One of our readers replied to a recent email with this goal for their brand:
Success for us would be to have a cult following like Yeti 🙌
Indeed, Yeti has become a model for cult outdoor gear brands – taking an otherwise boring purchase (a cooler), increasing the price ten-fold, and creating an entire community around purchasing one.
So how did Yeti build its tribe? Let’s take a look…
They Saw an Opportunity
The Yeti cooler was developed by a pair of hunter/fisher brothers who were rough on their coolers compared to the average beer-drinking beach bum.
The founders have discussed using coolers as a platform to cast off while fishing. This means a grown man needed to be able to stand on top of a cooler without the lid caving in. That’s a big ask for a cheap plastic icebox.
So they got to prototyping and eventually came up with a nearly indestructible cooler. It wasn’t just a marketing gimmick, the Yeti cooler is objectively super-sturdy.
That said, a $200+ indestructible cooler wasn’t for everyone…
They focused on a niche audience early
Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see a mom sipping hot tea from a Yeti mug while watching her kid play soccer. But it’s important to understand that this broadening of appeal happened long after the launch of the initial cooler.
The earliest Yeti coolers were sold (and given) to primarily avid outdoorsmen in the Southeast.
Yeti knew that the early adopters of their product would be those who truly NEEDED the better cooler – the ones who would use it every fishing and hunting trip and rave about it to like-minded friends.
Rather than designing a product for the masses and marketing it to specific groups of people, Yeti designed an intentional product for a specific group. The broad appeal would come down the line as the brand’s reputation grew.
You’ll notice there is no direct call to action for anyone to “buy this cooler.” Heck, the cooler is barely part of the video.
Yeti focuses much of its marketing efforts on connecting to the aspirational identity of Yeti owners (and would-be Yeti owners).
The average Yeti owner probably isn’t as rugged of an outdoors person as the people in the Yeti Anthem video. But Yeti enthusiasts picture themselves as part of that story – one where the products unlock the possibility of living a more adventurous life.
This all points back to the brand’s niche origin. It was never intended for everyone, and yet, the commitment to a specific audience has helped Yeti maintain an unshakable authenticity that attracts buyers from outside the niche.
Call it brand confidence. Confidence is naturally attractive.
What’s the biggest lesson we can learn from Yeti?
Yeti started with an objectively excellent product. They scaled their business by building a brand that speaks to the aspirational identity of their customers. The brand is what sustains their cult status, even as quality competitors pop up. Nobody out-Yeti’s Yeti.