As businesses build back from the 2020 recession, many have spotted an opportunity: Promote diversity as part of their sustainable recovery. That opportunity is writ large for the outdoor industry where 70 percent of Black, Latinx, and Asian Pacific Americans participate in outdoor activities, and 51 percent of first-time campers in 2018 were Black, Indigenous, and people of color.
Diversity and the outdoors is an important topic for the outdoor industry. In this third installment of our series helping businesses in the outdoor industry regain their vibrancy and build back stronger, you’ll find ideas for building a brand through diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
1. Rethink the Diversity of Your Customer Base
The data tells a story: US brands are missing an opportunity.
The combined buying power of diverse groups in the US is $3.9 trillion. Multicultural consumers make up 40 percent of the population, yet money spent on marketing to these groups makes up only 5.2 percent of total marketing budgets. Clearly, there’s a miss here.
Today in the US, 70 percent of people of color say they regularly participate in outdoor activities, including hiking and camping. Contrary to what mass marketing commonly portrays, an incredibly diverse mix of outdoor enthusiasts enjoys the environment and outdoor activities.
Just check out Black Birders Week or one of the many hiking, camping, fishing, running, surfing, cycling, or climbing clubs organized by people of color. As a business owner, diversifying your customer base makes good business sense.
2. Connect with Diverse Consumers on their Turf
A first step for appealing to diverse customers is to reach them in their own spaces— whether at physical events or online.
“We’re not that hard to find,” said Laura Edmondson, Corporate Responsibility Manager at Brown Girls Climb, a company with a mission to promote and increase visibility of diversity in climbing. “We’re online, we’re creating platforms for ourselves. You just have to look for us.”
Think about going beyond the outdoor industry’s large events. Festivals like Color the Crag and the Refuge Festival are geared toward the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) consumer base. To learn the needs of diverse consumers and what messaging might resonate, follow some of the athletes, adventurers, and conservationists who are BIPOC influencers.
It’s important to be mindful of building a mutually beneficial relationship, so the BIPOC community understands you value them beyond potential sales. Sponsorship, advertising, volunteerism, or community engagement on social channels with groups like Diversify Outdoors and Latino Outdoors can help reinforce your company’s commitment to DEI.
3. Create Marketing that Mirrors Your Audience
Imagery—websites, social media, brochures, and advertising—should reflect the demographic you’re trying to reach. A recent study found that 64 percent of people are more likely to consider or even purchase a product after seeing an ad they think is diverse or inclusive.
The outdoor industry is waking up to the opportunity.
People are starting to take notice that it shouldn’t always just be white dudes on top of a mountain.
4. Redefine Outdoor Recreation
One way to create a more inclusive outdoor brand is to expand the frame. What’s your definition of outdoor activity?
“I’m a fifth-generation farmer, and you have to be able to read the environment in order to do that job well and make any money at it,” Graham explained. “Especially in my teenage years, I spent all of my time outside, but it wasn’t on a mountain.”
Birdwatching, fishing, gardening—they’re no less outdoor activities than snowshoeing, paddleboarding, or polar expeditions. Too often, we let influencers on Instagram draw the boundaries of our world in narrow ways that can exclude people and activities.
“Expanding the definition of outdoor recreation is essential,” said Graham.
5. Cultivate Community to Build Loyalty
“Sometimes when you’re talking to everybody, you’re attracting no one,” said Micah Ragland, Director of Corporate Communications at DTE Energy. He suggests micro-targeting communities of color. Get educated on a community’s concerns. Try surveys to gather feedback on their preferences. Consider a consultant who can help you activate a targeted communications strategy. Creating an inclusive space with input from your customers can help you build a loyal following.
Taking action on local issues facing diverse communities can also build trust and loyalty. As a native of Flint, Michigan, this was hammered home for Ragland during the lead contamination water crisis. Local outdoor gear retailer Moosejaw sent employees to Flint to volunteer and donated supplies to the affected communities.
“I had never heard of Moosejaw prior to them having their volunteer and donation presence in Flint, and now I’m an avid Moosejaw buyer,” he said. “Brand loyalty is something that can be invoked when small businesses pay attention to race and the impact that it has on the environment.”
6. Grow Your Diversity from the Inside Out
Reflecting your customer bases goes beyond putting Black people in your advertising. It also means recruiting from BIPOC communities, cultivating an inclusive work environment, and training existing employees on DEI. A diverse and inclusive team adds to your company’s cultural competence. It can help you attract customers who identify with your business or brand and also expand the candidate pool of people competing to work for you.
“Specifically with the outdoor industry, there’s the sense that it’s kind of insular—we hire from within, and it’s a club,” said Brady Robinson, Executive Director of the Conservation Alliance. “In light of all the things that are happening in 2020, there are a lot of brands that are trying really hard to pull new perspectives and hire from new communities that aren’t as well represented in our industry.
“Companies that are truly embracing diversity and understanding that different life experiences, different opinions coming from different backgrounds—it’s just a good business decision.”