Episode #6

Derek Rasmussen From Outdoor Vitals

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In this episode of Beyond the Inbox, host Sam Thomas Davies interviews Derek Rasmussen, the Marketing Director of Outdoor Vitals, a company that specializes in manufacturing sporting goods for backpacking and camping. They discuss the importance of core values in a marketing strategy, the customer lifecycle, and the power of email marketing.

Derek Rasmussen starts by explaining that Outdoor Vitals' gear is not just about being lightweight, but it's also about being functional and durable. The company invests in high-quality materials to create gear that will perform exceptionally well, even in the harshest of conditions. The company also prioritizes sustainability and is working towards creating eco-friendly products that have a minimal impact on the environment.

Rasmussen shares that he enjoys helping people find value in a product and feel passionate about it. That's why he's excited about marketing Outdoor Vitals' gear and educating people on how to use it correctly. He explains that the company's marketing strategy is not just about selling a product, but it's about building a community of like-minded individuals who share a passion for the outdoors.

Outdoor Vitals has five core values that guide all of its decisions, including marketing and strategy decisions. These core values are live ultralight, be tenacious, ask why, act responsibly, and hike in their shoes. The first core value, live ultralight, is not just about ultralight gear but also about simplification and enjoying more without overcomplicating things. Rasmussen gives an example of how he and his wife travel with only one backpack each, which gives them more freedom and enjoyment on their trips.

Another core value, “ask why,” is about not accepting the status quo and always looking for a better way to do things. Rasmussen explains that asking why is important in marketing, as well as in all aspects of the business. To stand out from other brands, Outdoor Vitals focuses on performance, not price. They invest in high-quality materials and rely on an honest pricing model. Rather than offering discounts, they provide value in other ways, such as offering a free editable backpacking checklist in exchange for an email address.

Outdoor Vitals also places a strong emphasis on community and customer engagement. They have a closed Facebook group for members, where they can get advice and support from like-minded people. They also hold Q&A sessions for new product launches, which creates confidence and value for their email list.

Rasmussen says that email accounts for a huge percentage of their revenue and that every time they send an email, they see a boost in sales. They plan to capitalize on this by exploring new ways to add people to their email list and increasing their affiliate work.

Outdoor Vitals' membership program provides members with better deals, discounts, and early access to product launches. The membership program also includes access to a closed Facebook group, where members can ask questions and get support from other like-minded people. Rasmussen talks about how the membership program is more than just a way to get discounts, it's a way to build a community and connect with other outdoor enthusiasts.

Overall, Outdoor Vitals' core values and marketing strategy focus on providing value, simplification, and performance-driven gear. Their emphasis on community and engagement sets them apart from other brands and creates loyal customers. Rasmussen emphasizes the importance of providing value to customers and helping them connect with the outdoors. He believes that marketing is about more than just selling a product; it's about helping people find value in that product and feel passionate about it.

Listeners of Beyond the Inbox can learn about Outdoor Vitals, its core values, and its marketing strategy. They can also get insights into how the company provides value to its customers and helps them connect with the outdoors. Outdoor Vitals is a company that is focused on more than just selling gear; it's a company that is committed to building a community of outdoor enthusiasts who share a passion for the outdoors and a commitment to sustainability.

Read the transcript:

Sam (00:04): Derek, welcome to Beyond the Inbox.

Derek (00:08): Thank you. I'm excited to be here today.

Sam (00:10): Thank you so much for taking the time to join us. I want to start with a question about Outdoor Vitals. Can you tell us about the brand and how you got started with the company?

Derek (00:22): Yeah, so Outdoor Vitals is an outdoor gear company. What we do is we specialize in ultra light backpacking gear. We get out and tested ourselves. We focus a lot on performance and it's a lot of fun. So how I got started with that is I was in college and there was a speaker series going on at the university and I was going there and I was listening to these speakers talking about... They were basically sharing tips and tricks to us college students and how we might get ahead in life a little bit more.

(00:53): On one particular day, the speaker happened to be the founder of Outdoor Vitals. He shared a lot about what he was doing, the gear he was making and kind of his goals for his company moving forward. It sparked my interest. I was studying marketing at the time and I really was interested in the outdoors. I spent a lot of time with my friends, with my family, camping, hiking, mountain biking, anything you could think of, climbing. And so that sparked my interest. So what I did is I went up and talked to him after he finished giving a speech and I asked if I could meet with him and set a time. So after that first meeting, essentially I volunteered. I volunteered to work for him and his company for an hour or two a day for free. I just said, "I want to learn and I want to get my foot in the door in this industry. I'm studying marketing. I love the outdoors and I'm just going to soak up everything I can. You don't have to pay me."

(01:47): And so from there, I started to get a lot more responsibilities. The founder, Tayson Whittaker, and other employees that he already had at the time started giving more tasks and things that I could do to help him. Eventually, after about two weeks of me volunteering for free, they said, "Actually, you know what? We'll hire you." And from there it kind of took off. Started out helping with anything and everything. The company's been pretty small. Eight years ago when Tyson founded Outdoor Vitals, he did it with just $500 out of his pocket and he started selling sleeping bags. And from there we've been able to develop our own gear and designs and grown quite quickly to be able to sell our gear around the world to help people connect with the outdoors.

(02:37): As the company grew, I would look for ways that I could learn and apply the things I was learning in new ways. I went through a number of different positions, started out with a lot of warehouse shipping and customer service, answering emails and chat requests, and then eventually transitioned to do more with social media, with other marketing aspects, helping with our videos on YouTube and our podcasts and eventually got to the point where I now am where I am the marketing director, managing our whole marketing department and helping to coordinate all of our efforts in that way. It's been a lot of fun. We still get out and test her gear and we still are all very passionate about what we do.

Sam (03:23): That's a fascinating story and it leads me into something I wasn't going to ask, but it seems like a fitting place to read out this quote I found on the Outdoor Vitals website. This quote is referring to you, Derek. It says, "He's the biggest marketing nerd you've ever met and can't get enough of being outside." Can you talk on what it is that you love about marketing? Where did that passion start from for you?

Derek (03:50): I don't know. I think I didn't know I liked marketing until college really. I was already at the university. I'd been there for a year and I had no idea what I was studying. What I really wanted to do with my life was taking some general courses for that first year, but I took a leap of faith and started to spend my time in more business and marketing related classes. And from there I found out how much I really liked it. What I realized is that my passion for marketing is gone beyond college and classes and the actual business side. What I really enjoy is helping provide value to people and also helping people to feel passionate or enthusiastic about something. That's something that I've felt throughout my life even as a younger kid. Someone has an idea or I have an idea and I get excited about it, and then I like to help other people get excited about it until there's some action.

(04:48): With my friends in high school growing up, somebody would throw out an idea of something we wanted to do that weekend and I would take it and run with it. I'd get really excited about it. Often it was something in the outdoors, camping or some new adventure we wanted to do. We wanted to climb up a new mountain, maybe snowboard down it or something. I would try to get other people excited about it and invite as many other people as possible to come along with us and enjoy it. And so that's something that I've enjoyed throughout my whole life. It's a part of marketing. Obviously there there's a lot to marketing and what goes into it, but for me it's about real value and things that I truly and honestly feel will benefit other people's lives as well. I'm just excited to share it.

(05:34): And so that's a big part of why I went to talk to Tayson, the founder of Outdoor Vitals, after his speech. I realize that that's something that I'm excited about. I'm very excited about getting into the outdoors, connecting with it, and enjoying a lot of adventures out there. And with my marketing degree, that's something that I wanted to help others do. Marketing puts me in a good place to not only help people find gear that will enable them in the outdoors, but also educate people on how they can do things correctly so they're going to be safe, so they're going to have fun or maybe realize there's other activities or opportunities out there that they hadn't considered before.

Sam (06:17): There's so much to unpack here, but I want to focus on excitement. That's something that came across to me when you were talking about Outdoor Vitals' core values. I wanted to ask you, can you speak on firstly what Outdoor Vitals' core values are, but also why they are so important to the marketing strategy today?

Derek (06:47): Yeah, absolutely. So the core values of Outdoor Vitals govern all of our decisions, what we do, what we don't do, who we hire, whether or not we fire someone and everything, and in marketing decisions and strategy decisions as well. There's basically five core values that are incredibly important to us. Those five are live ultralight, be tenacious, ask why, act responsibly, and the fifth is hike in their shoes. These values apply not only to our business but to how all of the employees of Outdoor Vitals try to live our lives. And know not all of us are perfect and living every one of those values to the T, but I can guarantee everyone here does live the majority of those values to the best of our abilities. That translates over in a lot of different ways.

(07:39): Our number one core value is live ultralight. It's not just about ultralight gear, it's not just about weight. It's a mindset. It's about simplification, it's about enjoying more without over complicating everything and putting more stress in your life.

(07:54): An example of that is my wife and I, we like to travel. We pretty much refused to travel with more than one backpack each. Something that we can bring with us on the plane as carry on. That gives us a lot of peace in mind and it gives us a lot more enjoyment on our trips. As we are traveling around, we don't have to worry about extra luggage towing behind us, where to store something. If we're going from one town to the next, we don't have to leave anything behind at a hotel or worry about it fitting in a taxi cab or on a shuttle or whatever it is. Everything's in a backpack with us at all times. We can go and move freely. That's also a part of living ultralight, is the simplification. If you have gear and a lifestyle that's versatile and that's efficient and effective at what it's designed to do, then your life is, in my opinion, much more enjoyable.

(08:51): So that's one example from one of those core values, but each one of those core values are incredibly important to us. Being tenacious, not giving up just because things are hard. If there's a problem, let's post past it. Everyone at Outdoor Vitals has that personality. Asking why. Just because something has been done a certain way before doesn't mean it needs to stay that way. It doesn't mean there's not a better way to do it. And in marketing, that's huge. There's a lot of things that people get into a rut.

(09:24): In the past, a lot of people, they did a lot of marketing and advertising through print materials like newspapers or TV commercials. While some of that is still done and still works to some extent, things like the internet pop up. So we've got to ask why. Why do people only advertise on newspapers? What else can we do? Obviously, that's a question that's been asked quite a few years ago at this point, but the concept is the same. Even today, it's important for us to ask why in every aspect, not just marketing. And it's the same for all of our core values.

Sam (10:04): This ask why value really stands out to me. Can you think of a time when you have zagged when everyone else has zigged in your marketing and that being a result of you asking why and doing something different, going outside of expectation, doing something that maybe others wouldn't expect of you?

Derek (10:28): Yeah, there's a couple places that I can think of right off the bat. One is in kind of the advertising strategy, a lot of people historically have focused a lot on cost per click. And if they have a relatively low cost per click, they're willing to invest a lot of money. We do that to some extent, but we've started asking why. I know that there's some nuances and some inaccuracies in the tracking and attribution with some ad platforms and [inaudible 00:11:02] or even Google Analytics, it's not always perfect. But instead we like to focus on things like ROAS, return on ad spend. We'll pay attention to all the other metrics. Cost per click of course is still important, but at the end of the day, can I look at my revenue number from the day and can I look at the amount I actually spend on an ad platform?

(11:21): If those numbers don't make sense, then we don't spend. Whereas a lot of other companies I know of, and I know I have many good friends in some other companies that their whole strategy about that is totally different. We're asking that question even in the way we're designing ad copy or videos. I mentioned before that we have a YouTube channel. There's not a lot of other brands especially in the outdoor space that have a quickly growing YouTube channel.

(11:53): A lot of brands that do have a YouTube channel, a lot of their videos are just about their products. They're just kind of ads more or less, but in a format that you can look them up and see them on YouTube. We don't do that. Of course we do have another channel for that, but our main channel is actually just all about giving our viewers and our followers information, things that will truly help them and not just pushing our own gear. We don't shy away from showing or using our gear in the video, but the video is more largely about a tip or a trick or an adventure that we're sharing that a lot of people want to share along with or learn about a particular trail that we've hiked.

(12:31): That's something that we've asked why. Why don't we create a channel and make this type of video rather than just advertisement style videos? It's worked very well for us to grow our audience. People who have seen our videos and from there have learned of us, and that's translated over to more sales eventually as they've gained that trust and seeing us really just trying to give them true value.

(12:54): One other example of asking why do things a little bit different in our marketing is our membership. We have a Live Ultralight membership is what it's called, and it essentially gives members an ability to get better deals year round. Discounts, better shipping options, and early access even to product launches. It doesn't hardly even cost them anything. They put in a little bit of money each month which is returned to them immediately as store credit. So it's essentially free. And that's something that we haven't really seen in the outdoor industry. What spurred that is we saw another company, a very small company doing that with another industry. It was more of a baby product industry that we kind of came across, a company that was doing this, and we asked, "Why? Why can't we do that but just in our niche instead and see how that works?" And it's worked phenomenally well. I can't go into too many details there, but this membership has been huge and it's a great tool in a lot of our marketing and retaining loyal customers.

Sam (14:02): I have so many follow up questions. I speak to a lot of founders and co-founders and they talk about community and what that means to them and how they are serving their community. It sounds like there's a lot that you are doing with the membership. My question is, someone that's coming into your funnel, someone that's coming to your website for the first time, what are they getting from this community and how are you communicating to them what it is that they get from joining a membership for instance?

Derek (14:39): So one of the biggest things that they'll get as a part of our community and specifically if they join the membership is they'll feel included in a group of like-minded people. Another perk of the membership is access to a closed Facebook group. It's a place where there's no trolls. Everybody that's in that group is there because they want to be. Everybody there is interested in learning and helping each other out, and that's an expectation that's set even before they've signed up and joined the membership.

(15:16): Oftentimes I'll see people post a question in that group and they'll have some question about gear, about a specific trail or a trip that's coming up. Before we even get a chance or have the time to answer that question, because we are regularly always in there in that same group interacting as well, but I often find by the time I see a post, it's already got five to 10 comments answering and supporting and helping that person who originally asked the question. It's somewhere where you find friends without actually having to meet them face to face that they'll help you solve your problems, they'll help you gain more confidence for backpacking, maybe doing higher miles on a trail than you've ever done before, and that's been awesome.

(15:57): A lot of times our members will build off of each other's excitement, and that's really fun for me to see. We'll launch a product and I'll go to the group after the product launch, maybe the first day, and I'll see tons of posts of everybody, "Hey, did you see this product?" And, "Yeah, I've already ordered it. I can't wait to get..." And then as soon as that new product starts arriving at their houses, they're all posting unboxing videos and pictures, so excited to share. That's been really helpful for us as a brand just to keep some really high energy going.

Sam (16:33): You mentioned a little bit earlier about how community contributes to retention. I want to switch gears a little bit and ask you about email. You and I spoke previously and you told me that email is working exceptionally well for you right now. I'm getting your emails right now. I have a few questions. I think I'll start off with, one thing I noticed on the website which I really appreciate, is you're using a website popup to collect emails, but rather than offer a discount like most online brands do, you're actually offering a checklist. So I wanted to ask you about that, the thinking behind doing that.

Derek (17:08): Yeah, no, that's a great question. So all of our core values that I've mentioned before, those five core values, they influence what we do, right? That includes how we do things differently. In order to stand out, in order to help more people connect to the outdoors, we try to do things a little bit differently. One of those things is focusing on performance, not price. So there's a few things that go into that. When we're designing a new piece of gear, it's so important to us that we design something that is reliable, that people can honestly have confidence in and that will ultimately work as we promise it will. Because we are direct to consumer brands selling things on the internet, we don't have retail markups, we don't really do all of those markups that a lot of retail brands do, that gives us some freedom in a few ways, but it also has some limitations in a few ways.

(18:11): The freedom is that we can put more focus in paying for higher quality materials. A lot of retail brands, the retailers already told them, "Hey, this new product that you're trying to sell, it has to be within this price range, otherwise we won't put it on our shelves." And so this brand will go and back to their fabric suppliers and they'll say, "Hey, we can't go with that super expensive fabric that won't hit the retailers' required cost basically," right? We don't have to deal with that, so we can use whatever we deem as the most appropriate or high performing materials or fabrics. So we'll put more funding and money into those higher cost things if it's going to make the product perform well. That's a benefit. But the con is what leads into your question about not offering discounts.

(19:03): The con is that we use what we call an honest pricing model. So our markups aren't ridiculous. They're fairly straight line across the board. Like I said, we'll invest whatever it takes. We don't have an end price in mind when we're creating new gear. We'll invest whatever it takes to create gear that will perform exceptionally well. And then the price lands where it lands. But we are unable to offer a lot of huge discounts in order to stay in business with that. Our model is more of, "Hey, we will provide performance gear. You can rely on that, you can have confidence in that. You can have confidence in us, you can have confidence in yourself using this gear. We're also going to give you all the education you need on how to use it well, but the price is what it is because of that performance focus that we have."

(19:54): And so rather than offer a discount on our website to get people to sign up and to get their emails so they can be on our list and we can be in touch with them more, we try to find other ways to provide value. And for us, that's a checklist. We start thinking, "Hey, who is our target audience? What do they need? How else can we help? What's something that we can offer them for free?" And that is a backpacking checklist. We find that as long as we have all been backpacking here, Outdoor Vitals, even our founder, Tayson, almost every time we will still use a backpacking checklist to make sure we don't forget anything before a trip. It's the worst when you're out there on the trail, you're 100 miles in and multiple days in and you just don't have something you need. Or even on the day one, I've had one of my coworkers here, he forgot a spoon. So that's a simple thing with maybe an ounce, but it sure makes it really hard to eat any of your meals when you don't have any utensils for it.

(20:51): And so that checklist, it solves the problem, right? That's something that we can offer. We've made it so it's editable. It's customizable for you and your trips, the gear that you have. There's even some calculations involved where if you use the online version of the checklist, you can input weights and have your base weight of your backpack calculated based off of the different gear items you're bringing. You add a checkbox for the ones you're bringing, unchecked the ones you're not bringing, and it'll help you kind of estimate your weight that you can expect on the trip. So something super useful and super valuable to know as a backpacker and we are wanting to offer that for free. It's not something that takes a lot of time or resources from us, but it's something that we can give, and so we do give it. We've found that actually it does get us quite a few people to sign up and join our email list from that.

Sam (21:44): That's tremendous. It's something that really stood out to me when I saw it. Something else I saw recently which I was very impressed by, it was an email promoting the new Oblivion Sleeping Pads that you just launched. And at the end of the email was a Q&A where people could ask questions. I don't think I've ever seen that in a broadcast email and I wanted to ask if you could speak a little bit more on that.

Derek (22:10): Yeah. So almost every product launched we have now made it a point to do those Q&As. That's something we started trying. Again, that goes back to our core value of asking why. Why not do a live stream that just during a launch event, answers people's questions right off the bat? So now we've made it kind of a standard to make sure we do that every time. Those have been hugely successful. We've found that it's something that creates confidence between us and our email list as well. Our email lists, the more things like that we can send out to them, whether it's a blog post, whether it's a link to that Q&A, it creates value for them. They don't feel like we're just sending spam emails. We're actually really trying to give them content and not just constantly asking for their money.

(22:58): Those Q&As are a place where they feel heard, they feel like there's some real value given, and that we have their best interest at heart. Again, for us as a company, Outdoor Vitals' purpose is to help connect people to the outdoors. We believe that's something everybody needs. I think that sentiment is shared when we invite them to join those live Q&A videos. It has been something that's very valuable. We've got a lot of great feedback about that. Our email list typically responds very well. The open rates, the clickthrough rates on those emails are very high. People are always excited to feel like they have a voice and it's not just a brand that has all the talking to do.

Sam (23:43): Can you talk a little bit about what does the customer life cycle look like? Are you typically getting someone that is already familiar with the brand making a first purchase? Are they joining the email list first, getting a series of emails and then becoming customers? What does that journey look like from first time visitor to first time buyer?

Derek (24:06): There's a little bit of everything. That's kind of a trick question I think. So a lot of it is actually we have a lot of people that join our email list fairly early on before they've bought anything, before they really become very familiar with the brand. We find that our email strategy helps us familiarize these new followers with our brand fairly effectively. We have a lot of different offers, whether it's that checklist on our website where you enter your email, get a free backpacking checklist that's editable and functional for really lots of trips. That's one thing. We also have different promotions going where we have ads running for special. Free pillows, just pay for shipping. Free ultralight backpacking pillows.

(24:52): We get emails right off the bat when someone takes us up on that offer. They put in, I don't know, $6.50 or so, pay for shipping, and we'll send them a pillow. We'll have their email from that order and we'll start talking to them a little bit, "Hey, you're going to get this pillow soon. It's going to be awesome. You're going to love it. Here's what else we can help you with." And we find from there, we actually pull a lot more people to buy more from us eventually over the next few months and create quite loyal customers.

(25:24): Others we've found that that they've heard about us on YouTube or by listening to our podcast. And so they're a little bit familiar with the brand at first just by watching a number of videos for however long, maybe it's a couple months that they found our videos interesting and eventually start getting curious enough to click on our links and search our website. And from there, they'll maybe find some products that they'll buy or join our email list. But it's a pretty good split of those types of people or people that are immediately just signing up for our offers up front, such as that free pillow or that backpacking checklist.

Sam (26:01): I really like that. It reminds me of almost a trip offer where as soon as someone has spent money with the brand regardless of how much it is, the trust is there and you can start nurturing that customer into becoming a brand advocate and maybe part of the community and so on.

(26:21): I'm just mindful of our time coming to an end very soon. One of the last questions I wanted to ask you, Derek, was what are you doubling down on marketing wise in 2023 at Outdoor Vitals?

Derek (26:34): I would say there's two main things that we want to double down on 2023. One is our email marketing. I know we haven't talked about it too much on this episode, but our email list, because of all the other things that we've done and inspiring confidence by providing value, by creating gear that's performance driven, that once a customer does buy a product, they know they can rely on it, all of that effort has helped contribute to an email list that is very interactive. What I mean by that is our average open rates are incredibly high, above 40% on average. Though what we're going to do this year, we plan on capitalizing on that, we want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to help that grow and to increase that email list if our open rates are that good.

(27:24): Now, we want to help fuel our growth as a company by capitalizing on what's already working very well. That's one of the areas that are working incredibly well. Email accounts for a huge percentage of our revenue. Every time we send out an email, even if it's not specifically asking for our customers' money or trying to sell a specific product, every time we send an email we do see a boost in sales as people are gaining value from other things we offer. And of course, sometimes we are just saying, "Hey, this is a new product. Here's why you're going to love it." And we see a huge boom in sales from those.

(27:57): So we're going to capitalize on that. We're going to explore some new ways of adding people to our list, beyond the checklist, beyond the free pillow and what else we can do. That's one of the big things that we're going to focus on. Other things in marketing is we're going to do a lot more affiliate work. We find that some people are big enough fans of the brand that they want to become affiliates and help spread the news. Those affiliates are actually already doing quite a bit for us, and so we'll lean into that as well.

Sam (28:29): Well, at Drip, we are an email company and we love to hear that people are getting so much out of email and automations and I'm really looking forward to seeing the growth of Outdoor Vitals in the next year and beyond. It's been a joy speaking to you, Derek. I really enjoyed hearing about the core values and seeing how those are expressed through the marketing. I'm really looking forward to the following Outdoor Vitals' continued journey.

Derek (29:00): Thank you. I appreciate it.

Sam (29:02): Thanks, Derek.

Derek (29:03): Thank you.