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The enigma of Stoke: Content Marketing and the Outdoor Industry

Phil Herbert
Strategy Lead
Be Stoked

Stoke (n) /stōk/ – to thrill or excite


With the Winter Olympics coming up next month in Sochi, Russia, the world has started to turn their attention to winter sports. With this attention comes big dollars for companies that make skis, snowboards, outerwear, hockey equipment and all sorts miscellaneous odds and ends that elite athletes need to make them compete at the highest levels.

For many companies, they are putting all of their eggs in the proverbial basket by spending millions to get these athletes to be seen using their products on NBC every night.

For most companies, however, this is just the one piece in a marketing puzzle that has been assembled over the last fifty years that takes sponsorship, content marketing and PR and wraps it into this nice little package referred to as “stoke” by those in the know.

In many ways stoke could be used interchangeably with the more marketing-friendly word “buzz.” You can think of stoke as buzz around a brand, product or athlete that simultaneously inspires and excites.

Stoke isn’t the place to get really granular about product details, features, or techy insights. It’s a lot more about building a story, putting forward your brand and letting potential customers aspire to the life your products can help create. Even specific products can take a backseat in many cases.

Ever seen one of those GoPro promotional videos of people doing crazy things in beautiful locations? You know that feeling you get in your gut that you want to go there, and do those things? That’s you getting stoked. Thanks GoPro!

It may seem easy for these companies to produce this level of content on a constant basis, but it takes a lot time, expertise and a commitment to this type of marketing (not to mention in some cases it takes A LOT of money).

Not to worry, though, because using these same principles in your marketing doesn’t have to be a daunting task. We can take some of the lessons and techniques these companies use and tweak them to fit into any budgets or skill levels.


The ACE Method

As far as I know, nobody has ever formalized this method, at least in public, so that means I get to name it! [The first rule of the mountains: you find it, you get to name it] Let me introduce to you all: the ACE method. Authenticity, Credibility and Expertise.

Authenticity

The key to great content marketing is creating content that resonates with your customer base. People these days have really good “bullshit” meters, and can tell when a company is carpetbagging into an industry looking to make a quick buck. At the same time, it’s readily apparent which brands walk their talk, so to speak, and are invested in the market they are selling to.

This is why the eROI value of “Making Partners’ Passions our Own” is so important. If you don’t love what you make, you can’t create stoke that is going to get other people to love your brand as well.

This is actually fairly easy to accomplish if you are passionate about your product. Talk to people like you’d want to be talked to.

Focus on things you’re interested in. Don’t over think it, and don’t be afraid to be yourself. That’s what’s going to resonate with your customers.

Credibility

All good content marketing campaigns have an element of giving in them. When launching into a new medium, whether into video, onto a forum or community, or even starting an email campaign, it’s best practice to give the community something of value before you ask for something in return. The most successful companies utilize a roughly 3-1 give/take ratio with their customers.

By coming into the community and building relationships you become a credible member, instead of a company looking to hawk their wares. Once in a community, you can participate, share and generally build loyal fans of your brand. Only then, once you know the community intimately, do you try to sell them anything.

The advantages to this approach are many fold. First and most importantly, once you’re in a community, it’s a captive audience. You have their attention, and they trust you. Anything you say will be given the benefit of the doubt at this point, which is a major win from a marketing perspective. Secondly, and almost as importantly, by engaging with the community up front, you know how to talk to them. By now you’ve figured out what they like, what they don’t like and what’s just white noise.

Finally, a sales message is a value proposition. What do you get for your money? By giving away content and advice and generally engaging, you are banking value and goodwill towards your brand. When you come back to sell to them, you get to add that value onto the product or service the person is purchasing.

The ultimate decider on credibility, however is the quality of your products. How well are they suited to the needs of this specific community. How much better is it than other options? Deliver on this and you’ll have customers for life.

As they say: If you build it they will come.

Expertise

This is what brings it all together. Without expertise, the ACE method won’t pay off for you. I’m often asked by friends and family if we, as eROI, are worried about pitching ideas to clients, given that they could just take our ideas and not pay us. My response is always the same: ideas are a dime a dozen, but expertise is worth paying for.

As an agency we have the unique ability to not only execute on our ideas in ways our clients can’t, but we also have the expertise to know which ideas to prioritize, which ideas are good but aren’t suited for the specific goals we are trying to accomplish, and which ones we should run with. Lots of ideas are great in a vacuum, but it takes an expert to fit them into the infinitely-more-messy real world. You are the expert on your products and the world they live in. Your customers pay you to provide some of that expertise for them.

A great example of this expertise is done by a company called Signal Snowboards. They have a video series called “Every Third Thursday” where they take a crazy idea and build it into a snowboard. Think paintball guns, guitars and dartboards. They also build boards out of things like plastic bottles, glass and Legos.

This series cements them in the minds of the community as board-building gurus. You get to see their process and every month they make something that normal people might feel is impossible. You can almost hear customers saying, “If they can make a board that works out of glass, they certainly can make a good board out of regular stuff!”

If you’re a retailer instead of a manufacturer, this expertise is essential for getting customers to trust your product recommendations. The Clymb, Rock/Creek and Backcountry.com all have great blogs where they freely give out advice on gear selections and tips to make your outdoor adventures better.

As a retailer you can never compete with Amazon and Wal-Mart on price alone. There has to be something to differentiate yourself. Expertise is a commodity that doesn’t automate and is difficult to scale, and it’s worth a nice premium to a large subset of customers.


Polish

It can be daunting to enter the world of content marketing when you see major brands spending millions on videos and flashy websites and technology that’s out of your reach. The great equalizer here, however is the perceived level of professionalism by the customer. The standards they expect shift based on the medium and the context. A 30-second commercial played during the Superbowl is held to a much higher standard than a webinar by your sales team, or a quick webcam update from your CEO at her desk.

The other thing playing to your advantage is that the technology do do all of these things is getting really cheap. Your phone most likely has an HD video camera inside of it now that puts out video that is not that far from what a $10,000 camera could put out ten years ago. Million dollar software solutions for sharing content on websites are now basically free. The barriers to entry are falling fast.

Pick a medium that is on par with your skill-level and work your way up from there. Content and authenticity will always trump polish as long as you don’t overreach.

Challenges

Adding the ACE method to your marketing strategies doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long-tail play for a niche of customers that takes a not-insignificant investment of time and resources to do right. It’s hard to scale up for large corporations with messy approval channels and there is the ever-present pull of shinier projects.

The payoffs, however, can be massive. You can literally build a base of customers that will fall over themselves to buy your products. And that, my friends, should leave you feeling pretty stoked.

Phil Herbert
Phil Herbert, Strategy Lead at eROI.