Outdoor Life: On the Trail of a Changing Audience

Your brand is not your product. That’s a risky fallacy and one that we’ve covered on multiple occasions (here, here, and here for a few examples). But if you’ve done one thing for more than 100 years, it’s easy to fall into a trap and believe it. It would have been easy for Outdoor Life to take that approach. Instead of holding on to the idea that they were a monthly collection of printed pages, they’ve listened to their audience. They are following a new path, but one that is consistent with their brand audience.

A History in the Outdoors

Outdoor Life launched in Denver, Colorado, in January 1898. It has existed as a print magazine to this date, consistently curating stories across the spectrum of the outdoors, from how-to, to new gear, to adventure stories. Noted authors and celebrities including Zane Grey, President Theodore Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, Clark Gable, and Ernest Hemingway have been contributors. It’s been a benchmark of quality and insight in the outdoor magazine segment to this date.

But the way people find and use information has changed. While new media since 1898, like radio and television, came into being during the time of Outdoor Life, they didn’t have a major impact on their audience. Those outlets were still cost prohibitive and needed a large mass audience to be successful. However, the advent of multiple cable televisions, followed by the Internet and social media, has definitively changed how the audience gets their information today.

Tracking Migrating Audiences

Today, if someone wants to know “how to do X,” they turn almost immediately to the internet via Google or YouTube or some other platform. They’re not going to wait for 30 days for their next magazine to arrive to maybe have the answer. Similarly, if they’re in need of new gear they’re going to find it online or go to a specialty store. Even if they do see a new pair of boots, tent or other gear that interests them in a magazine, they’re going to check out the reviews online. That’s just the nature of the business today.

One thing that Outdoor Life readers did want more of was stories—long ones. This was from the editor: “The most common request we get from readers of this magazine is that you want to read long articles that take you into the field, bring you along on adventures, and explore all aspects of what makes hunting and fishing such a rich, rewarding experience.” And contrary to what you might have heard, “millennials read more than older generations do—and more than the last generation did at the same age.” So where does that leave the Outdoor Life brand?

A New Vista

To meet the needs of their audience, they’ve created a content strategy that is consistent with their brand.

How To Articles – A standard in every magazine issue, they’ll live forever on the Internet in the form of videos, posts and social media. They’re ready and just a search away when their audience needs to know how to do almost anything outdoors, or just to explore and browse.

How To

New Gear – Shopping starts online, so that’s where the gear tests and reviews go. But beyond that, Outdoor Life has partnered with manufacturers to create branded items that match the needs of their audience and offers them for sale through their own outlet.


The Magazine – This is the quantum shift. Instead of twelve thin and shrinking issues with a limited appeal to everyone, the magazine is now produced quarterly. It has more pages, is thicker, and heavier into the adventure stories, with unique takes and perspectives backed by quality writing and photography. In the words of the editor, “It’s something you can lean back with and sink into.”


The Test

Will the shift work? Only time will tell, but the signs were all around that they couldn’t continue down the print-only path. They had to evolve with the audience. Outdoor Life has listened to their core and done research into what they actually want and use, and shifted to meet that need as it exists today.

For more thoughts on how you can find your brand purpose, download the eBook:
Brand Purpose: Why It Matters and How to Find It.

Brand Purpose

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