• Tortuga Creative Studio

5 need-to-know outdoor industry trends and how to use your brand to stay on top

Updated: Jun 10

Where is the outdoor industry heading? How can industry trends inspire your brand and help you connect with your ideal customers?

In this post, we’ll walk you through five key outdoor industry trends for 2022 and how you can apply this knowledge to your brand.

1. Lean into the power of purpose

Purpose-driven business owners have an incredible opportunity to not only use your brand for good but also to grow your business.

Shifting consumer preferences

Today, buyer behaviours are shifting. As the Consumer Culture Report from 2020 notes:

"Consumers no longer see products as mere commodities—each one is now a statement. This is why purpose-led brands have more appeal to modern shoppers."

Consumers expect brands to have a clear, authentic purpose. They want to purchase products and services that represent a set of values, from brands who embody and live out the values they stand for.

Unique positioning as outdoor brands

Although having a purpose seems like an obvious must for outdoor brands, many don’t live and breathe the authentic, environmental values that consumers think they do.

With the power to inspire and connect people to nature at their fingertips, outdoor brands are uniquely positioned to inspire others to protect the planet.

After all, outdoor brands rely on the environment for their businesses and most outdoor business owners are extremely connected to nature. They use their deep connections to help others find connections to nature and in turn, inspire them to protect the planet.

Having a clear and authentic purpose at their core is extremely important for outdoor brands to reach more customers, build lasting relationships, and ultimately grow their business.

Trends for environmentally-conscious brands

There are two key trends we’re seeing with environmentally-conscious outdoor brands:

  • Finding eco-friendly materials. Designers are getting more creative, discovering new alternatives and sustainable materials. Outdoor brands are focused on limiting their environmental impact and preserving the planet.

  • Limiting consumer waste. From Alpkit’s repair stations to Paramo’s recycling program, there’s a movement to help consumers preserve, fix, and recycle their purchases. Moving away from the idea of buying more, brands are helping consumers make more sustainable choices.

Finding eco-friendly materials and limiting consumer waste are small pieces of the puzzle—they are an application of your purpose but they do not define your purpose.

It’s important to note that using eco-friendly materials or limiting waste is not necessarily authentic or representative of a brand’s values unless it is driven by a true purpose. Without a purpose, these tactics could be seen as greenwashing.

Become an ambassador for a cause you care about

As wild spaces are increasingly threatened and more and more people call for accountability in the brands they support, outdoor brands are poised to lead the way to change.

You can build sustainability into your branding in a number of ways, but it all starts with defining your higher-purpose and intentionally becoming an ambassador for a cause you care about.

2. Teach outdoor education

In 2020, there was a dramatic increase in the number of people who spent time outdoors due to the global pandemic. Over half of Americans ages 6 and over participated in outdoor recreation at least once, the highest participation rate on record.

More people outside means more people appreciating nature and getting active, which is great, but many of them are inexperienced, having never spent time doing any outdoor activities previously.

This rush of inexperienced people opens the door for outdoor brands that can focus on outdoor education—teaching, training and guiding those with less experience.

Share outdoor tips

Help your audience members who aren’t as experienced feel more confident and safe spending time outdoors.

Even if guiding isn’t part of your outdoor brand, consider adding education through your messaging. Share relevant tips related to your specific niche of the outdoor industry.

You’ll help new audience members feel more confident and build authority with other outdoor enthusiasts too.

3. Tell stories that connect

Consumers don’t just want gear or an adventure in nature, they want to “express their beliefs and values through the brands they choose to wear, and to feel good about the consumption decisions they make.”

How do consumers discover brands that align with their values? Through solid storytelling (and we don’t mean fairytales, we mean stories that show the authenticity behind your brand and that share who you are and what you do in a relatable way).

Storytelling is for all brands. It makes your messaging personal and relatable, allowing you to connect on a deeper level with your audience, and how your offer helps them solve a problem or fulfill a need.

Sharing compelling stories

Patagonia’s The Cleanest Line, the articles in Adventure Journal and REI’s #OptOutside are great examples of brands that live their values, and share them through storytelling. We also love the way Norm Hann of Norm Hann Expeditions uses photography, video and the written word to share inspiring stories about his experiences in nature and the values that his business is driven by.

But, beyond sharing your purpose, humanize your brand and connect with your customers by telling stories about your background. Here are some questions for inspiration to help you share impactful stories in your messaging:

  • How did you/your brand get here?

  • How did you discover your internal/higher brand purpose?

  • What do you do? Why do you do it?

  • What do you offer? What problem do you solve?

The power of storytelling is indisputable. From fairytales to movie scripts, stories capture the hearts of every human being on Earth. Brands can step into storytelling as a powerful messaging tool. Luckily, there is a framework to do just this!

Using the StoryBrand framework for your outdoor brand

Storytelling is an essential part of creating a solid brand that will grow your business.

Tell stories that share who you are, show what you value, what matters to you and what your business is driven by.

As a purpose-driven business, you have so much to say and so much that will resonate with others. Our favourite tool for telling the right story in a way that will connect with others is Donald Miller’s StoryBrand framework.

Create a few StoryBrands to build the perfect framework for sharing your values with your audiences in a way that will inspire and resonate with them. No matter what you are committed to as a business and what purpose drives you, make sure you share it through stories that inspire your clients to join the cause.

4. Focus on inclusivity

Standing out and getting ahead as an outdoor company will take embracing diversity and actively working to create an inclusive, accessible industry.

“What the outdoor industry needs to come to grips with is this: In 15 to 20 years, people of color will be the number one demographic in this country (US), thus your new customer base, affecting your bottom line,” writes Teresa Baker, the founder of the African American Nature and Parks Experience.

“If you are not currently working to create space and growth for communities of color, you’re running behind,” she said.

Lack of diversity

Outdoor marketing often lacks diversity—leading to an inaccurate representation of our society and further increasing the diversity problem.

“This has resulted in an industry that can feel elitist and un-inclusive,” argues Andrew Bethune of Origin Outside.

The fact is, the outdoor industry has a long history of being exclusive.

“The history of public park systems and current-day prejudices against people of color are two areas that reinforce each other and prevent higher participation from people of color,” assistant KangJae Lee shared.

Encouraging higher outdoor participation for all different types of people starts with outdoor brands. It’s not enough to say you care about diversity, brands need to actively dismantle traditional marketing and work to create a more welcoming space.

Inaccessible outdoor gear

Between expensive pricing and a lack of diversity, outdoor gear has a reputation of being inaccessible.

“When the price for “appropriate” gear is beyond your scope of reality and you rarely see a reflection of yourself represented in marketing, the outdoors become inaccessible and unwelcoming,” said community activist Cianna Walker.

Beyond providing affordable gear options, brands must also represent people with different abilities and body types.

One trend in 2022 is to provide more accessible outdoor gear for different body types and outdoor enthusiasts with disabilities, which is great news. It’s time for the outdoor industry to create a welcoming and inviting space for all potential customers, regardless of race, gender, or body type.

How to focus on diversity and inclusion in your outdoor brand

Outdoor companies have a unique opportunity to lead the way by embracing diversity. Here are four ways to emphasize inclusion in your branding:

  • Understand your audience. Building an inclusive and respectful brand starts with understanding your audience. Expect differences and welcome diversity.

  • Establish audience personas. Once you know your target audiences, establish a persona to understand their specific needs and preferences. From there, create a well-rounded picture of how your audience may interact with your offering.

  • Build custom messaging. Speak to each group and show you care about them. Step into their shoes and share messages that align with their experiences, preferences, and abilities.

  • Emphasize inclusivity in your visuals. Move beyond what has been the outdoor industry standard. Include photos of people of color, adaptive athletes and different body types to create an inclusive and welcoming brand.

Make sure your brand is inclusive, respectful, and welcoming to all types of outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers.

5. Consider all ages

In the past, outdoor brands catered to athletes and fitness-driven customers of a younger age bracket. Today, the Millennial and Boomer parents and grandparents make up the world’s largest consumer group.

With Millennials looking for experiences over possessions and 39% of boomers participating in outdoor activities, outdoor brands are expanding to serve different age brackets.

Millennial outdoor enthusiasts

Millennials are “hybrid outdoorists”—they combine many activities into a single outing, according to a report by the Outdoor Industry Association.

They’re passionate about a variety of activities and don’t stick with one genre. They also value the social aspect of outdoor participation, enjoying community events and running clubs.

"The Millennial generation has larger buying power than other generations, and they are looking for an experience.”Rich Harshbarger, former CEO of Running USA

Boomer preferences

With adults over 50 accounting for more than 50% of consumer spending, Boomers also hold significant buying power.

The Outdoor Industry Association found that Boomers enjoy sharing outdoor activities with the younger generation. “They find pleasure and escape in the outdoors, and they want to share that with their children and grandchildren. They believe their best years are ahead of them, and they emphasize family time and exploration,” the report shared.

“61 percent of Boomers feel younger than their actual age, typically by an average of nine years.” - Outdoor Industry Association, 2020 Outdoor Forecasting Report

Gen-Z and youth participation

In 2020, we saw the highest number of youth outdoor participation on record. Nearly 34 million children ages 6 to 17 participated, with the most popular activities including bicycling, camping, and fishing.

Interestingly, households with children participated outdoors at a rate of 60%.

Outdoor participation is for everyone, regardless of age.

How to brand your outdoor business with age in mind

Outdoor brands have an important opportunity to tailor their messaging to meet their target customers where they are, no matter the age.

When you are writing your messages and choosing which social media platforms you’ll use, be considerate of the different ages of your audiences.

To appeal to younger audiences, feature the stories of some of your younger customers on social media platforms such as Instagram or TikTok, where others will have a greater likelihood of seeing it and becoming interested in trying themselves.

When you’re trying to reach an older audience, inspire them with messaging that speaks to the joy they find in being outdoors. Focus your topics on spending time with family, making memories with kids/grandkids, and health and wellness.