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5 Outdoor Brands with Disruptive Marketing Strategies


What makes a brand memorable? Sometimes it’s the ability to think beyond the traditional, and try a few disruptive marketing strategies. Other times it’s knowing when to ignore best practices. And occasionally, it’s having the confidence to deploy a campaign that might seem a little crazy.

This week’s “Brands to Watch” series features five outdoor brands that have crafted unique identities for themselves. From globally renowned campaigns to playful unsubscribe buttons, these companies aren’t afraid to take the marketing road less traveled. The result? The kind of brand loyalty that sparks heated (only sometimes-friendly) debate among gearheads, and keeps consumers coming back for more.  

1. Patagonia

Patagonia has built a reputation as both a purveyor of long-lasting items and disruptive marketing strategies. Their mission statement? To “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Those ideals are carried cohesively throughout every piece of content they create.

What We Love: They Reimagined The CTA

Good Branding

Patagonia has made it their business to turn the traditional call to action on its head. Their 2011 “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ads gave their audience a unique challenge. “Don’t buy what you don’t need” and “think twice before you buy anything.” The brand affinity they earned from this campaign was priceless. And they did it all while staying true to their company mission statement.

Good Branding

Patagonia’s Worn Wear tour is another example of bucking the classic “buy now” CTA. Typically, the point of retail is that you buy clothes, wear them, and buy more. Patagonia positions that retail cycle differently. During the Worn Wear tour, a specially outfitted biodiesel bus rolls up to a town near you and sets up shop repairing your broken zippers, rips, and buttons — whether your product is from Patagonia or not.

A company that wants you to buy less from them? That’s a bold message. How could you rethink your go-to CTA to surprise your audience and delight them into making a purchase?

2. REI

REI positions their stores as more than just retail outfitters. At any given store, you might find a three-story rock climbing wall, outdoor survival courses, or one of their famous, member-only Garage Sales. Visiting one of their stores isn’t just another errand, it’s an experience. Another area in which they excel? Disruptive marketing strategies.

What We Love: They Took a Chance on a Risky Campaign

In Fall of 2015, REI, one of the world’s largest retailers opted out of the biggest shopping day of the year, Black Friday. REI’s CCO Ben Steele explained the birth of the campaign to Adweek, saying, “In the midst of a big holiday brainstorming session, the head of our merchandising group said, ‘We could never do it, but what if we close on Black Friday?”

#OptOutside

Within 24 hours of the #OptOutside announcement, their social media mentions rose 7,000%, and the company earned over 2.7 billion PR impressions. From #OptOutside boxes packed with camping-friendly versions of traditional Thanksgiving leftovers to apps leading consumers to nearby trails, REI made “outside” the place to be.

By the end of the campaign, #OptOutside had earned 6.7 billion media impressions and inspired 1.4 million consumers to spend their day outside. It also earned the company nine awards at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity — the Oscar’s of the advertising world.

Obviously, a campaign of this magnitude is largely due to REIs already massive presence in the industry. But what could your company do to disrupt your own market with your next campaign?

3. Moosejaw   

Moosejaw is a Michigan-based outdoor retailer that has truly nailed its brand voice. We could tell you more about what they do and how they do it, but it’s way more fun to show you.

What We Love: They’re All About the Details (And Sometimes That Means Ignoring the Rules)

“Keep your emails clean!” “Don’t clutter them with a lot of text!” “Use lots of pictures!” Moosejaw breaks all of email marketing’s best practices, starting with their welcome email:

Good Copy - Brandfolder

Let’s be honest, this is not an attractive email. The design isn’t great, the page is a bit cluttered, and there’s way too much copy. But when you look closely, that’s also what makes it so great.

Even their fine print is branded: “Our mean lawyer is making us add this info. Please don’t blame us, blame him.” And could anyone hit the “Unsubscribe” button when it’s paired with a link to a giraffe picture? That kind of playfulness and attention to detail is what makes a consumer open your emails even when they’re not looking for something specific, and why they might just buy something while they’re around.

Good Copy Example

How many of us spend time branding the finer details of our marketing campaigns? Probably too few. While tweaking your fine print might not seem to warrant an inclusion on a list of “disruptive marketing strategies,” the results are smart, memorable emails that earn every open, click, and purchase they garner. That’s pretty remarkable to us.

4. Outdoor Voices

Outdoor Voices is a fitness community for the modern athleisure enthusiast. Their welcome letter lays out exactly who they are and what you can expect to find on their site — athletic clothing “designed to give you the comfort and flexibility for doing things daily.”

What We Love: They Optimize Their eCom Landing Pages

Most retailers put all their effort into getting you to their site. Then, like the morning after, you’re unceremoniously left in a rather cold space without that candlelit glow of witty email subject lines (the marketing equivalent of a pickup line).

Outdoor Voices does you one better. They bring you breakfast in bed the next morning. Once you’ve been wined, dined, and lured to their website, they give you content coupled with a final pitch. Animated gifs and videos show athletic models throwing a frisbee, playing volleyball, and even dabbling in badminton, along with tips for getting better at each activity.

Good Branding - Brandfolder

That little extra attention makes a big difference in the overall customer experience. Not only can we see their product in action, but we’re gifted useful information as well. How could you provide your audience with a better, more tailored experience on your website? They laughed at your pickup line, now show them there’s more to you than that.  

5. YETI

YETI primarily sells premium ice chests and drinkware. While you may not be looking for disruptive marketing strategies from your cooler provider, YETI’s marketing is not to be missed. First off, these coolers aren’t just for your Sunday potluck. Take them on your outdoor adventures, rough them up, and you’ll be giving them the kind of life they were built to live.

What We Love: They Leverage the Power of Video

Did you know that video in an email leads to a 200-300% increase in click through rate? Or that including a video on a landing page can increase conversion by 80%? And were you aware that after watching a video, 64% of users are more likely to buy a product online? This is hugely important to online retailers, and to the marketing community as whole.

YETI is already ahead of the curve. From the moment you land on their homepage, they start you on a heavy drip of video. You immediately see their products in action. It’s exciting, it’s beautiful, and it inspires the consumer to action.

They also have a lively YouTube channel packed with videos that feature outdoorsmen and women and their vibrant outdoor adventures — with subtle YETI product placement, of course. A half million views on some of their videos is proof that YETI’s marketing team is on to something. How could you use video to give your marketing campaigns a boost?

What Do All of These Brands Have in Common?

While each of these brands is different, there are similar themes. They’re not afraid to take calculated risks with their marketing. We get it. It’s not always possible for you to employ globally disruptive marketing strategies. But it is possible for you to keep your focus on the consumer, even if it doesn’t mean in immediate boost to your bottom line. A few other takeaways for you?

  1. First, make sure your company has a strong brand identity. You want to experiment with your marketing efforts, but first, you need to know who you are, and who you want to reach. We’ve got a free eBook that that can help you get started
  2. Organize your digital assets. Want to pitch a bold new campaign idea to your executives? Start by organizing your assets, and making sure they’re easily accessible and sharable. Brandfolder is an easy solution for storing your digital assets safely and securely.
  3. When it’s right, break the rules. All five of these companies found huge success by creating their own rules. Whether you’re trying out a new CTA, experimenting with rising consumer trends, or brainstorming ways to spice up a drip email campaign, don’t shy away from thinking a little bigger.

Meg is a Content Strategist at Brandfolder, a powerfully simple platform for storing, sharing, and showcasing your brand assets. Her background is in copywriting and she's proud to be part of the growing Denver startup community. When she's not writing or researching cool brands, she can be found hiking with her two pups and fanning the sometimes-literal flames of her fledgling cooking skills.

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