As we closed out the Outdoor Retailer Summer
this year, a good friend who works for a large camping products manufacturer asked if I’d noticed any differences during this year’s event from those held in years past. At that time, I had no obvious answers. However, after a week of reflection, I can say that while no big innovations or marketing tactics specifically jumped out at me, there were two primary themes that seemed to weave throughout this year’s show.  

First, I was struck by number of drinkware companies vying for the attention of buyers. I counted no less than 20 drinkware companies on the floor. This is indicative of a larger outdoor trend with parallels to the athleisure movement in apparel. “Everyday Outdoor” captures the idea of consumers seeking outdoor products with pragmatic, everyday use, as well as those that bring
the ‘creature comforts’ of home
– like coffee that stays hot – to the outdoors. The most competitive categories at OR Summer Market were those that had value for everyone, not just athletes or committed outdoor enthusiasts. Categories such as outdoor furniture, grills, and apparel all seemed to have a much larger presence at this year’s show. Perhaps not all too surprisingly, these are the same categories in which The NPD Group is tracking growth at retail.

Of course, the challenge for product managers within these categories is determining how to stand out. I observed very few tradeshow floor booths that were differentiated from those of their competitors at the product level. I was taken aback by the number of manufacturers using cause marketing as a strategy at the show. And that was my second observation.

While the majority of causes were environmental, there were certainly a number of other social issues used to differentiate brands on the floor. The support for a huge range of causes was in full effect during the hosted happy hours held at tradeshow booths.

I actually think these two trends are related. Many brands now rely on a consumer’s connection to a social cause to help them stand out from the others. In an industry where it can be hard to differentiate one product from another, manufacturers have started to understand the value of the advocacy angle.

However, for outdoor brands planning to use their association with causes as an ongoing marketing tactic, they may not want to put all their eggs in the social cause basket. While this strategy is working for many brands, CivicScience
shows that cause marketing is slightly less important to consumers than a year ago. While consumers are looking for brands to take a stand on social issues and want to support those that align with their social values, brands should be careful to watch for other preferences that may eventually impact purchase choices. We know that there are many influences that can take the lead in a consumer’s decision to buy depending on any number of factors.

Consumers are constantly shifting their assessments of brands and products. If the consumer isn’t already product- or brand-loyal and the products they seek don’t stand out as unique, they will continue to seek alternatives.

After seeing so much uniformity in product and trade messaging at this year’s OR Summer Market, I expect to see new business models, pricing, support for rental programs, and exclusive ways to purchase all emerge in upcoming shows as ways to complement the existing product and cause-based stories being told by sports manufacturers at future shows.  

See you at the next show.