We in the #OIBIZ spend a lot of time trying to figure out what makes outdoor customers and influencers tick. There are charts and graphs with consultants to carry them around, many of them with big degrees and big data-sets with lots of numbers. We thought that we might try a simpler, more straight-forward solution: We asked an influencer,”Why do you buy?” It seems we struck a nerve, as we got such a good response to our first post we decided to do it again. Here’s this week’s post from our Tweep Katie Levy, and we’ll let her tell us all about it…
The greatest amount of exposure I’ve had to #OIBIZ at this point has been as a customer. And I’m a damn good one. I don’t even want to confess how much time I spend researching gear and clothing much less what portion of my yearly spending it consumes. I suppose to an extent, this make me an informal authority on the subject!
I’ve discovered a number of factors that influence my approach to shopping for outdoor gear, and they all hinge around perceived value. It’s hard to define; value means different things to different consumers, and this is something all industries have to grapple with. We all come to the #OIBIZ table with varied experiences and expectations. But I think many of us have similar perceived value influencers, and all in perfect balance will tip the proverbial scales in favor of a purchase.
Influencer – Durability, Fit, and Specs
These are basic things I’ll look for no matter what I buy. I’d like to think that regardless of whom you ask, $200 is a lot to spend on a pair of soft shell pants. But if those pants are going to help me regulate my body temperature while providing freedom of movement, will last for years, and actually fit me, it might be worth it. That’s one way I perceive value – am I going to get what I pay for? Can I use it for more than one activity? I’ll probably spend a little time looking for a better price, which provides an entirely different challenge for outdoor retailers, and a return policy like REI’s doesn’t hurt either.
Influencer – Brand Name
I’ve never understood the need for brand name clothing in everyday life, i.e. why Ed Hardy is so popular. But branding in the outdoor industry, from an outsider looking in, seems much more complex than that. More than just a name or a symbol, a brand conveys the personality of a company or product, and whether a consumer perceives a personality fit with that brand really matters.
A personality fit is important, but that aside, if a company can get me to associate value with that brand, I’ll be loyal until the sun burns out. Case in point: I will always look at Mountain Hardwear pants before considering others. They have long sizes I have trouble finding, they fit, they last, and the company does some pretty cool stuff, which brings me to my next influencer.
Influencer – Social Responsibility
This type of influencer seems to be growing in importance across all types of businesses. What’s your company doing for the world? How are you helping people? This does enter into my stream of consciousness when selecting a brand or product, and I’m trying to bring it more to the forefront. For example, participation in outdoor recreation, especially among kids, is a big deal to me, and any company making strides in that arena is one I’ll follow. Mountain Hardwear’s Send a Kid to Camp program increases the likelihood I’ll buy from them and remain a loyal customer.
Influencer – The Community
When I started looking for new gear for a (really important) trip to Mount Rainier, I was shopping for things I hadn’t shopped for. Crampons, an ice axe, a real soft shell jacket, all these that I’d never bought as a mountaineering n00b. I needed help. I asked my friends, read online reviews, and visited stores to ask salespeople for advice. These resources are vital to me. The gear market is full of so many options with so many features; it’s a lot to digest. My community helps me sort through all of that and make an informed decision. As an outdoor retailer, if you’ve got my community on board, in all likelihood, you’ve got me too.
One piece of that community I’ve found doesn’t always have great influencing power is the sponsored athlete piece. As much as I’d love to say watching my climbing heroes in their brand’s shoes makes me more likely to buy from that brand, it doesn’t. That might just be me. Ultimately, the brands that make products in line with my perceived value are those that will see longevity. I might be more likely to search for the brands my heroes use first, but if the product’s not right for me, I won’t buy it.
The more I write, the more I realize how complex the thought process around purchasing decisions and perceived value can be. I’d have a Nobel Prize, or a least a bajillion dollar consulting business, if I could define value perception for every industry out there. But after reading the introduction to Tali’s guest post last month, I think y’all at Pemba are on to something – the best way to find out what customers want is to ask!
Katie Levy is a Philadelphia-based outdoor adventure addict with a passion for playing outside and sharing that passion with others. Her love for all things outdoors comes from years in her hometown of Ithaca, NY, weeks in the Adirondacks, and living and working in Denali National Park. Through sub-zero winter hikes in the Chugach Mountains and bushwhacking through trail-less Denali tundra, Katie learned how to truly appreciate wild places. She’s a hiker, backpacker, rock climber, and most recently, a mountaineer-in-training for a very special climb up Mount Rainier. When Katie isn’t strapping on a backpack or tying into a rope, she’s chronicling her adventures at http://www.adventure-inspired.com.