The Urban/Rural Boundary is the Opportunity
By Paulo Ribeiro
Cities hold a key to unlock the outdoors. Why is this massive opportunity so often ignored?
So many of the brands we work with have a desire to be more inclusive. More and more frequently they have a stated mission to share the outdoors (and sport and breathing fresh air) with a wider group of people than those that have historically have had access. Corporate social responsibility is often behind this. Just as often it's straight up business that motivates: growing the size of the market a brand serves.
This post isn’t going to get into litigating values. For the record we are supportive of both of those motivations. This post is focused on an opportunity the size of the Empire State building that is constantly missed.
We’ve been asked to think a lot about how we might grow the audience and user base for multiple brands, in multiple categories with different brand histories, challenges and capabilities. All of this against a backdrop of the massive population growth of cities. For decades cities have been growing as a rebound from the growth of suburbs that the Boomers drove. While there has been a lot of noise recently about cities like NYC, SF and Chicago losing population in 2022 that is already starting to reverse with people coming back to offices (slowly). Los Angeles, San Jose, and Washington, DC all experienced migration gains in 2022. TL;DR, cities keep growing.
The Gen Z and even Millennials are much more likely to be renters as compared to their parents and grandparents at the same age. They are less likely to own a car, or even have a driver’s license. Their work often involves staring at a screen for hours on end. The pitch to move their bodies during their downtime shouldn’t be that hard as evidenced by the radical growth in almost every sector of outdoor activity since the pandemic.
If we really want to encourage movement and be inclusive in the outdoors. The most powerful tool we have is to rethink what the outdoors can be. What are the easy local “onramps” to the sports that are best done on massive fields or above 10,000 feet?
So many heritage outdoor brands are stuck showcasing the most remote, world class edge of the world environments. Those spaces can inspire the hell out of many, but they are often disconnected from someone who hasn’t grown up in a culture of mountaineering (or skiing or insert any pursuit that requires travel and piles of expensive gear). When a brand exclusively leans into that world, the door is closed to starting a relationship with someone new to the space.
Why are brands missing this? There is such a lack of creativity by active lifestyle brands in the places that have the biggest concentration of human beings: Cities!
Most cities sprouted up because of their proximity to some amazing natural feature: The ocean, a river, a lush valley. And just because it started to fill up with buildings those features are still there if you know where to look. The biggest opportunity for outdoor brands is to create bridges to the outdoors and to start with what is at hand.
[Mont Royal, Montreal]
[Willamette River, Portland, Oregon]
[The Hudson River Valley which leads to Manhattan Island]
Creativity is the art of combining two things in an unexpected way:
If your brand history is in climbing - what could you climb downtown?
If you have retail outposts in cities - how can they become knowledge centers for what is within a few miles and accessible by public transportation?
If you have a rugged brand what could you build in an urban area that lasts?
How might you spend your brand dollars on improvement projects that last for decades rather than ads that last for days?
When we talk about inclusion in the outdoor category the most potent way to think about it is by relooking at what we include as outdoor exploration. If we want people to move their bodies on a progression of challenges that might end up in the backcountry…then might we use our platforms physical (stores) and digital to help them start?
EVO hotels are a rare example of experience innovation for active lifestyle brands as an urban outpost of trial and community. Please share examples of doing something (anything) innovative and we’ll be sure to compile and share.
The city of LA set the bar really low with La Sombrita. If the bar is this low then what are you waiting for?
Physical Retail locations might be the single most underutilized marketing tool. They are a literal toe-hold in the largest markets.
These true stories of Next Gen trail lovers is only the beginning. In the months to come, we'll be exploring activations that actually help people discover their trail. In the meantime, thanks for listening and see you out there.