The outdoor industry is good at its craft. Maybe a little too good. Every brand is producing products that are tougher, lighter, and more effective than ever before.
Gore-Tex as a technology is fascinating and I think it’s an example of a technology that we take for granted. I can walk into any specialty retailer and buy a rain jacket off the shelf that keeps rain out but allows sweat vapor to evacuate. Can you imagine how the outdoorsmen and women of 50 years ago would have reacted to the technology we have available today? I’m not sure they could have comprehended just how far the industry would come. (And yes, I know that wool is making a comeback)
Bikes are lighter, backcountry skiing is safer than ever, and shoe technology is helping runners like Eliud Kipchoge set new world records. As we’ve kept pushing the boundaries of what’s physically possible, brands, manufacturers and product engineers have kept up and allowed athletes and the everyday users to reach new heights.
As I pedal up my local mountain bike hill here in Bellingham, I’m amazed at the variety of bikes that people ride. But without the name of the brand slapped on the down tube, I can’t tell the difference. Sure, there are some slight differences between brands and components but as a whole, mountain bikes made today are about the same. They’re infinitely more advanced than they were 10 years ago and give every average rider a dangerous amount of confidence. When I take a hike and I pass someone wearing a North Face jacket I can’t tell the difference between that jacket and Arc’teryx jacket I passed 5 minutes earlier except by the logo on the shoulder. Our industry has done such a great job of pushing each other to constantly improve that it’s all starting to look, feel, and perform the same.
This is a good problem to have because it brings out the best in everyone. But in a sea of sameness, how do companies stand out if their product alone isn’t discernible? Price point certainly is a factor as is availability, sizing, and color ways but at the end of the day, the only thing that separates a company from their competition is their brand.
As our industry is reeling from the covid boom than bust many brands have been cutting back on their storytelling efforts. This reaction is understandable, but my encouragement to our industry is to ask ourselves. In 3 years, how will your company stand out from the rest of your competitors? Will it be through your product? If not, then how?
Here’s a hint, tell really good stories.