Outdoor Millennials and Legacy Brands: Nostalgia, Tradition and Trust

Ubiquitous brand names tend to be companies known for introducing products into the market: they are legacy brands that leave a lasting impression on our psyche. When you were a kid, if your nose was running from the cold crisp air, your mom offered a Kleenex, not a tissue. If you cut yourself climbing a tree, she offered a Band-Aid, not an adhesive bandage. And when you sipped hot cocoa around the campfire she served it in a Thermos, not an insulated beverage container.

Consumers often associate products with brands, to the point where it often takes until adulthood before we realize that they are “brands” and not the actual product. Once people get outside and start having a good time together, they’ll make memories filled with moments that include their favorite brands. Sitting by the fire next to the Airstream trailer, cooking dinner on the Coleman stove and still smelling of Coppertone from a day out in the sun … these experiences create a library of sensory-based memories that have a lasting impact on our future product choices.

In our current market landscape, it can be assumed that most product categories are not only established but also saturated with many quality brands. Like many industries, the outdoor industry is filled with a range of corporate and smaller craft companies offering similar products. So how does an outdoor product make it into a shopping cart, especially as Millennials are increasingly rejecting traditional forms of advertising? How does a brand become a legacy to the Millennial population?

Why should you care about Millennials?

Millennials make up the largest generation since Boomers (see Spawn’s “Death of the Millennial” series in The Hatchery). In addition to their own outdoor participation, Millennials are currently nurturing the next wave of outdoor enthusiasts and future customers. If your brand is seeking longevity, engaging this audience of social sharers, influencers, and young mothers and becoming part of their legacy will impact how the next generation regards your products.

Why should Millennials care about you?

A study of 500 Millennials by Moosylvania in 2015 showed that most Millennials choose brands that:

  • Are high quality products
  • They would recommend to a friend
  • Fits their personality
  • Embodies social responsibility

What does this tell us? It’s not just about the products anymore. Millennials care about the world around them and want brands that withstand the test of time, that display social responsibility about the issues that matter to them. It’s more than just the product; it’s what brands represent and how that representation relates to customers’ lifestyles.

Focus on Moments, Emotional Connection & Lifestyle

As consumers, we’re constantly barraged by brands and campaigns in every corner of our lives. But it’s brands that evoke emotional experiences, like Swiss Miss or Coleman, and brands that are a part of our history that garner the loyalty that every marketer covets. Brands that are seen as trying too hard to be hip to the latest trend reek of inauthentic motivations, and the increasingly sophisticated Millennial audience smells that a mile away. Legacy brands with a reputation for quality are far exceeding startup brands with flashy campaigns. Millennial parents want to know that you care about your consumers and the world they are living in and leaving behind. “The ability of the brand to evoke deep feelings and usher the Millennial into a past is unusually potent,” said Paul Talbot in a recent article in Forbes. Millennials inherit brand loyalty from their parents in private family moments that have nothing to do with billboards or banner ads.

Brand Spotlight:

The most important quality in a legacy brand is adaptability and emotional connection. The green of a Coleman stove makes us yearn for our next camping trip. These brands haven’t faded. Instead, since 2014 with an ever-increasing love amongst Millennials for the quality inherent in some vintage products, legacy brands are seeing a great resurgence.

Airstream trailers are so popular that the company that began rolling out silver bubbles inspired by airplane fuselages can no longer keep up with demand. After a more than 40-year lull in business, beginning in 2014, sales of Airstreams began to increase so much that there is currently a 3-month backlog, and ground has broken on expansion that will increase production capacity by 50 percent. Airstream is benefitting from a wave of baby boomer early retirees, as well as a widespread love for classic retro design, but the company is actively reaching out to Millennials, using social media to highlight Airstream lifestyles and highlighting jobs that can be done remotely from your tricked-out Airstream just steps from the outdoor lifestyle so many Millennials crave.

We see brands like Carhartt and Filson that have been established for years making a comeback with the demand for timeless and no-fuss gear, but brands like Urban Outfitters trying to sell their Without Walls line fall flat. They lack authenticity, a history and an inherent level of quality promised with their product.

How do brands miss with Millennials?

Outside Magazine wrote about the failure of outdoor brands to draw in Millennial consumers and create brand loyalty, citing hyper-focus on highly technical gear without creating a dialogue with their audiences. They fail to connect to their consumers’ need for a bigger picture purpose. It’s like programming your website without giving any thought to the User Experience. Technical features without an engagement strategy or brand story are meaningless. If you are unable to create a connection with Millennials, they’ll leave you behind like the kid eating alone at the lunch table.

The path to “Legacy” status

  • Create a story that parents want to share with their children.
  • Connect to the emotional reality of why people love being outdoors.
  • Be available in those moments when people are searching for just the right outdoor solution to their weekday blues, and today this means having a website that looks appealing on a mobile device.

Brands like Uber, Warby Parker and Airbnb are this generation’s rising stars on the path to legacy status. Warby Parker offers a home try on program for the personalization that Millennials crave, and for each purchased pair they provide a pair of eyeglasses for a child in need. They have created a brand that has a story people care about, that’s interested in more than just profit, and they offer a model that strives to make the world a better place while still producing income. Companies like Uber and Airbnb are becoming a legacy by providing an alternative to the traditional retail model that previously dominated. The sharing economy they’ve developed has become the biggest retail story of the past few decades.

For outdoor brands, the emotional connection comes from collective joyful memories of being outside, where the air smells sweeter, food tastes better, and campfire tales enthrall the way no movie ever could. It comes from nostalgia related to the brands our moms, dads and grandparents brought on camping trips.

Despite being the first generation of digital natives, the Millennial generation will not be the last to appreciate fresh air and family bonding accented by the glint of campfire on the metal siding of a travel trailer. Connect your brand to them through quality and purpose, coupled with cause marketing, social interaction, and the new wave in social media:

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