“The price of doing the same old thing is far greater than the cost of change.” – Bill Clinton

We all know that consumers continue to expect more and more out of the purchasing experience (a trend that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon). This is especially the case for outdoor industry consumers, who tend to be a fairly experience-driven bunch.

For most retailers, the pace of these consumer developments has left them floundering, struggling to convince customers that it’s worth their time and their money to actually go to the store. Many have failed altogether.

Credit Suisse Retail Unit Closures 2017

Credit Suisse Retail Unit Closures 2017

However, outdoor retailers have proven themselves to be the exception. They have stepped up to the plate that is high consumer expectations, working exceptionally hard to create in- and out-of-store experiences that engage their customers on an emotional level. They’ve constructed in-store rock walls. They’ve set up outdoor ponds to test kayaks and SUPs. They’ve hosted concerts featuring local artists. They’ve run impressive cross-channel giveaways and influencer campaigns.

But the need to constantly push the experience envelope has definitely taken its toll, and while most outdoor retailers might be keeping up, they’re exhausted from the effort. So they’ve started to turn to their product manufacturers to help drive consumers through their doors. And just like today’s consumer, their expectations are only going to get higher from here.

Why Every Outdoor Industry Manufacturer Should Be Driving Consumer Demand

The manufacturer/retailer relationship is a partnership, and today, being a strong partner means doing your part to attract both new and returning customers. For most product manufacturers, this is a huge shift in perspective and strategy (a shift that, candidly, not everyone is excited about). But it’s important to note that the increase in consumer expectations isn’t the only reason product manufacturers should be focusing on lead generation through D2C marketing.

  • D2C demand generation helps you to strengthen existing retail relationships. As competition for their shelf space increases, retailers have to make difficult decisions about which products to retain and which to cut. Driving demand for your products to their store creates stickiness and creates opportunities to expand on the relationship you’ve already built (additional comarketing campaigns, carrying more products, etc.)
  • D2C demand generation makes it easier to generate new retail relationships. At the end of the day, retailers choose brands and products that add value to their business. And there’s no greater value add than a manufacturer who has a list of people already interested in coming to your store to make a purchase.
  • D2C demand generation helps you better understand your customers. If you’re investing time and energy into attracting customers (new and returning) to your product, along the way, you should also be gaining key insights into who they are, what they’re interested in, and what they don’t like. Through marketing automation and savvy use of customer surveys, you’ll be able to continuously improve your understanding of the people who buy and follow your product.
  • D2C demand generation creates opportunities for new brand partnerships. Cobranding programs can take many forms, from the complex (cobrand products) to the simple (shared Instagram giveaways). But no matter how involved they are, one thing is obvious: cobranding partnerships are effective ways for complementary brands to share audiences and resources. Which means the larger your audience size, the more interested other brands will be in potential partnerships.
  • D2C demand generation lets you take control of educating the end consumer. With so many products competing for space on the retail shelf (offline and online), retailers are having a difficult time maintaining their product expertise across the product lines they carry. Lead generation enables you to have a greater hand in educating the people who will be using your products—both before and after they purchase—ensuring that your customers aren’t confused, frustrated, or endangered by the products you provide.
  • D2C demand generation gives you competitive insights and the competitive edge. Winning the consumer marketing game makes it easier for you to get the edge over your competitors across channels (big box, specialty, Amazon, your online store, etc.). No matter how differentiated you know your product is for the competitive landscape, I promise you, the end consumer is looking at other products. The faster you’re able to build a robust lead generation pipeline, the more difficult it is for these competitors to win over your customer base.
  • D2C demand generation helps you diversify your revenue streams. The most straightforward reason for using D2C demand generation might also be the most (politically) complicated. While there are a number of factors you need to consider before selling D2C, building a D2C marketing program obviously makes it easier to make the leap should you choose to do so. And if you don’t, that’s fine, too; you still have all these others reasons to ramp up your D2C marketing efforts.

How to Build a D2C Demand Generation Program from the Ground Up

Considering that it’s 2018, it’s likely that you’re already doing some work to generate demand for your product with the end consumer, whether that just looks like a consumer-facing website and a few retailer comarketing programs or it’s a fully fledged multichannel campaign funnel. Regardless of how robust your D2C demand generation efforts are today, it’s helpful to take a step back to think about what it would take to build a demand generation program from the ground up.

The Consumer Journey

First and foremost, start with understanding your end consumer and their purchasing journey. As a manufacturer, you already know engineering and product development incredibly well. If your marketing department is really going to prioritize D2C lead generation, they need to be as informed about who is using your product as your product development team.

There are a variety of sources of information to draw from to fill out the picture of your end consumer:

  • Customer surveys, interviews, and focus groups
  • Retailer interviews and surveys
  • Competitive research (we put together an extensive overview of all of the customer information you can gather by stalking your competition)
  • Online forum and review research (you’d be surprised what you can learn about your own product via online forums and user reviews)
  • Internal surveys and interviews (product, sales, customer support, executive team, etc.)
  • Keyword research (i.e., what are people searching for, and what’s ranking for those terms)
  • User research (i.e., what are visitors to your website looking at once they’ve arrived there)
  • Third-party research (OIA’s comprehensive outdoor industry ConsumerVue profiles are a great place to start)

Whichever sources of information you use, it’s important to note that research is an always-on process. If comprehensive consumer research is something you only do every 5-10 years, that probably means that a) you’ve spent those 5-10 years failing to fully meet your consumers’ expectations, b) you’re going to end up spending a ton of money on research all at once (instead of making small, iterative investments consistently), and c) you’re probably only doing it because you absolutely have to (e.g., loss of market share, loss of retailers, trying to enter a new market, etc.).

Contact/lead generation is key in being successful both in direct sales and as a strong partner to your retailers. Whether you distribute all of your leads to the retailers carrying your product or nurture those leads and sell direct (or both), it all starts with understanding your buyer.

Marketing Automation and Reporting

Before you get into actual campaign creation, it’s important to ensure you also have the systems in place to capture customer information, nurture prospects into customers and customers into repeat buyers, and to measure your success. There are three pillars that are absolutely essential to have in your marketing technology stack:

  1. A CRM (Salesforce, Sugar, HubSpot, etc.)
  2. A marketing automation platform (HubSpot, Marketo, Eloqua, MailChimp, etc.)
  3. A digital analytics system or systems (Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Domo, etc.)

While there are many more categories of marketing technology you can and should be investing in, it’s critical you have at least these three in place. Without them, you’re going to have a difficult time nurturing your prospective buyers into actual customers (for yourself or your retailer) and an even more difficult time understanding what is and isn’t working in these efforts. capturing information about your prospective buyers and nurturing them into customers.

Campaign Blueprints

Now that you understand your buyer’s journey and you have the infrastructure in place to run demand generation campaigns, it’s finally time to start generating content and building marketing campaigns aimed at attracting new buyers. With so many moving parts, it’s essential to map out your campaign strategy ahead of time using marketing campaign blueprints: a document that graphically lays out the elements of a marketing campaign, with some key details included, to help identify the purpose of each part of the overall campaign. We’ve published a lot of content on what makes a successful campaign blueprint that’s all worth the read.

Some of the best performing campaigns we have helped clients run use multiple channels, and having a blueprint allows for consistent messaging and timing of a wide variety of tactics. It helps make a multichannel campaign run much smoother to know when and where everything is being sent out. It also helps map efforts back to the buyer funnel so that you don’t end up with a void in one section of the funnel, as can happen with sale-based campaigns.

Building Your Bench

Perhaps more important than anything else I’ve covered is the need to build a marketing team capable of handling your D2C demand generation efforts. It’s one thing to come up with the right strategy for generating consumer demand. It’s another thing to be able to pull it off successfully.

Unfortunately, this is also the most complicated part of the whole process, as there is no silver bullet for what the ideal marketing department should look like. Still, there are a couple of best practices we recommend following:

  1. Start with athletes, then focus on skill-position players. This is a page directly from YETI’s playbook, and it’s one worth mimicking. When you’re first building a marketing department, you’re going to need to bring on people who can do a lot of things well. But as you begin to generate results that justify building out your department, you’ll need to start bringing in specialists who can do a single thing better than anyone else.
  2. Don’t be afraid to outsource. Yes, I’m writing this from the perspective of a marketing agency, and yes, this means working with marketing agencies to help fill the gaps in your marketing team and operations. But there are several good reasons why organizations bring in outside help, not the least of which is that it’s often the most cost-effective option. Working with marketing agencies gives you the opportunity to utilize several strategists, each with their own specialty, for the same price as hiring one person full-time. Does this mean you should only use agencies to fill your marketing bench? Of course not. But what it does mean is it’s worth your time to always ask yourself, “Is there enough work to justify bringing on someone to do the work full-time, and do I think I can recruit someone capable of doing the job?”

The Price of Doing the Same Old Thing

For many in the outdoor industry, the thought of seriously leaning into the D2C demand generation game can seem scary. But in the world of 2018, it’s clear that the upside to leaning into more D2C efforts far outweighs the cost of change.

If you’re already building out your D2C funnel, keep working. And if you haven’t started yet, it’s long past time. Your consumers and retailers are already expecting more from you. It’s time you do, too.

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Brett Schwab

A tried-and-true self-starter who favors forward progress over excess structure, Brett fit right in at Element Three, where he’s lead aggressive growth initiatives for clients like Airstream, Boston Whaler, Thor and Wiers.

“I like to get started right away. Let’s identify what you’re up against, develop a plan rooted in strategy and solve problems, big and small.”