A few of the themes from our 2017 STATE OF SURF First Quarter Report came to life at our event Tuesday, June 20, as a seasoned line up of speakers discussed strategies around creating authentic women’s marketing, speaking to youth through experiential events, and how our community can collectively become more inclusive and invite a broader audience to enjoy what we are all so passionate about.
Here, we break down the high-level takeaways that came out of the day.
1. Be Transparent | Let your consumer look behind the curtain
It’s no secret that transparency is a huge mantra for all businesses moving forward. Not surprisingly, every speaker at Tuesday’s event mentioned the concept as part of their brand strategy, but in different ways.
RVCA Global Marketing Director Brian Cassaro perhaps put it most succinctly when discussing the brand’s recent Spring 18 women’s campaign, which explored a diverse mix between street style and beach culture. “Our consumer does not live at the beach, but they do play in that space. I feel like consumers recognize when you aren’t being true to that brand vision — they call bullshit.”
Vans found a unique way to open the conversation — outside of social media — between its stellar roster of well-respected athletes and its consumer by evolving the Duct Tape Invitational into a festival earlier this year in Tofino, BC. The event incorporated a panel with pro surfers and talented creatives Joel Tudor, Tyler Warren and Alex Knost sharing their DIY tips on shaping boards, then followed it with demo days for consumers to actually test what they had shaped.
“We really opened up the community to talk and share with these guys their own experience shaping boards, and it was awesome to see that interaction,” said Vans Surf Senior Marketing Director Scott Sisamis. “Just seeing how excited people were, it got our athletes super pumped and the energy between them and the consumers was like nothing I’d ever seen.”
Packing a serious punch, the keynote from Iva Pawling, CEO and co-founder of Richer Poorer, perfectly embodied this message, and took the day’s previous conversations one step further. Instead of thinking of your athletes, ambassadors, influencers, and/or advocates as the end all-be all representing your brand, the company owners themselves should be the face of the brand, she said. Now more than ever, consumers want to know and respect who is running these brands at the top.
“We can’t operate behind a curtain anymore,” she said, pointing out that she and Co-founder Tim Morse try to get involved in every brand activation, no matter how small. “Consumers want to know there isn’t some puppet master in a white tower pulling the strings — we are at these events, getting down and dirty, setting up our booth at trade shows and helping where we can.”
2. Challenge yourself — and the ‘Status Quo’
Our first two case studies, in many ways, represented how established brands in our space are doing just that.
By pulling it’s women’s initiative in-house, RVCA went up against ways the brand had traditionally done things, said Cassaro, acknowledging that historically RVCA has placed the majority of its energy on building the male audience. Based on what they were seeing at a global sales level, however, it made sense to devote more resources to this growing category.
Vans also admitted that while no one has all the answers with such a rapidly changing market and the quick nature of consumer trends, they are working consistently to get ahead of trends, break down barriers that once existed and make the brand more accessible to everyone: “Not too long ago, it was consumers looking through this voyeuristic lens vs. actually being there and being a part of it. We are constantly asking ourselves how do we do this more effectively, and have it make sense to today’s youth consumer.”
Pawling left the crowd with some words of wisdom on the topic: “Pull yourself apart from the people in your circles and put yourself in conversations that challenge your thinking,” Pawling said. “It’s the best way to learn.”
Building on that same theme, Richer Poorer felt like brand ambassadors didn’t really fit within its overall strategy. Instead they decided to discard that concept — which is the norm in most brands’ playbook at the moment — and do something different. Earlier this year, they took five well-known and successful business owners to Hawaii on a five day retreat to discuss strategy, and ways to improve and grow. As a result, they collectively gained different perspectives — and more than 20 million impressions by promoting the trip across each individual’s following.
“I think having an athlete represent your brand comes from the days when brands didn’t have people at the top who could represent it; I don’t think it really resonates anymore,” Pawling said, following up on the brand-owner-as-influencers concept. “If you are a small brand, you need to have a clear message that you can deliver independently, or else it’s not going to work.”
Pawling went on to say that each brand needs to make this individual decision for themselves, and if you are a brand selling hardgoods, like surfboards for example, then it obviously makes sense to have a talented surfer at the helm of your ambassador roster.
Too often we surround ourselves with those who share our opinions and are on the same page, but the only way to truly gain a broader perspective is to go beyond our comfort levels.
3. Be Inclusive | Sharing helps our community grow.
Birthed from a heritage that often times accepts and promotes exclusivity, surfing and surf culture may need to rethink this approach if we want to grow. By including more women, diverse demographics, and those who don’t have daily access to beaches in the conversation, we not only grow our reach, but also share the stoke with so many more people who deserve to have that feeling, too.
RVCA backed this up with its recent Spring 18 campaign, which included several of its women advocates hailing from diverse backgrounds. “We never intentionally plan to create diverse imagery, but it really just speaks to who our brand is,” Cassaro explained. For this shoot, RVCA traveled to Cuba and leaned on some locals who were friends of advocates to bring the collection to life.
On a micro level, we should also be sharing our knowledge and tools with each other, Pawling pointed out.
“We know our brand and business best,” Pawling said. “As a brand, we know what the consumer wants — we should be able to have that point of view and share that data with our retailers.”
Pawling said the competitive mentality of withholding information, or looking at retailers as direct competitors, is not within Richer Poorer’s wheel house. “If you are partnering with a retailer to grow your business, why wouldn’t you want to help them grow and sell your product as much as possible,” she asked. “I don’t understand that mentality.”
More from the 2017 STATE OF SURF First Quarter Event: