More than ever before, novice athletes post about their passions and build tight knit communities that are ready to hear all about their favorite gear and vistas. As a result, the outdoor industry has a vast community of athlete-influencers that are ready and willing partners for brands. Although the outdoor industry may call it “athlete marketing”, the strategies these brands use have allowed them to build some of the most advanced influencer programs within the lifestyle sector.
Below, I share four core principles from athlete/outdoor influencer marketing programs that any lifestyle brand can use.
Outdoor brands know how to invest in the culture of its industry, and have truly mastered the art of investing in long-term influencer relationships. They provide gear, financial resources, and team support to help athletes achieve their goals — whether it’s running a marathon, hiking a 14er, finishing an Ironman, climbing a V8, or completing a 5-day backpacking trip through Alaska. In return, athletes often show high brand loyalty, mentioning their partners frequently and over a long period of time.
For example, Hoka One One is a global shoe brand that has become known as the go-to shoe for novice and professional runners alike — this is in part due its athlete marketing program. Over the past two years, Hoka One One has been the apparel and footwear sponsor for the largest ultramarathon in the world, the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB). The brand goes all out: saturating this event with its product, sending Hoka athletes to compete in the race, celebrating the race through various video content activations, and in 2022 it even built an augmented reality campaign at the race site.
What’s interesting about this strategy is that Hoka One One partners with a wide range of athletes. They support world-famous ultra runners like Jim Walmsley, but they also send novice runners and content creators to spectate the race. Lydia is one such athlete who runs as a hobby, always in her Hoka running shoes. Hoke One One sent Lydia to spectate the UTMB in 2022, and in return, Lydia produced 5+ TikTok videos about her time in Chamonix. The videos showed how Hoka is inspiring Lydia to try a new type of running, solidifying her as both a customer and spokesperson. The campaign also served to show that consumers can support UTMB without running in the race – thereby increasing viewership and as a result, the financial success of the partnership between Hoka and UTMB.
Kate Glavan is another novice runner and content creator that Hoka sponsors to run races and spread the word. Long before Hoka brought Kate on as an official partner she showed the brand a lot of organic love, posting about how their shoes allowed her to run longer with less pain. Hoka noticed these mentions, and started sending her shoes whenever they launched something new.
This partnership has proved to be extremely successful for both sides. By turning an authentic fan into a paid partner, Hoka has earned quite a lot of brand love and promotion. In September of 2022 alone, Kate mentioned Hoka 46 times! On the other hand, Kate has been able to launch her full-time creator career and further her running skills. She is not only a 2022 Hoka Global Ambassador, she will also be running her first half marathon in November!
This type of approach has been seen in the broader lifestyle industry, particularly amongst hair care brands. Brands like Redken, Olaplex, and L’Oreal Professionnel support novice hairstylists in the beginning of their careers in exchange for social mentions or the selling of products to their clients. However, the outdoor industry takes this strategy one step further by rewarding athletes for their partnerships and sending them on extravagant, on-brand trips.
Which brings us to the next point…
Outdoor partnerships are the perfect example of a symbiotic creator-brand partnership. Through these partnerships outdoor enthusiasts get to do their hobbies for a living, and in return, brands receive authentic, passionate, and inspiring marketing for their products.
For example, Jacey West is a creator who always dreamed of spending her days adventuring. After actively reaching out to many different brands, REI (a huge outdoor retailer in the US) finally agreed to partner with her. Now with the support that REI has given her, she helps other adventurers jumpstart their creator careers by giving tips on what got her started. Jacey has become an extremely high performing influencer who can teach her followers helpful tips on building engagement. When Traackr looked at Jacey’s recent mentions of Teva since January 2022, we found that 5 out of 16 of the top posts by video views were all posted by Jacey, a testament to how high her content performs.
Another reason why outdoor influencers make great partners is that their drive to make their hobbies their careers results in some truly creative content. For example, Joseph Diaz is a rock climber who provides climbing tips on both Instagram and Patreon. Many of his Instagram Reels form a loop, where he ends the video by asking a question that is answered at the start of the video. Joseph combines his knowledge of drawing, animation, physics, social media, and climbing to grab the attention of audiences and make his career his hobby. His strategy works well — his Instagram videos earn a 519% average video view rate! Brands that want to partner with these types of influencers should support them in their creative pursuits and help them lean in to the content that makes them shine.
While the pandemic reignited a desire to get outside for many people around the world, the outdoor industry can still be quite intimidating to people who didn’t grow up going out in nature frequently.
Outdoor brands have been able to introduce their products to fashion, travel, and other creators in order to show how with the right gear, getting outside can be for anyone.
For example, Teva has started positioning themselves as a fashion brand by showing how their shoes are the perfect attire for music festivals and other events for non-outdoor people. For the 2022 festival season, Teva partnered with mostly Gen Z TikTok influencers who live in cities, and don’t typically fall into the demographics of outdoor influencers. The influencers spoke to the comfort of the shoes and how easy it was to wear their favorite Tevas with streetwear.
If you’re not an outdoor brand and you’re wondering how you can incorporate some of these influencer strategies, here are some ideas and examples to help you get started: