How one company has built its brand reputation on a single product

With sustainability at its core rucksack specialist Osprey is focused on making one product as good as it can be, but is expanding into new markets such lifestyle in a bid to extend its brand.

Going from a single sewing machine in California in 1974 to being stocked in hundreds of retailers across the globe, founder-led rucksack specialist Osprey is carving its own niche in the outdoor sector having built its reputation on a single product.

Osprey’s new marketing director, Gary Burnand, says specialising in backpacks alone ensures the brand “doesn’t get distracted” by the industry, maintains its core focus, and sticks to what its good at.

“What it means is, we can bring all that past experience to bear in our innovation. It means we don’t get distracted into other areas, so we’re very clear about what our core focus is and how we optimise that versus the competition,” he tells Marketing Week.

“We’re always working closer with the design and production team to find innovative ways to meet the needs of consumers.”

Osprey’s founder Mike Pfotenhauer is still heavily involved in the design process. In fact, every product design passes through Pfotenhauer, who still has the role of chief designer.

While there are known challenges of working with founder-led companies, Burnand says Pfotenhauer continued involvement enhances consistency and means Osprey doesn’t have to answer to shareholders.

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“He’s just got such amazing passion and vision to continue to evolve and find superior solutions to problems. Having someone who has that consistency and thread right the way through the brand is an incredible resource that we’ve had,” he says.

“Our ownership means we can take long-term view points on things as well, we’re not having to be dependent on the markets and work to short-term shareholder demands. We’re able to take a longer-term [view] in terms of our design, production and innovation funnels.”

Balancing brand story and design innovation

Having only joined Osprey in April, Burnand still has plenty to uncover about the business but brings a wealth of knowledge to the role. He has previously worked at Kraft Food, Levi’s and Barbour, and until recently ran his own consultancy.

At Osprey, the marketing strategy is focused on two things: telling the story of the brand in order to build its status and pushing the quality of its design technology through its ability to innovate. To do that, it has a focus on not just content marketing but digital and influencer marketing, working closely with athletes and ambassadors.

“We’re continually evolving [the marketing strategy], it feels like on a weekly basis, especially in terms of how we are working particularly with influencers in one area while pushing out into related categories such as travel and lifestyle,” explains Burnand.

We don’t get distracted into other areas, so we’re very clear about what our core focus is and how we optimise that versus the competition.

Gary Burnand, Osprey

One of the biggest challenges Osprey faces is stealing market share and attention from established competition. And given the company is branching out into lifestyle, rather than just being for outdoor enthusiasts, it has to work hard to differentiate itself and disrupt the sector.

“The marketing challenge we face is around competition. We’re very clear about where we want to go but inevitably different markets have historically different bag and luggage brands that have already been established, so market by market we face different challenges,” he says,

The company is also focused on keeping up with evolving consumer demands, an ever-changing communications environment as well as finding suitable retailers that will help sell and tell the Osprey story.

“Consumers are being more demanding all the time but we consider we are well positioned to respond to those demands,” Burnand says.

“Being able to, and continuing to, deliver a relevant and exciting experience in retail is an interesting challenge and one that is going through a huge amount of change at the moment. But it will always be important for us to find powerful ways to tell those stories with retail partners because they help authenticate our brand.”

For Burnand, overcoming any challenges and nailing its marketing brief comes down to two key factors: great creative and sharing the brand’s story through the most appropriate channels.

“It’s about two areas: how we powerfully tell the story of our brand and how we activate that through creative, but also how we use the right cutting-edge channels to speak to people and direct those messages,” he says.

“[We have the] ability to really target consumers in a way we’ve never been able to do, in terms of the specificity it is incredible, and this is really done through powerful storytelling.”

Osprey is also a strong believer in having a positive impact on the planet, which feeds into the idea of essentialism that Burnand says is a current trend in the outdoor space.

“It is about having a focus on things that are really important. What do you need? What do you not need? I believe in the vision of the company and the sustainability of the company and the business model,” he concludes.

“It’s not about consuming for consuming’s sake, we’re at a stage where we have to consider every purchase and whether it’s necessary, how does that product affect the planet that we live on and how will that product be with us across the journey.”

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