2020 Predictions: Outdoor

For the final installment of our 2020 WTF series, we’re looking to the outdoor industry.

Escaping It All

Ahhh, 2020. A (shit)storm of factors, from political mayhem to social media overload, will push consumers to seek balance and respite outdoors, away from it all. This will be a good thing for companies in and around outdoor, ski, bike, run … and hopefully tariffs and trade barriers will cooperate. As people turn to nature to clear the mind and get away from it all, marketers can seize on this cultural mood. Keep “escapism” high on your consumer mindset radar. Build campaign platforms around it now, but stay flexible enough to adapt—at lightning speed—when big cultural moments (and there will be plenty of them in 2020) happen. There will be gaffs, slights, and plainly inappropriate things happening all over the place in 2020. Choose wisely which conversation to take on. Make sure it relates to your brand. And remember, speed wins with cultural marketing.

A few ongoing conversations you might want to pregame for 2020: climate action/inaction; diversity, equity, and inclusion; fights over public lands, and the roll-back of consumer protections.

Why Buy, When You Can Rent?

Coming soon to your sweaty climbing shoes … the sharing economy. Owning your own gear is so X/Boomer. Millennials don’t have time for that. Okay, that’s not totally what’s happening, but gear rental may be the next big thing, particularly in urban areas, where no one has a garage for 15 pairs of skis and 5 bikes. And here’s the interesting part, at least the part I find interesting, it’s happening in soft goods too. No need to buy a $500 ski jacket if you only ski a few times a year, you can rent it! In many ways, this makes outdoor gear accessible to more people. How can your company support and adapt to this new trend? 


At the risk of sounding old, we’re predicting that one of the big innovations of 2020 will be… de-innovation. Gentler materials, more ease of use, designing simpler, but better, things.


Increasingly, consumers are freaked out by the amount of packaging in all of our lives, and rightly so. Reducing the size and impact of your packaging will not only help your bottom line in 2020, it will also be a big win with consumers.

Athlete Care

A storm of controversy in how some brands treat their sponsored athletes has athlete managers and marketing teams rethinking their programs. As brands revamp to take better care of the folks that are the face of what they do, there’s an opportunity for deeper athlete/brand partnerships and more humanized storytelling. Be on the right side of this one.

Onus Shifting

As companies go deeper on social and environmental sustainability, they often shift the onus of responsibility from themselves to the consumer (Do your part! Recycle! Donate!). Sometimes this is a misguided effort to avoid greenwashing. In 2020, leading outdoor companies will shine a light on their own sustainability efforts and take increasing responsibility for their operations and supply chains.

One way brands will do this is through CSR platforms, reports, and activations. 2020 will be a big year for CSR in the outdoor industries. Brands that take a real and integrated approach to CSR will crush—and talking about CSR work will be an increasingly valuable tool for both recruiting and retaining talent as well as reassuring consumers. 

And at the Same Time … Purpose Washing

Brands that are looking for ways to engage millennials and Gen Y know that these consumers care about more than just a great product – they want to know how a company does business (though in reality they’ll still support questionable companies that make things and experiences they really, really want). 

More and more brands are jumping on the purpose bandwagon. Many have their hearts—and their CSR work—in the right place, while others are in it for the optics. Be sure there is purpose behind your purpose—and that the way you talk about it is aligned with both your brand and your consumers’ values.

Direct Mail

But decreasing waste isn’t happening everywhere. Direct mail is enjoying a renaissance as it breaks through all the digital noise. Most implying the tactic are enjoying better than break even investments and exposure to tons of new consumers. It’s a refreshing break from staring at a screen and worth a try for a lot of companies, especially lifestyle brands.