Effective outdoor adventure branding is much more than a cool logo you can slap on merchandise. Your identity should guide all your marketing materials, not only visually, but in the words you use as well. It should tell your story in a way that customers can easily understand and relate to. Great brand identities will inspire loyalty as reputations grow.
Here are a few helpful tips to consider if you’re hoping to improve (or invent) your outdoor adventure brand identity.
1. Identify your audience and speak directly to them
Before anyone starts designing anything, it’s important to have a good idea of who you’re designing for. Oftentimes, when we ask new clients who their brand or product is for, the question is met with a long pause, followed by,”I guess everybody?” This always prompts more questions.
If you don’t know you target audience’s age, sex, income, geographic location, shared values, etc. that’s okay– it just means you have some work to do. Perhaps you THINK you have a good idea of what these are but you aren’t sure. Now is a great time to take inventory of your current customers (if you have them) to see if your assumptions are correct. If you’re a new business, you might want to research industry standards in these areas and see if they align with your expectations.
Are you lacking an educated guess or not sure where to start? Seth Goudin, the TED-talking, “Godfather of Marketing” advocates that brands should start by tailoring their product or service to the smallest, most specific viable market. If you’re right, you end up creating an amazing organization for these people who then spread the word, offering you an opportunity to diversify your offerings a bit, if you wish.
2. When they go loud, try a little subtlety
If you’ve ever gotten gas at a truck stop near a touristy area or stayed in an inexpensive motel, you’ve likely at least glanced at a rack card display. These multi-compartment stands usually feature a smattering of tall brochures, promising generous discounts on whitewater rafting, ziplines, and all you can eat buffets.
Common design elements you’ll notice across rack cards include:
- Bold proclamations, such as “THE MOST EXTREME ADVENTURE EAST OF THE MISSISSIPPI”
- Heavy, clunky fonts practically yelling said proclamations
- Primary colors straight out of the local-printer’s ink bucket
- Pasted-on social media logos asking for “likes” and follows
- Shiny glossy paper
Suffice to say, this article is being written by a creative director who loathes tacky design, however, sometimes the strategy of visually “yelling” at your desired customer can be quite effective (think billboards for fast-food restaurants). The problem is that it’s hard to hear when everyone is yelling.
If your competitors have obnoxious yellow coupon cards that command more attention than your slightly less obnoxious red coupon cards, perhaps it’s worth considering a different approach. If it’s important that you be seen as the cheapest, hootin-hollerin’ tourist attraction within 5 miles of the truck stop, then trying to be the loudest yeller in the rack of yellers might be a fine strategy for you.
If you’re hoping to reach customers that value the beauty of nature and won’t simply regard your outdoor adventure as a discounted “ride” they can’t go on at Dollywood, then consider taking a more intentional approach– creating a positive impression with thoughtful wording, on-brand font choices, and professional, emotive photography.
3. Invest in professional photography and videography
When you’re in the business of human excitement, you need to be able to preview that excitement by way of photos and video. Like it or not, we live in a society where many people will look at 20 Yelp reviews to make sure they know what they’re getting themselves into at a certain restaurant. If your brand isn’t visible on both your website and third party sites including social media, people have no way of knowing what they’re in for.
This is especially important if the adventure you offer is known for having varying levels of intensity. If you’re a whitewater rafting outfitter, potential customers will use your photos to match their comfort level with your activity. Naturally, you want expectations to align with experience to avoid drubbings on TripAdvisor and similar review hubs.
While smartphones have some a long way in terms of taking clear, high-resolution photos, the eye behind the photos is still immensely important. A good professional photographer should be able to capture that joyful scream when cold water splashes into the boat or the intense concentration of the climber who has almost reached the peak. To ensure your investment pays off, seek out photographers and videographers who have experience shooting for similar businesses. Chances are they are best equipped to capture key moments with artistic grace.
4. Keep your website clean and user-friendly
Most people visiting your website are there for two things, tops. To learn about the adventure you offer and to book their activity. If you are a mission-driven company, you might find some folks are there to also learn about how you’re making a positive impact in the world.
If your website has added features that make finding key information tedious or booking a trip more difficult than it needs to be, then you’re likely suffering from some amount of drop-off. This is especially the case with tours and attractions websites where the majority of traffic is coming from mobile devices (people browsing while in-transit). If your site is too crowded and chaotic on a computer screen, chances are things are even worse on a smart phone screen.
If you’re hoping to reach customers that value the beauty of nature and won’t simply regard your outdoor adventure as a discounted “ride” they can’t go on at Dollywood, then consider taking a more intentional approach
The most effective websites usually do one thing very well and a couple of other things pretty well. If your business relies on bookings, then more often than not, your website’s primary objective should be funneling users towards booking their adventure. This doesn’t mean your website can’t execute other functions, like encouraging e-newsletter signups or selling merchandise. It’s simply a matter of information architecture and hierarchy. In short, if everything is trying to be a point of focus, then nothing ends up being focused-on.
If you’re following this list in order, then you’ve put some thought into your target audience and how to communicate with them without yelling. You’ve also invested in some excellent professional photography which will serve as an ideal visual foundation of your website. The big pieces are in place for success at this point. Now it becomes a matter of ensuring your website’s design is visually consistent with other marketing materials and that your booking system is well-integrated and easy for your target audience to use.
5. Stand by your values
Now more than ever, people prefer to do business with companies who share their personal values. This trend doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon as millennials continue to come into their own. Evidence suggest the rising “Gen Z” might be even more likely to choose one company over another over ethical implications.
Often times, those who play in the outdoors have an appreciation for nature that extends deeper than recreation– wanting to preserve the natural environment through conservation efforts. How does your outdoor brand help ensure there will be an outdoors for future generations to enjoy? Is conservation something you could get excited about? Perhaps you’re taking action elsewhere and it’s starting to pay off both for your community, and your business.
When you mapped out your target audience, ideally you got a sense of their values. Does your company message and ethos align with your findings? If they do, then congratulations, you’ve made Simon Sinek happy by “starting with Why.” Now it’s just a matter of making sure what you’re communicating with both words and visuals align with your mission.
If you’re sensing you and your customers do not share your values, then perhaps it’s time to start redefining your brand identity to ensure people are choosing you because they love you, not just because you’re cheap and/or convenient (unless you’re fine with being the low-cost option).
Summing It Up
- Find out who your customers are (or should be) before investing time or money in graphic and web design.
- When everyone is using gimmicks (coupons and bold proclamations) to get attention, consider a different approach unless you have a plan to truly be the the cheapest or tackiest option.
- Great photography and videography is one of the most valuable investments you can make to prove to potential customers that your adventure is all it’s cracked up to be.
- Don’t try to do too much with your website. Focus on converting the main desired behavior and organize other content to avoid confusion.
- Be bold and stand by your values. If those values don’t align with your customers, consider appealing to different customers.
Need help building an effective brand identity for your Outdoor Adventure company?
We help organizations that promote, play in, and protect the natural world. If you’re more than “just another card in the rack” we should probably talk…