A 2-Step Framework for Thriving in a Competitive Vertical

In the highly crowded and competitive athleisure market, brand differentiation is a massive challenge. The list of athleisure brands is lengthy and constantly growing, with names like Outdoor Voices, Lululemon, and Athleta leading the pack (among many, many others). With so many options available to consumers, entering the space may not be difficult, but succeeding is a serious challenge.  

Here at Zaius, we’ve been following Outdoor Voices’ journey for quite a while. Back in June of last year we featured the brand on an episode of Marketing Unboxed (the show where we order, unbox, and analyze the marketing of top ecommerce brands) and awarded them 4.5 out of 5 highly-coveted praise hands. 

Outdoor Voices has been in the news recently since they announced that their CEO is stepping down. They’ve built a $40 million a year business, but it’s been reported that they’re operating at a $2 million per month loss, which certainly has prompted them to analyze the state of their business and make important decisions for their future growth. While they may be going through some challenging times, we’re still enamored with their story and their success breaking into such a competitive vertical.

Why? Here are a couple of the reasons we thought (and still think!) they’re so great.

  • Focus on community building: There’s no question about it, Outdoor Voices has clearly built an incredible community. Early on, their strategy was to build a loyal audience before they even had a product. If they could connect with an audience deeply, understanding who they were and what they wanted, their marketing campaigns would be that much more effective and efficient. While every other brand in this vertical focused on elite athletes, performance, and shattering records, Outdoor Voices differentiated themselves by focusing on the average person who just wants to get out there and exercise. 
  • Consistent messaging: Outdoor Voices’ vision shines through in everything they do from their products to their messaging. They’ve coined the phrase “doings things” and have consistently delivered that as a key message across social media, email marketing, and their on-site experience. It shows up most often on their social media channels, as users frequently (and without being prompted!) use #doingthings when they’re sporting Outdoor Voices apparel. This user-generated content creates an organic connection between Outdoor Voices’ marketing campaigns and their key audiences. This makes for a seamless customer experience, regardless of which channel you’re seeing the brand on.

With competition at an all time high for athleisure brands like Outdoor Voices (and many other ecommerce retailers), we put together a few suggestions on how you can make your brand stand out and thrive in a crowded market.

  1. Product differentiation: Outdoor Voices sells athleisure clothing for people who aren’t performance athletes, but just want to get outside and “do things.” They found a niche. In order to succeed in this crowded market, finding a way to stand out from the pack is huge. Here are a few other examples of brands doing a great job at defining themselves within a large, crowded market.

    Glossier – Glossier focuses on the basics in skincare and beauty products at an accessible price point. They don’t have a crazy catalog of products, but instead focus on producing high-quality essentials

    Everlane – Everlane focuses on transparency in the clothing production process, making them a go-to for ethically made staples and giving them a point of differentiation over the competition.  

    Allbirds – Allbirds relentlessly pursued the creation of a sustainable product without sacrificing fit, feel, or fashion.  And they succeeded in the footwear market, quite possibly the most competitive of all ecommerce verticals. 

  2. Customer Experience: Once you’ve found fit and product differentiation, customer experience can become your ultimate edge over your competition. Just think about all the brands you admire and continue to spend money with regardless of how many competitors enter their space?  What makes them so special to you? Why do you stay?  

    It’s likely because they’ve spent the time carefully developing and maintaining a spectacular customer experience. For me, some brands that come to mind that are creating a memorable customer experience are Lo & Sons, Everlane, and Sephora. 

    While every brand says they focus on customer experience, it’s easier said than done, and the first step is to ensure that you’re enabling every one of your team members to live that promise. To create a seamless experience and deliver relevance throughout the buying journey, it starts with having a clear picture of your entire customer profile. Knowing your customer, understanding their behaviors, and being able to anticipate their needs will allow you to serve them with the right content in the right place at the right time.

Standing out from the competition is challenging, but is possible with product differentiation and creating a great customer experience. 

For more information on how to stand out from the competition (and how a CDP can help you do that) — check out our newest guide

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