5 Ways Sports & Outdoor Enthusiasts Craft Their Sense of Self with Brand03.27.13 / David Lemley
They search for the right experience
You can debate all you want about whether outdoor enthusiasts are wired differently, one thing for sure is that their pastimes become their passion quite quickly. In much the same way that a spiritual seeker looks for a religion that fits their belief system, these amateur athletes are also looking for the right fit. For the spiritual person, the first indication they’ve found what they’re looking for could well be a feeling of belonging. In outdoor pursuits it could well be a given sport’s equivalent of the euphoria marathoners feel when they reach their highest performance level.
They find their tribe
Once they know their passions, they seek out the like-minded. They join running clubs, they get into cycling groups and they look for more information about their new-found passion. That might mean looking at magazines that cater to their crowd and often contain ads and reviews of the latest gear they’ll need to get the job done. Or it could mean hitting social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to find folks with similar interests. Before they know it, what began as a virtual group named the Bellingham (ski)Bums ends up becoming a real time ski club with people who share the same environmental ethos and values. First, they meet every week or so, then suddenly they find themselves spending much of their time together, on and off the slopes, either skiing or wishing they were doing so. Ironically enough, the process not only leads to the establishment of an informal tribe of skiers, it also allows each of its members to feel like individuals because they have found a group where it’s safe to be themselves.
They gravitate towards products that help augment their self-image
Although most people like to believe that all of their purchasing decisions are rational, it’s a little more complicated than that. While there’s no shortage of companies that make gear that will keep mountain climbers safe, there are other factors that enter into the decision including fit, comfort and appearance. After all, if they want to be thought of as more of an environmentalist they might be more likely to opt for Patagonia than REI gear. If they want to be considered as favoring more extreme pursuits, they might favor NorthFace. At the same time, if members of their tribe all favor equipment from REI, chances are they will, too. Part of it is desire for acceptance of course, but another part of it is reliance on the wisdom of the tribe. If a newcomer to the tribe notices that the people she respects all use REI gear, she will accept that they made the decision based on their experience and will follow in their footsteps to gain their acceptance. That could help explain why retailers are so eager to provide free lessons to beginners. Once people who are curious about a sport, say attend a snow-shoeing lesson at REI, they may be more likely to buy the products they’ve seen in action. In addition, the people who attend the same workshop may end up making friends with other participants, hanging out with them and creating a whole new tribe that just happens to prefer REI gear.
They spend money
Endurance Triathletes are a good example. Active Network research shows that 44 percent of these outdoor enthusiasts have household incomes of more than $100,000, they’re considered among the most desirable customers to have and they are more than willing to pay big bucks to support their outdoor habit. In fact, Active Network estimates that 35 percent have bikes worth $2,000 to $4,000 and another 18 percent have spent between $1,500 and $2,000. Most could easily get a bike for less, but they not only want to have the best, they want to be seen riding the best and be identified with that brand. Their willingness to open their wallets represents an opportunity for marketers and brand managers. Since many enthusiasts are so passionate about their pursuits, they often find ways to spend money on the things they think they need even in economic downturns. Awareness of the characteristic allows marketers and brand owners to spend less time focused on the bottom line and more time on quality. Most outdoor enthusiasts won’t tell you that money is no object, but they see their gear as an investment and do so much research that they are willing to pay more for higher quality. All a company needs to do to cash in is show why its quality is better than its competitor’s.
They are fiercely loyal
The question for for marketers is this: Now that you know these five steps and their stunning simplicity, what will you do to help deepen customer loyalty, increase interaction and grow your brand as you elevate it to cult status?