We’ve been a bit busy the past few months, and one of the things keeping us away from the keyboard has been identifying which organisations we ought be a part of and why. As we’ve been building our connections in the outdoor industry, I came across the Outdoor Industries Association (aka the OIA) and we decided it would be a great organisation to join. On Wednesday and Thursday (14th and 15th March 2018), I went to their annual conference at Shrigley Hall Hotel near Macclesfield.

Knowing absolutely no one there, save the OIA’s CEO Andrew (whom we met with in February), it was a little daunting, but honestly I don’t think I could have met a nicer bunch of people. I wasn’t the only one there who was attending for the first time, but all of the people I met made me feel welcome. As far as a conference goes, it’s pretty varied – how many other conferences begin with activities such as a guided walk sponsored by Ordnance Survey, or mountain biking with a member of British Cycling? I opted for the guided walk and spent the next few hours getting to know my fellow attendees from all sorts of different companies. The talks throughout the two days were an interesting insight into the outdoor industry, while everyone appreciated the sponsored drinks and dinner, giving us another opportunity to speak to people in a more relaxed environment.

OIA Conference 2018
OIA Conference 2018. Photo from the Outdoor Industries Association

The talks were interesting; many were from the perspective of brands and retailers, so not particularly applicable to me or Wild Films, but that’s not to say I found them boring, quite the opposite. It gave me a fascinating insight into the brands and businesses the speakers were from: what their priorities were, how they reach their goals, what makes their company tick. I was particularly interested in the talk by Ryan Gellert from Patagonia. Patagonia are great users of film and video for purposes other than selling – indeed Ryan was talking about their latest campaign to protect the rivers in the Balkans from hydro dams and screened the trailer to their film project on this. As a filmmaker – and one who produces documentaries in addition to branded content – I am very keen to see this. Of course, I’d love to work with Patagonia in the future on a project such as this, but that’s not why I want to see it. I want to know more about the people the issue affects, the landscape they’ll be losing to the dams and the wildlife too. There’s more to the story than is on Patagonia’s website and it’s only found in the film, which I’ll make every effort to see when it comes to Manchester on 2nd May.

The main sponsor for dinner was a company called GP Batteries. This is possibly not the most well-known brand in battery production or the outdoor industry as a whole, but they do make some brilliant products. As part of our welcome to the OIA Conference, we were each given a bag containing the GP Design PR52 torch and FP05 power bank, then in addition we each had a ReCyko+ Pro battery charger waiting for us at dinner. I waited until getting home yesterday to have a look at these items and I think they’re incredible. GP Batteries are on a mission to encourage everyone to switch from single use batteries to rechargeable ones. Britain throws away some 600 million batteries each year, an overwhelming amount of which end up in landfill where the chemicals they contain leach into the environment. The film industry as a whole has been using rechargeable batteries for years, mostly out of necessity due to the large power demands that cameras in particular have – but there are the odd few bits which still use regular AA and AAA batteries. We still end up using single use batteries occasionally, and rather than throw them away we have a box full of batteries to be recycled, though we haven’t yet remembered to take them to our nearest recycling point. Rechargeable makes so much more sense though, and although you do spend a little more on the initial purchase they pay for themselves after just a few uses.

GPDesign PR52 torch from the OIA conference
GPDesign PR52 torch. Photo from GPDesign

The PR52 torch is a great piece of design, so it’s no wonder it’s won a design award. It’s weatherproof (useful, when the weather decides to throw all it has at you), but it also feels nice to use; it’s well weighted in your hand, comfortable to hold and easy to operate. I realise that sounds obvious for a torch: you press a button and it turns on or off. But there are several power saving modes, a strobe mode and a moveable front element which adjusts the spread of the beam in a similar fashion to many of the lights used in the film industry. The best part is that it too is rechargeable, with a rechargeable unit built into the body of the torch. The FP05 power bank is a powerful one – there aren’t too many on the market which have a 5000 mAh capacity and can cope with a 2.1amp draw. This might not mean much to many people, but we’re increasingly able to power cameras from power banks – our thermal camera and both the Sony mirrorless cameras can be charged through USB power banks, so the higher the capacity and draw, the better for us. The ReCyko+Pro charger comes with 4 AA batteries which each have a 2000 mAh capacity and the charger is again powered via USB. All of this makes it easy to have them with you outdoors – there are lots of portable solar panels which can power USB products, an increase in portable wind turbines which do the same, and of course you can also recharge them easily through a 12v adapter for your car’s cigarette lighter if it isn’t new enough to have a built in USB port. The high capacity means they’ll last for ages before they need recharging too, which is always handy.

Needless to say I’m impressed with these products – of course I haven’t had an opportunity to test them in the field yet, but it’s very obvious that they’ve thought their designs through and produced quality pieces. My only comment at this stage (if they’re reading) is there’s still too much plastic packaging!

Anyway, I went off on a bit of a tangent there.

The OIA are all about getting people enjoying the outdoors; they fight for outdoor recreation with the government and spend a great deal of time speaking with All Party Parliamentary groups to ensure that people continue to have the right to outdoor sports. All of the brands and businesses there support this whole-heartedly; if their consumers can’t freely get outside then who are they going to sell to? But one thing that was clear to me is that many of the brands don’t really know how best to utilise video content to connect with their customers.

Several times I was asked about producing content which isn’t just how-to guides or fancy product videos. Don’t get me wrong, these are incredibly useful tools for businesses and it shouldn’t be underestimated how useful consumers find them. But we’re in an age where people want to feel rewarded for their loyalty to a brand, where they don’t just want sell-sell-sell tactics. No one wants to give away any closely held trade secrets, but you have to give something in order to engage with the end consumer, otherwise there’s not much incentive to stay with a brand. Many brands make quality gear these days, so it’s not good enough anymore to stand on the quality of your products, it’s all about the quality of your customer service – and engagement is a part of that.

I’ve been doing a lot of research recently for these types of videos as part of the research into a pitch for a brand. Camera companies have been doing this for years – particularly those specialising in photography – and so there’s a wealth of examples there. While I’m not a Nikon owner, they do have a great catalogue on YouTube of videos specifically for customer engagement. These are almost always driven by a person that their audience can connect to, so in the case of Nikon this is a professional photographer with a specific specialty. An example which is a bit closer to home for many in the outdoor industry is Fjällräven. They are fantastic storytellers and their videos are visually beautiful; they’re quite similar in style to those from Nikon actually. Well shot, well edited, well colour graded – and with a story at the centre. In some cases, this is as simple as the designer of a particular product explaining the process of how they developed that design – but in all cases, they shoot outdoors in stunning landscapes and feature people using said product. Many people, myself included, profess to suffering from wanderlust – so seeing products being used in a landscape you really want to go to, with a connection to an actual human at a large brand keeps consumers coming back.

Fjällräven Forever Nature, Spring & Summer 2018 screenshot
Fjällräven – Forever Nature, Spring & Summer 2018 video screenshot

It’s an old adage, but a true one: people buy people. It might be they’re buying because someone in a shop did a great job at recommending a particular product, or perhaps they meet a member of the brand’s staff at a consumer event. But they’re buying because of a person. In an age where online shopping is ubiquitous, having that personal connection in video content is a great way to drive engagement. It’s not always appropriate – sometimes you need the fancy product video more to get people excited about your new design – but when used properly it will help to rebuild brand loyalty.

Of course, you could go down an entirely different route and follow Patagonia’s lead. Patagonia are very much activists for the protection of the outdoors and as part of this they spend a huge amount of their marketing focused on environmental issues rather than the products they produce. They tend to do this through very high quality feature length films, explaining these issues in depth and why they are something everyone should care about. This isn’t an approach that suits everyone, but you can still look to them for inspiration – they also produce short product videos for social media which focus on the creation and use of a product, in a similar style to Fjällräven but very much with Patagonia’s own visual stamp.

For example, I’ve been seeing a video about the development of their latest product the MicroPuff Jacket for some time appearing on my Instagram feed. I don’t know very much about the product, only that it’s been tested fairly extensively in the field, but it intrigues me. It shows me briefly how the product has been created, people using it in a variety of outdoor situations, how packable it is and that’s it really. Turn the sound on and you hear a little about how it’s been developed, but it doesn’t tell you much more than that. For a product launch, this is a great way of doing things – I’ve already said that I don’t know much about it but it intrigues me, and this is because they’re utilising visual storytelling methods coupled with a cliffhanger style approach to the information they’re giving away. How many movies, programmes or books have you been left wanting more from because of a cliffhanger? Well, this video is a great example of how to utilise that in branded video content too.

I could continue down this tangent, but then I’d have enough to make a whole presentation out of it. Who knows, maybe next year that will be a thing?!

In summary, I found the OIA conference a fascinating and valuable event for many reasons. I’ve been highly impressed with some of the products I’ve come across (now to buy one of these award-winning map towels!) and more so with the people I’ve met. It’s certainly an event I’d come to again, preferably with Alex too as there’s so many people you just can’t meet and speak to them all! I think we definitely made the right decision to join the OIA and I’m sure it’s an organisation that we’ll be a part of for many years to come.

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