You see it in headlines like this one from Outside Magazine, “The Outdoor Industry Has a Millennial Problem”. “Most outdoor brands,” it says, “have struggled mightily to connect with anyone under the age of 35.”

And that’s just part of the problem (or opportunity depending on your outlook).

So let’s take a look at potential problems and then turn it into opportunities to grow your tribe.

Reality check for outdoor firms:

The faces of your tribe should be changing.

They should be changing to match demographic and social shifts we can see and feel every day.

What is the impact if I don’t see me in your marketing?

As a mountain biking marketer living in one of the largest and most diverse cities in North America — Toronto — I’m aware of the disconnect every time I throw my leg over my bike on one of the many rocky, rooty trail networks on the city’s doorstep.

Unbelievably (and thankfully), there exists, smack dab in the midst of this huge, bustling city, a massive network of singletrack with a pretty decent rep. Riders outside of the city refer to it with respect. It’s often gnarly and offers up more than a few gut checks.

This is my local trail; it’s my after work fitness ride that more than delivers on that score.

Sometimes I’m the only woman on this busy trail.

That won’t come as a surprise. I’ve packed up my bike more than once for a guided west coast mountain bike adventure only to find I’m the only female in the group.

So who’s to blame for the small percentage of women mountain bikers? Is the sport just too extreme and scary in the eyes of women? Or is the industry not doing enough to welcome women into the fold?

If women don’t see other women in your marketing, can we expect to attract them and grow the universe of prospects and your tribe?

Not far outside the city are plenty of forests and conservation areas. Singletrack and fire roads weave their way through the many forests and conservation areas for hikers and riders alike.

What continues to fascinate me are the large groups of visible minorities and immigrants hiking the trails, their animated conversations although foreign to my ears signaling enjoyment nonetheless. Asian mountain biking pelotons are commonplace in one our favorite trail networks.

Here’s the thing: I don’t see these faces in outdoor marketing.

And I’m not alone. Ambreen Tariq is the South-Asian muslim woman behind @brownpeoplecamping. In Outside Magazine, Ambreen chronicles her first outdoor experiences with her family enjoying campgrounds. Those experiences laid the foundations for what she now describes as “the privilege to see the outdoors as a positive lifestyle option for myself”.

She is committed to encouraging other immigrants to get outside because, as she explains, “Even now, when my husband and I are camping or hiking, I look around and see a similar lack of diversity in the outdoors community as I did when I was a child. I want so badly for more people of color, immigrants, and other communities that are underrepresented in the outdoors to experience its beauty and benefits.”

Here are 5 ways to challenge your marketing and advertising:

  1. Are you excluding women? What percentage of your content from the stories you tell, the perspectives you offer, the videos you produce and the images you use in your advertising and marketing feature women? (The way in which you include women is a topic for another article.) Getting more women on board has huge upside.
  2. Are we excluding visible minorities? Ambreen puts it best when she writes, “I think that for many minority identities getting into the outdoor lifestyle for the first time, it takes courage to choose discomfort. It’s challenging both physically, because it involves learning new activities and skills, and socially, because it’s easy to feel like an outsider when you don’t see others like yourself on the trails or even represented in the imagery of the outdoor industry.” But she also reminds us that immigrating is the ultimate test of courage.
  3. Are you excluding newbies? Land on many mountain bike sites and you’ll be neck deep in discussions about the merits of 29 and 650b (also confusingly referred to as 27.5) wheel sizes, plus-bikes, Boost 148 axel technology and 29er vs. a 650b with plus tires. What? Geeking out over the endless release of new tech and specs may be alienating for newer riders. I didn’t know full-suspension from hardtail when I bought my first mountain bike. But I was still about to plunk down thousands so being ready for a newbie may pay dividends.
  4. Are you excluding everyone but 19-year old males? This is what I refer to as Red Bull Rampage fatigue. After a while all that extreme imagery and footage is a turn off (and quite frankly, scary). From mountain biking to climbing to extreme snow sports — is extreme always aspirational? Or can aspirational be normal people in I-want-to-be-there backcountry settings. Seeing skilled riders enjoying my sport can be more motivational than a 19-year old hucking it at Crankworx.
  5. Are we excluding tomorrow’s outdoor enthusiasts? The millennial struggle mentioned earlier, suggests we don’t understand this cohort of would-be outdoor enthusiasts.

This is not a “diversity” project

Let’s get one thing straight: this is not some diversity project. Or some campaign to improve the optics of your brand. (Although it just might.)

It’s okay, because focussing on your traditional tribe means you’re not growing. As in stagnant. You’re preaching to the choir.

It’s okay to identify new potential target groups for your tribe as future revenue streams. And it’s certainly okay to welcome newcomers to your tribe that aren’t enjoying what you and I know to be one of life’s greatest gifts – the outdoors and the sports and trips that take us places we’d otherwise never see. It’s win-win.

But like a great dinner party you’ve got plan the menu, get the ingredients and set the table before the guests arrive. End-to-end preparation from identifying your lost tribes, to the invitation, to the meal and to making your new guests feel welcome is the key that will build your community and your business.

Grow your tribe in 5 steps:

  1. Identify your lost tribes. Segments, avatars, personas – however you refer to them, it may be time to revisit your current segments and create some new ones based on who you might be excluding. Creating a profile that represents a new group or segment is the first step in understanding them so that you can create content that not only connects but converts them from an anonymous visitor to a known lead for your business. Our template will help you focus your thoughts on who these people are, where they hang out, what influences them, what they like and what objections they may have. You’ll know where to advertise, what your ads need to include and it will help hone your content marketing.
  2. Learn (and keep learning) about your sub-tribes. There’s nothing more important in sales and marketing than knowing your customers. In our Game Planning program, my team digs deep to study our clients’ current customers and the segments or sub-tribes they fall into. We read and conduct surveys and form submissions, talk to front-line sales people and listen to what people are saying about your company and your category socially in what we call our “In the Wild” report.
  3. Create content specifically for your lost tribes. Now that you’ve identified your lost tribes and have built a representative persona based on your research and yes, your best guess at this point (don’t worry, you’ll fill in gaps and correct assumptions as you go), it’s time to create some content for your website specifically for your new segment. And here’s the secret sauce: content should convert. We want to provide something of value — called a “content upgrade” — so that new members of your tribe can be found. You want to provide a way for that person to raise their hand and say “that’s me” – I’m a female mountain biker interested in improving my skills. You’ll exchange an email address for your super-helpful content (think checklist, free PDF guide to becoming a better …), a 3-part video skills course to make you a better…).
  4. Tag ‘em and bag ‘em. Being ready to “smart-store” that new email address is critical. Adding them to one big list, or worse – yet another list – is just wrong. You’ll tag your new tribe member with something that tells you what they signed up for and their interest or defining characteristic. And that tag will be part of your Bible of Tags – documented and understood by all.
  5. Welcome, nurture and sell and resell. Now that you have a new, but tepid and maybe skeptical member of your tribe, it’s time to follow up on what is of interest to that individual. First, you’re going to deliver what they signed up for. Next, depending on their interactions with you, you’re going to welcome them to your tribe, make them aware of other content and products that are aligned with their interests. It’s personalized. And importantly, it’s automated. It’s like your best sales person at the ready, 24/7. Your automations are behaviour based. It’s the furthest thing from that one-size-fits all newsletter.

Remember, what you may be neglecting today, is simply an opportunity to grow your tribe.

Our focus is on identifying your lost tribes, putting the systems and processes in place to engage them and moving them to action in a more personalized way. Because your tribe is really a collection of individuals.

It works for ecommerce, it works for big-ticket sales with longer lead-to-sales cycles and it can help drive demand at the retail level. It works.

It just takes a solid strategy, some great copy, the right tools and the discipline to pull it off. But you know, those are the things others won’t do.

…for now.