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Marketing to Women: Moving Beyond "Shrink It & Pink It"

A perfect day for kayaking in the San Juan islands
Women want to be marketed to as enthusiasts, not as a stereotype. Deanna Keahey

It hasn’t been that long since the outdoor gear industry woke up and started taking the needs of female customers seriously. It’s time for the travel industry to catch up.

Listen to Episode 1 of the new RootsRated Labs podcast, where you'll hear from industry experts about trends in marketing outdoor travel to women. Join hosts Ana Connery and Mark McKnight, who cover the history of marketing outdoor gear to women, and how that relates to the travel industry's attempt to speak to women today.

We talk to Rosie McKnight, a passionate adventurer who worked at a specialty sporting goods shop called Hackney's in the 1970's, and hear about her experience with early women's-specific gear.

We turn to Marian Marbury of Adventures in Good Company, who made a career marketing outdoor adventures exclusively to women since 1988. We talk to her about how she connects with her customers and what works in terms of marketing to women.

We also hear John Deleva from Miles Partnership, who's been in the travel and outdoor space for many, many years. He’s travelled to over 50 countries and is on the road over 200 days a year. These experts weigh in along with the hosts on what's different about marketing to women, what works, and what doesn't. The consumer council I mention in the episode is called Think T+O from Mercury CSC.

The podcast is a production of RootsRated Media. Support for this episode comes from Toad&Co, the original trail to tavern brand.

This episode was produced by BJ Smith.

If you like what you hear, be sure to subscribe on iTunes. Your reviews, especially on these first few episodes, help us immensely. We're also on Google Play and Stitcher.

Music credits:

Minsk by Melodium
Solidarity by Podington Bear
Pfeifferhorn by OK Ikumi
Lone Peak by OK Ikumi
Looking Back by Lee Rosevere
Twinkletoes by Podington Bear
Dry Creek by OK Ikumi
Gentle Chase by Podington Bear
Evening Glow by Lee Rosevere
Swimming by Podington Bear

Full Transcript

This is the full transcript of our recent RootsRated Labs Podcast episode on marketing to women.

Ana: Support for this episode comes from Toad&Co, the original trail to tavern brand. When you're looking for high-quality clothing, as well as great recommendations on where to eat and drink near the trails, you're always in good company with Toad&Co. For more info, go to toadandco.com.

Rosie: When I went on, I think, my third trip to Colorado, I had done so much whitewater rafting on the Colorado and the Arkansas that I had a honorary guide designation. It was a year where there was a lot of snow melt, and so the melt was really cold on this Class 5 rapid. They were determined that we had to wear dry suits because if anybody fell in ...we're girls, so obviously, we're gonna fall in. Which didn't happen, but we had to wear these dry suits and yet they were men's dry suits, so they didn't fit anybody. They were floppy in all the wrong places, and tight in all of the wrong places and it was awful. I used to think to myself, "Man, if somebody would just create women's outdoor equipment, we would have so many more women out here."

Mark: It really hasn't been that long since the outdoor gear industry woke up and started taking the needs of female customers seriously.

Ana: It's time for the travel industry to catch up.

Mark: Welcome to RootsRated Labs...

Ana: ... Where we explore the intersection of travel and the outdoors. Today, we're talking about marketing to women. I'm Ana Connery.

Mark: And I'm Mark McKnight, and we just heard from Rosie McKnight and yes, there is a relation. She's actually my mom.

Ana: I love that your mom is on this show. I so wanna tease you about it, but after having talked to her, I kind of have to give her her due props.

Mark: And I know it sounds a little lame starting with my mom but she's the real deal. She has been out there traveling and adventuring basically my entire life, and I'm sure even before that because I've heard a lot of stories. But every time I talk to her, there's some other story that she's held back on me.

There was a time when I was in college. She called me from Switzerland, I didn't even know she was going, and she said, "Everything's okay, but..." And she actually started telling this story about she's sitting here in this beautiful room, looking over the Alps with a down comforter. And I was like, "Oh, that sounds really nice, what's the name of the hotel?" And she's like, "Well, it's hospital whatever." And she had actually broken... I think she broke her leg on that trip, but she was skiing and really hurt herself. And I think she had to be helicoptered off, but that's the kind of thing that I grew up with and she would always downplay it and not make a big deal out of things like that.

The thing is, not only does she amazing travel stories to tell but also she worked in retail in the late 70's. She worked at this sporting goods shop and so she really knows what it was like for women attempting to buy gear before outdoor stores really popped up, and where they are now.

Rosie: I worked in one of the first specialty outdoor sports equipment companies, called Hackney's in Chapel Hill, and we just had to know what the size transformation was between men’s and women’s sizes because there were only men’s.

Mark: Yeah, everything was men's.

Rosie: And so the boots were huge and inflexible, and I used to kid that I could jump off some of those abandoned mining rails and not worry about hitting a spike because it would not go through the bottom of these boots. And I carried a 45-pound pack, for an example.

Mark: And that was back before they even had what we called in the industry "shrink it and pink it," which was the initial approach to women's apparel and gear for this outdoor sports world. "Just make it smaller and make it pink."

Rosie: Yes, and that's where it went.

Mark: It was never designed for women at all and then... Of course, now that's all changed.

Rosie: And it was pink. Everything was pink.

Mark: Everything, yeah.

Rosie: If it belonged to… for women, it was pink.

Mark: It's kinda just demeaning and it's playing into stereotypes to think that women want things that are pink. And it really wasn't speaking to their needs and what's actually different about women's bodies and the way that they want to get outside. And so I feel like, while we've come a long way, we definitely see that it's still a problem that the outdoor industry is still marketing to men and women differently. And in a lot of ways, women just want to be marketed to as an enthusiast.

We should be marketing to beginners differently than experts, but you can't assume that the expert is going to be a man and that the beginner is going to be a woman. That's not a valid assumption.

Ana: You know, you've been in this industry, in the outdoor space specifically, longer than even I have. What do you think is the reason that so many of these companies took so long to sort of start saying, "Hey, maybe we need to appeal to women?"

Mark: I think that's a great question, Ana, and I've actually thought about it a bit. I haven't done a ton of research, but as I think about a lot of these key companies that are so big in the outdoor industry, a lot of them were just founded by men. And like a lot of companies back in the late 60's and the early 70's, all the executives were men. You've got Doug Tompkins that started The North Face, Yvon Chouinard that started Patagonia. Royal Robbins was in that same group. And I think that that was probably all there was to it is that these were men out doing things in the wild together and they just made men's clothing. It didn't occur to them, I don't think.

I was really fortunate recently to meet a company, it's an agency out of Bozeman, Montana. When I was on vacation, I stopped in and had one little work meeting with a group called MercuryCSC. And they have a really interesting group of advisors, I guess you could say, it's a panel. They call these people adventurists, but you could also call them experiential travelers or geo travelers. But they take an average of five leisure trips a year.

These are the people that really want to get off the beaten path. They're gonna reject that packaged travel. And they asked them a lot of questions about how they felt about marketing to women. And they asked men and women, which was interesting to me. Not that surprisingly, men didn't have quite as strong a reaction, but women really felt like they should not be treated differently.

There were some really powerful quotes in here. One, just statistically, was that 85% of women don't want travel brands to market to them differently than men, which I thought was a really powerful thing. And then, they asked the same question about outdoor brands. And more than 75% of women don't want outdoor brands to market to them differently. So they have a little bit more favorable... I mean, a slightly more favorable opinion of outdoor brands marketing to women differently. But 75 and 85% is still very clearly… a huge majority of women just want to be spoken to as an enthusiast, as a traveler, as an outdoor person.

Ana: Well, you know, women don't want to be underestimated. Whether you're manufacturing gear or marketing to them, we don't want to be underestimated. And while you may be able to, sort of, shrink and pink a pair of boots or some other kind of gear, you can't shrink and pink an experience, right? I mean, the experiences are what women want out of all of this just like the men do.

And so, when they feel like they're being taken for granted or just underestimated in general...I mean, there's a lot of women who can scale mountains just as good as any dude can. They just may not choose to do that on every trip, but they don't want you to assume that they're not interested in having these experiences. And you don't have to scale a mountain to prove that you love nature and you love the outdoors.

Another reason that I don't think anybody should ever estimate the power of women's voices when it comes to the outdoor industry is when you take a look at how much women control the majority of purchasing decisions in any given household in America.

And women are in charge of what families and couples and households are doing with their time and their money and that includes what they're putting on their bodies as well as where they're deciding to spend their vacations and their weekends. In a way, it's almost like it's naive to think that women should be treated differently in any way, shape, or form. In fact, if you really want to treat us differently, I would say market to us first. Because the odds are we're gonna hear you first, we're gonna listen first, we're gonna pay attention first. And we control those decisions in our houses anyway.

Mark: Absolutely, there's actually a quote in here from... The name of this counsel is Think T+O, so it's talking about travel and outdoors and it's exactly the same intersection that we're talking about. And they have a quote from a female and it's... They don't have names on these, they're just kinda pulling out quotes, but it says, "Dumbed down girlfriend getaways are annoying. I don't want to drink sugary cocktails and sit by the fire and learn how to make some sort of craft. I want to head out into the woods, learn a new skill relevant to the outdoors, and enjoy my strong women company."

Ana: The truth is, guys like to sit by the fire with a sugary drink every once in awhile too, okay. The point is that there's no reason to just make these wild assumptions and then put all of your marketing dollars into this one bucket without realizing the effect that women can have on the decision-making on everything from what they're wearing to where their families are going on the weekend.

I talked to John DeLeva from Miles Partnership. He's been in the travel and the outdoor space for many, many years. He's traveled to over 50 countries and he's on the road 200-plus days a year. He usually travels right along with his wife. They technically have homes in Seattle and Maui, although it's hard to find them at either because they're on the road so much. And he had some really interesting insights about how both the outdoor and travel industry, in general, has changed in the way they market to women.

John: I'm out there a lot and I know women that are better hikers and bikers and rafters than me. And there are women today who are doing everything the guys are doing and a lot of destinations realize that. There's a certain niche for the high-end active person, you don't need to do it differently for men and women.

Mark: The outdoor gear industry has learned a valuable lesson about marketing to women. Gone are the days of shrink it or pink it.

Ana: But when it comes to travel, we still have a long way to go.

Mark: When we started talking about adventure travel and marketing to women for this episode, the first thing that popped into my mind was a story my mom told me years ago. She was actually in the Bahamas diving with my dad. Basically right after diving in the Bahamas...

Rosie: In 1996, I believe, It was an all-women, 18 women, outdoor executive management retreat. And it was a rare occurrence at the time. So rare, in fact, that they invited me in. They were breaking ground on this idea and paid my expenses.

Mark: So, of course, you said yes.

Rosie:"Yes" was my first response.

Mark: It's really interesting to hear her story because the group that she went with was male guides.

Rosie: That was a company that was already doing outdoor retreats for men, but this was their first female adventure. Now, I will tell you that they closed the women's side pretty quickly.

Mark: They couldn't make it work. And listening to her talk, I think, there are a couple of reasons that are red flags for me. One, they were treating them like, "Oh, these are women, they can't do all these different things."

Rosie: They were taking us on, essentially, the male track that they had used before. But they were kind of treating us like lilly dippers. Do you know the term "lilly dippers" among paddlers?

Ana: Tell us what "lilly dippers" means? Because I think a lot of people have never heard that term, and it's quite funny.

Rosie: Well, it is, and that's someone who's present and holding a paddle but not really digging in and doing their part to propel the boat.

Mark: And so, it wasn't treating them with the respect that they had deserved in this.

Rosie: So, it was really interesting and it was supposed to be team building and all kinds of things. And it just was such an experience. I love nature and it was really rugged. But in doing things like rappelling, we only had huge, military harnesses.

Mark: This is a perfect example of a travel experience that was created for men, by men, and simply rebranded for women without actually considering their needs. Essentially it's a travel version of shrink it and pink it. This is the same reason why so many marketing practices fail. So, we went to an expert who has been successful to see what does work.

Ana: Marian Marbury of Adventures in Good Company has made a career in marketing outdoor adventures exclusively to women, and she's been doing it since 1988.

Marian: Making a living in the outdoors was something that I wanted to do starting in college, but it really just didn't seem like an option at the time. And then, when I was living in Minneapolis, Minnesota working at the state health department there, there was an organization called Woodswomen, which was the first company that ever did adventure travel for women. And I started guiding with them and it was one of those times where you think that you're really going to love something and then after you do it you realize it's absolutely everything you ever wanted to do.

I started guiding with them in 1988 and then in 1999 they went bankrupt and I thought, "Well, just because I know absolutely nothing about starting a business, that didn't get in my way." I started in ‘99 largely because I wanted to keep guiding and I loved what we were doing. I loved the connections that people made on our trips. I loved being able to spend time outdoors. So that was in 1999.

Mark: I feel like Marian is an example of how to market to women in a way that isn't just some stereotype of what women are. She has women’s-specific trips, so she is choosing to market specifically to women. But she's marketing to women with the respect that they deserve, as people that want to get outside and want to learn new skills and it just makes so much more sense.

Marian made an interesting point, talking about marketing to women, in showing groups of women outdoors. I think it's really similar to this idea of just inclusion with gay and lesbians too. But if you show a group of people, and not always just a male and female couple on a beach, if you show a group or you show different groups, people from all walks of life in different stages of their relationship status and even different ages, can imagine themselves fitting into that vacation or that experience.

If all you're ever doing is showing a beautiful man and a beautiful woman on a beach, you're excluding probably most people. And it just seems like marketing, in general, needs to become more inclusive and not stereotyping. And not saying, "Oh, we need to add some women in here. Oh, we need to go get a gay and lesbian angle on this."

Ana: It just seems so forced. And I think more in the travel industry than even the outdoor industry, the vast majority of imagery used doesn't even have people at all nowadays. Most destination marketing organizations have libraries chock full of landscape shots that don't even show a single person. Yet, when you look at the types of travel stories and travel content that is shared and cited the most, it's social media content. Because it's people enjoying and having the experiences in live action at the time.

Marian: You know, when you post pictures of a trip, especially it's a trip that's going on right now, and then you have people leaving comments like, "Oh, I did that trip last year, it was great." Or, "I see people I recognize." Or, "Gosh, that looks fun." In a lot of ways, that tells our story more, which is women who are really connecting with each other doing really amazing outdoor things in beautiful environments.

Mark: I'm a huge believer in UGC, user-generated content. And I feel like your customers can tell your brand story so much better than you actually can because it's more authentic. It's coming from all those different voices and it's showing something that you could never just go hire out or pay models to do.

Ana: Well, it's organic and what's organic... You nailed it when you used the word "authentic," it doesn't seem forced. Markets have become smart about marketing, they know when they're being marketed to. And they know when you're doing the quintessential diversity lineup or gender lineup to make sure you check all your boxes and nobody ever accuses you of leaving somebody out.

When you look at UGC, it so doesn't become about the gender or the color of someone's skin, it becomes about the experience that they're showcasing and sharing with the world and that's what you want to put out there. That's the story.

Marian: I think women want to share great trips. And if they come back from a trip and they go, "My God, it was the best organized trip, and the food was great, and everybody on it was so much fun. And it flowed so smoothly, and here are my pictures." You don't have to incentivize people to share that.

Mark: And also, it's not that hard to do. You just have to pay attention and really encourage people to do it. That's kind of where the hashtag came from, is this idea that you can organize a conversation. But you have to seed it, you really do have to put it into your marketing and onsite. If you're a travel company, you need to do that in a way that visitors in market are gonna remember to post and tag you and do all those things that make it actually useful to you in the long run.

I think when we're talking about marketing to women, we have to keep in mind what's at stake and the reason why this is important. And we really do believe that the outdoors and having outdoor experiences is transformational. It changes your life, it makes your life better.

We're seeing new studies coming out that show that being outdoors actually does have physiological benefits beyond just the physical activity. There are actually health benefits in terms of how your brain works, and how self-confidence works, and your mental health. And so there's just so much at stake if we don't market to half of the population or market to them in a way that connects with them.

Ana: It's really not about thinking about the outdoors and travel as being gender-specific or age-specific. It's really about the transformational experience that you can have when you embrace the outdoors.

Marian: You know, I get re-motivated all the time. So this year we did a trip to Nova Scotia. I'd been up there scouting it the year before, so I was guiding it and also working with the local guide. And we had 12 women from all over the United States. There was one woman who had never done anything like this, she was in her early 60s and the very first thing that we're doing is a bike ride and she goes, "Oh my God, I haven't been on a bike for 60 years."

It was a very easy bike ride and she loved it. That was the thing that had scared her the most. So that gave her grounding for then going... And then we did kayaking and then we did hiking. And I just watched her blossom over that nine days, from somebody who had been unsure of herself and a little timid to someone who came back feeling so positive about herself and about her possibilities.

And I think one of the things for women in their 60s is you start worrying about your possibilities in life and whether or not you've let things go undone that you regret doing. And then you go have these amazing experiences and you go, "Sixty-eight is the new forty." So anyway, that's just an example of somebody who totally inspired me and everybody had a great time but she was the one that I think about because I felt like it changed her life in a really profound way.

Mark: Coming up on the next episode of RootsRated Labs: What happens when a place becomes so popular and so beloved by everybody that it suddenly seems as if it's loved to death?

Mark: This podcast is brought to you by RootsRated Labs. We provide content marketing software and services to outdoor brands, DMOs and really anyone looking to reach active travelers. For more information, visit labs.rootsrated.com.

Ana: And be sure to subscribe to our show on iTunes at rootsrated.com/itunes. And if you like what you hear, please do us a favor, write a review and share the show with a friend or colleague.

Mark: We also really want your voice on future episodes. Tell us what we should be talking about. Tell us what we got wrong. Record a voice memo, send it to us by email to labs@rootsrated.com or you can call and just leave us a voice message at 423-521-5477.

Ana: Don't forget to include your contact info if you call in so we know how to reach you if we have follow-up questions. We look forward to answering your toughest questions and learning along with and from you.

Mark: Thanks so much to my co-host Ana Connery, this is Mark McKnight. This episode was produced by BJ Smith. Thanks, BJ, you're the best!

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