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#31NightsOut: How Brendan Leonard Sparked a Movement Outdoors

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Brendan Leonard reads the map for the next day's route at camp in Titcomb Basin. Photo courtesy of Brendan Leonard/Hilary Oliver

Choose the right voice for collaboration with your brand, and you could very well spark a movement.

That’s what happened when mountain climber Brendan Leonard, author of the blog Semi-rad.com as well as the new book The Great Outdoors: A User's Guide: Everything You Need to Know Before Heading into the Wild (and How to Get Back in One Piece), *and a frequent *Outside magazine contributor, approached Goal Zero, a manufacturer of solar-powered products, to sponsor a challenge he launched on his blog in 2015.

Called 31 Nights Out, it asked people to spend 31 nights outside camping between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and share photographs on Instagram of their adventures with the hashtag #31nightsout.

"I was going to do it anyway and thought it would be a good motivator for everybody,“ Leonard says. “People need a kick in the ass to go have fun."

Beyond having a good time, Leonard wanted people to take on the challenge because he believed it would improve the lives of anyone who tried it.

SEMI-RAD

Leonard’s idea resonated — instantly — with the outdoor community as soon as he posted the blog post titled "Go Camping for a Month This Summer (Without Quitting Your Job)."

Part of the campaign’s success was that it originated on Leonard’s blog, not on a sponsor’s website. This made it clear that it was Leonard who owned the campaign, not a Goal Zero contest that happened to have Leonard onboard. This gave it an air of authenticity, which resonates with consumers.

"If I had thought it was a Goal Zero thing, that would have been a turn-off," says Josh Davis, author of TheChangeIWantToSee.com, a blog chronicling his commitment to living a healthy life. Davis completed the challenge in 2015, and again for fun in 2016 and 2017. Incidentally, he owns several Goal Zero products and likes the brand.

Within days of the challenge being announced, Leonard’s blog readers and Instagram followers began using the #31nightsout tag. To date, 2,653 Instagram posts bear the #31nightsout tag.

That blog post went on to have 6K shares and 27,000 page views — that’s a lot considering the specificity of the audience.

Leonard also attributes the campaign’s success to the fact that it was a measurable goal.

"Just by putting a number out there, people became inspired," he says.

Davis agrees, adding that everything about Leonard’s ask seemed both accessible and doable. "I like month-long challenges. It’s a nice, round number."

Tania Lown-Hecht, communications director of Outdoor Alliance, a group dedicated to uniting outdoor enthusiasts in the name of conservation, also took on the challenge because it was so within reach. "Part of what appealed to me was the accessibility of small, short-term adventures. It was so manageable. It provided balance to the aspirational model of huge mountain-climbing challenges and the like."

Lown-Hecht estimates that she succeeded in sleeping outside just 25 times during the first year the challenge was given, but has since completed it in recent summers.

As for sponsorship, Leonard liked Goal Zero as a sponsor because their brand fit organically with the challenge. Moreover, the prizes the company donated were small solar chargers that people could easily take with them on camping trips — a win for everyone.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement when it comes to the campaign in general. In fact if he were to do it again, Leonard says he would alter a few things. For one he would have sought multiple sponsors to increase publicity.

"Instead of having one brand with 2,000 followers, we could have had three brands with a total of 6- or 7,000 followers, and they’re all linking to each other," he says. Partnering with other like-minded brands can increase visibility, so long as the campaign’s goals and commitments are clearly laid out.

Another move he might have considered is to create an aggregate feed on Instagram—an account named 31 Nights Out that featured contestants’ photo entries compiled in one place, keeping it going throughout the year.

Says Davis, "I would have liked to see the creativity of where other people were pitching tents, how they interpreted the concept, and how they were making 31 nights out happen [on a regular basis]."

But overall, the campaign was a success. The #31nightsout is alive and well on Instagram — and many contestants from the 2015 challenge are still taking on the summer feat this year, just because.

Says Pitt Grewe, who worked in promotions with Goal Zero at the time of the campaign, "Choosing the right voice is key. Brendan is really good at the inspirational side of things. He made it sound like life will be better if you spend 31 nights outside — and he was right."

The takeaway for marketers? Look to influencers for their ideas and join their campaigns, instead of always asking them to join yours.

With nearly half of U.S. marketers planning to increase their influencer marketing budgets in 2017, mastering the right mix of brands and influencers is likely to continue to be top of mind for many marketers.

Originally written for RootsRated Media.

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