to branding because of the role they play in the formation of memories. The human mind isn't great at remembering what someone said, but it will remember how a person made you feel. If you want your brand to be memorable you need to be pushing the right buttons.
Successful brands define the emotional rewards that they want their customers to feel in a very specific way and use that to inform all design, copywriting and anything else that they are using to communicate to customers. This requires an intimate understanding of your target customers and what makes them tick.
Emotional rewards are the result of the customers' effort and your promise.
Top 5 values for outdoor and adventure brands
The things that you and your brand values are the same things that your customer values. So this should be easy! Shared values are fundamental to how people relate to each other, so not suprisingly it's the same for how people and brands relate to each other. Lets list them and break it down.
Every brand is unique, so take this as a set of fundamentals for your brand:
- Safety (goes without saying)
- Thrills not spills
- Achieve my personal best
- Feel new
- Healthy me, healthy planet
Safety has been drummed into us so it has become a way of life and rightly so. Safety is important to outdoor branding because it addresses the basic premise to this whole adventure which is that the customer is putting their lives in your hands. Whatever product or service you provide, a safe experience is paramount. So why should customers trust you with their safety?
Thrills not spills. Well everyone likes a thrill, and no one wants a spill. This is about integrity in your planning and engineering. Whatever you're offering must deliver what it promises and the stakes are high. This is true for clothing and equipment as much as an experience or destination brand.
Help me achieve my personal best. Not everyone is a Reinhold Messner or Lynn Hill. But it doesn't matter. PBs are the number one personal goal for most sportspeople, and although in the outdoors we don't usually have a way to measure it, nor is everyone setting out to break some record. Some kind of challenge is central to the experience. I've seen adults take their first tentative steps on a dirt track. The feelings they get are near-on identical to anyone else trying something new or beyond the limit of what they know, which is what it's all about. PB!
Feel new. Feel something new, feel renewed... This is where we get deep down to the heart of why we're in the outdoors, and what the outdoors offers that is unique from any other industry. This is the most rewarding part for the customer, lifge changing sometimes. We as an industry compete for people's time with many lesser experiences, none can promise life affirming and life changing experiences the way we can.
Healthy me, healthy planet. In the outdoors and adventure tourism we're working with some hot topics: Physical and mental health, the health of our environment, and valuing indigenous culture. These are things that people really care about and have deep concerns about. Our industry is in a position to educate, heal and make a difference, and your customers will thank you. Yes they may be looking for adrenaline, but also make the experience more rich and unexpected.
Do you have something to add to this list? Let me know.
By understanding how to communicate these values you can find common ground with customers and build trust. Once we have trust, people are more likely to believe your promises, but what are they looking for exactly? It's the sizzle.
Did someone say promise? The old adage under promise and over deliver is true for the outdoors. It creates delight and builds trust.
You manage customer expectations every day, in a tentative balance between what you can provide vs what the customer is hoping for. Setting expectations is a core function of your brand, and when done well can make your day to day efforts in managing expectations easier.
In the outdoors, expectations naturally run high for a number of reasons:
- Money invested: Usually customers are putting in effort to budget and save for the outdoors.
- Time invested: Maybe it's a weekend away from the family, or significant fitness preparation. Like money, time is a precious commodity.
- Achievement: Not everyone gets a sense of personal achievement in their daily life. People head to the outdoors seeking that kind of fulfilment.
- Personal growth: Less tangible, but powerful and unique to the outdoors and wellness industries, people who experience life changing personal growth will come seeking it again. The services and products associated with those experiences will find a place in peoples hearts, but equally will generate high expectations.
“Because in the end, you won’t remember the times you spent in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” – Jack Kerouac
Getting scared?! You should be!
Building and maintaining trust with customers is probably the most basic and fundamental activity of any business. They won't pull out their wallets otherwise.
My favourite analogy for building trust with a customer is it's like taking care of a houseplant—just the right amount of care, don't overwater, and it will blossom. Some houseplants are super easy to take care of, others are expert-level.
It's just the nature of adventure tourism and the outdoor industry that we fall into the expert-level category when it comes to building trust with customers, for obvious reasons: they are usually spending big, and probably putting their safety, or life, in your hands.
This industry helps people step into the unknown, outside the bounds of what they might normally consider safe. That takes guts on both sides. This is true whether your brand is an outdoor product, experience or destination. In our list of brand values this applies mainly to safety but we're also talking about the whole promise. Can you deliver the thrill? Can you help me achieve a PB?
Outdoor products, experiences and services need to have high integrity, and the prospective customer needs to form a high level of trust before they will be willing to take the leap with you.
Win new customers and keep them
So if you put in the extra effort to build trust with your customers, make clear your shared values, set realistic expectations and appeal to the emotional rewards that they are seeking, you'll get loyal customers. Easy said!