Brand Innovation 101

An Introduction for Specialty Retailers, by Dani Reyes-Acosta

Innovation is for everyone. Every challenge to the status quo provides an opportunity to do things differently.

Embrace the Change

You’ve seen the statistic countless times: The Outdoor Industry Association values our recreation economy at $887 billion. But how much of that hits your bottom line? Step into brand activism, build intimate customer rapport, center your company around a culture that values diversity, and the profit will flow, say the experts.

But you’re not Patagonia, REI, or a big box shop with the resources to re-evaluate (or yikes—restructure?!) your company. Solving for diversity is a touchy subject. Where to start? And innovating? Innovation is just for brands, product developers, and marketers who focus on new ways to create value, relevance, and novelty. Right?

Wrong. Innovation is for everyone. Every challenge to the status quo provides an opportunity to do things differently.

You represent a place for your community to gather, find belonging, and create purpose. That community, your current and future consumers, is increasingly purpose-led, diverse, and nonwhite. The U.S. will be a “plurality nation” soon, and minorities will be the majority by 2044. Millennials, who represent 30 percent of the current U.S. population—and 44 percent of that demographic are minorities—are poised to command the largest proportion of discretionary income in five years.

In the 1990s, new technologies drove innovation to provide a competitive edge. In the 2000s, sustainability catalyzed shifts to deliver both top- and bottom-line returns. In the 2020s, I argue, diversity, equity, and inclusion—and the way that companies incorporate and value new perspectives as foundational to organizational development, product design, and brand strategy—will drive innovation.

So how can specialty retail innovate for the future? Take a few pointers from the “Transformation Trifecta” of marketing, product, and organizational development.

Marketing

 

  • Learn about your consumer, current and aspirational: What do they aspire to do in their lives, and how can you help them? Find where they “live,” whether in Facebook groups, social outdoor groups, or at sponsored events. Then show up. Demonstrate how and why your store can make a difference in their outdoor experience.
  • Visibility is important, but it’s just a first step towards supporting a shifting consumer landscape. Partner with grassroots organizations and community athletes to foster a healthy, diverse outdoors community.
  • “Product for exposure” is exploitative. If you’re using grassroots influencers in your marketing efforts, hire (and pay) them. Exposure alone doesn’t pay the bills. 

“Striving for 100 percent perfection can be intimidating and overwhelming—an immediate stalling point,” points out Molly Cuffe, director of Smartwool Global Communications. “We think about progress rather than perfection. We take it one step at a time with our eye on making real, positive change that can be scalable.”

Product

  • Create merchandising stories that speak to your customers’ aspirations. “Create a narrative that resonates with people,” advises SheFly co-founder Charlotte Massey. “Build a story and community around a series of products…[to] give customers…a sense of belonging with the brand.”

    And don’t forget the “theater and romance,” adds Rich Batcheller of Blackmouth Design, a design-build firm in Bainbridge Island, Washington. “These stories embrace and solidify the things with which we identify.”

     

  • Train your sales team to support customers in their time outside: Provide resources that educate and strengthen community.

Remember, it’s all connected. “The health of the planet matters to all of us, and the solution is inclusion,” says Kelli Jones of Noso Patches. “We need to come together, help one another, and be mindful of the effects of our actions.”

Organizational Development

  • “Take ownership in your team’s success: Talk to them, ask deeper questions, and listen to what they have to say. Your team [will] catapult you towards building an innovative culture,” says Morgan Tashea of organizational development consultancy Wyld Lynx.
  • Highlight and share employee outdoors experiences on social media. Show off your community culture!

Community needs and consumer demographics converge to challenge retailers and brands to adapt or get left behind. In the wise words of Latino Outdoors founder José G. González: “We have two options in the face of adversity. Innovate to thrive—responding to the adversity that challenges us in that space and [welcoming] the opportunity to co-create with our consumers—or to simply survive.”So, what will it be? Thrive or survive?

This article originally appeared in Outdoor Retailer Magazine's Pre-Show Daily for Summer 2019, under "The Pulse: Marketing" column.

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Dani Reyes-Acosta

Interviewee, Brand Strategist, Builder of this Page