Control Freak

A special guest-post from Chris Harges of Satellite Design, an outdoor-industry graphic design firm.

I’m guessing there aren’t a lot of golfer-climbers out there. Leisure activities tend to map to lifestyle and your average country club member and a Camp IV dirtbag are unlikely to share the same hairdresser. They may, however, have more in common than you think.

I have two friends who land at opposite ends of the middle-aged lifestyle spectrum. One is a huge golfer, an every-waking-hour, never-sees-his-kids kind of golfer. The other is a backcountry addict, an ex-NOLS, cache-to-cache kind of camper. But when you ask them why they do what they do, their answers are remarkably similar.

Bill, the golfer, will say he loves golf because it’s just him and the ball. When he steps up to the ball, everything else falls away. What’s left is the kind of purity you don’t find in everyday life. He can hit the ball well. Or he can blow it. But it’s entirely up to him.

Rick, the backpacker, explains backcountry travel in almost the same terms. When he’s sitting cross-legged in front of a white gas stove two days walk from the nearest road, life is very simple. He explains it in terms of possessions. “Whatever I need,” he says “is within arms reach. Lighter, knife, pasta, I know exactly where it is and what it’s for.”

In the end, they both do what they do because it gives them a sense of control. Activities like golf and camping strip away the endless tangle of variables that we have to deal with in everyday life. On any given weekday, there’s no telling what life will throw at you. What’s worse, there’s no telling if you’ll be equipped to deal with it. Sports are different. Complexities are eliminated. Problems are limited to those we can anticipate or have encountered before. Even failure can be ascribed to something as simple as elbow position or a clogged fuel jet.

Back in real life, you’ve got a business to run. And with the economy throwing you curve balls and the future as dark as it’s been in a generation, why bother thinking about how Rick and Bill spend their free time? It’s worth considering because it’s one of the primary reasons humans play games: we want a sense of control. And your job is to sell stuff to humans who play games.

Whether you’re planning a product launch or fitting a pair of boots, remember that part of what you’re selling is a sense of control. Especially when real life gets tough, people turn to leisure activities for comfort and confidence. Keep that in mind when you present outdoor gear to consumers and you might gain a little more control yourself.

2 responses to “Control Freak

  1. My two primary sports are climbing and golfing. To explain, I grew up in a country club and went to college and discovered the outdoors. I still have a love affair with both.

    Your post hit the nail right on the head. In both sports I love that I am the only person between me and success. There is no one else to blame, no one else to rely on. It’s just me vs. the course/the route. I love it.

    I wonder how many others like me are out there.

  2. You may have discovered a new niche market Ben. Let’s start working on a putter that doubles as a stick clip.