It’s Not a Cooler. It’s the Promise of Adventure
Recently, I was inspired to dive into a brand strategy case study for premium cooler brand YETI. With 19% growth in 2020, the brand must be doing something worth studying.
I asked my husband what he wanted for his birthday, and he requested a cooler to take on outdoor outings – specifically, a YETI cooler, which has a reputation for being incredibly durable. I thought, “No big deal. How expensive can a YETI cooler possibly be?” To my utter amazement, they start at $250 and can go up to $1,300.
Now, my husband and I have always loved the outdoors, but nowadays our trips require taking two toddlers. So, it’s questionable how durable our cooler needs to be. It’s not like we’ll be backpacking into bear country anytime soon. I did end up getting him the cooler, because I know he had been researching it for awhile but would not make the purchase himself. (And, what are birthdays for?)
YETI is a great brand strategy case study of a niche brand that has transformed the cooler category and driven growth by expanding its reach and product offerings.
Brand Strategy Case Study: Building a Strong Product…and Community
YETI launched in 2006, founded by two brothers with a simple mission of building a durable cooler they could use every day. At the time, the alternatives were $30 coolers sold at Target and Walmart. They broke easily and didn’t meet the brothers’ outdoor adventure needs. As a result, they focused on developing a premium, high-quality cooler that would be put through rigorous field testing. Although priced significantly higher, it would be worth the price for the true outdoor enthusiast.
At the start, YETI used grassroots efforts to market their coolers. They turned early adopters into YETI ambassadors, providing branded hats and t-shirts to help drive interest and tell their story. YETI ambassadors included influential guides and fishermen, who provided an extra layer of credibility and organic community engagement with YETI’s core consumer target.
According to founder Roy Seiders:
“It was a huge help to have high-profile hunters and fishers reinforce that image with testimonials. At the time, no other cooler company was advertising to outdoor enthusiasts or taking advantage of the professionals in the sport. Ryan and I couldn’t quite believe it; it was wide open.”
Today, YETI boasts an incredibly loyal online community fanbase, with 1.6 million followers on Instagram. Like many lifestyle brands, YETI fans are considered almost “cult-like,” continually sharing their experience with others online through the hashtag #BuiltForTheWild.
YETI clearly built a strong product, but they also built a successful lifestyle brand that is associated with outdoor adventure, being indestructible and the best in class – not according to them- but rather everyone that uses the product, including professionals.
Brand Strategy Case Study: Expanding Reach
While YETI started out targeting hardcore outdoor enthusiasts, by 2014 they realized the need to expand the brand’s reach and started developing a strategy to attract other segments that work or play outdoors. This included farmers, ranchers, snowboarders, mountain bikers and even tailgaters.
Part of the strategy including increasing distribution in channels these new segments shopped at. They also evolved the brand positioning to be inclusive of expansion targets, making it the:
“cooler of choice for outdoor enthusiasts, pros, tailgaters, and backyard barbecue kings.”
Brand Strategy Case Study: Entering Adjacent Categories
Over the last five years, YETI has also expanded its product offerings beyond coolers, allowing it to reach new audiences and solidify its place as an aspirational outdoor lifestyle brand. It has strategically launched backpacks, drinkware, pet gear, apparel, and other outdoor living gear.
Drinkware (bottles, mugs, jugs, etc.) accounts for the majority of their sales, at $628 million. Coolers and equipment, while still strong, drive only $446 million in sales.
Today, YETI sales show no signs of slowing down. In 2020, YETI reached $1 billion dollars in sales and had a healthy 19% growth versus 2019. YETI is the perfect example of a niche brand that has evolved into an outdoor lifestyle brand by successfully expanding its core offerings and audience.
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