an open letter to the outdoor industry marketing peopleBy
Dear outdoor industry peeps,
In my former life I was an epidemiologist, working on breast cancer incidence and prevalence. I sliced and diced data by age, race, city, county, even neighborhoods. It was my job to find where there were higher rates so the government and private programs could mobilize forces, to help those populations increase screening, early detection, and reduce mortality.
It was also a fairly sterile process. I was studying two million women with the detachment that comes with the territory, but when I went to conferences shook hands with a survivor, it was fundamentally different. Those people weren’t data points or statistics; they were individuals.
The outdoor industry is rapidly changing, and there is a lot of angst and chatter about how to engage people who are not in the outdoor tribe and recruit them. Sometimes I think we are less concerned about the desired outcome (getting people outside) than the process (making/selling stuff so we meet financial projections).
So when I hear someone say, “We need to capture millennials,” I want to flash a red card and eject them from the meeting. Really? What are we? Trappers?Pull out the leg traps and get some of them eye-phones for bait, Frankie. Today we’re goin’ out for some of them mee-len-yuls. Like someone did here, but for real.
We need to use different language. We need to connect with a person who is from the millennial demographic, and then we need to do it thousands of times.Yes, we need studies and information about potential consumers, just like I needed to analyze data to see what was going on with cancer. But when you get down to it, the numbers are just a means to an end: to identify one person who needs us, and then help them.
We all hear people say, “We’re in the people business.” I wholeheartedly and vehemently disagree with that statement.
If you take away only one thing from this, take this: I am not and never will be in the people business. I’m in the person business. I’m in the person business over and over again, thousands of times a year.
It’s not only retailers who should be in the person business; it’s all of us, CEO down to a part-time sales staff at a big box.
Only connect: Those two words from E.M. Forster’s Howards End make a powerful couplet. We need to remember that behind the spreadsheets and studies and strategies to stalk a desirable population are real, live, complex people.
Get out of the people business and get into the person business. It’s more effective, and it’s a lot more satisfying. In the end, you’ll still make your projections and probably exceed them, but your focus will be on the person, not the people.
Person. Not people. Because a demographic doesn’t actually do anything. It’s just a bunch of crap on someone’s hard drive.