Understanding the 161 Million US Consumers Who Spend Time Outdoors
Leveraging customer segmentation examples will allow outdoor brands to cash in on both increased category spending and consumer participation. Active brands will also benefit, as the outdoor and active categories are related and have significant overlap.
Spending time outdoors became increasingly popular in 2020, with increases seen in activities like camping, hunting, and more. The highest-ever level of outdoor recreation participation was set in 2020 at 53%, or 161 million Americans. This represents an increase of 7.1 million over 2019.
Four popular outdoor activities in terms of 2020 sales provide ample opportunity to practice the different customer segmentation approaches. These are:
- Cycling – $697 million in 2020 sales, +63% vs. 2019
- Golf – $661 million in 2020 sales, +51% vs. 2019
- Camping – $605 million in 2020 sales, +31% vs. 2019
- Paddle Sports (kayak, paddleboards, rafts, canoes) – $172 million in 2020 sales, +56% vs. 2019
Frequency-Based Customer Segmentation Examples
The first customer segmentation example we will explore in the outdoor and active space is behavioral, specifically frequency.
Frequency is a time-tested customer segmentation approach, so much so, that the famous model for direct marketing is RFM (Recency, Frequency, and Monetary).
A recent outdoors customer segmentation example of frequency separates outdoor recreation participants into three groups:
- Core(or heavy user) participants who participate in outdoor recreation at least once per week or 52 or more times per year. In 2020, there were approximately 53 million Americans in this category, about one-third of the group who participates in outdoor recreation (which represents 53% of the total population). The core group has grown smaller since 2010, when it represented 40% of the population.
- Casual (or light user) participants are defined as those who participate in outdoor recreation between one to eleven times per year, or less than once a month. They represent another one-third of the population (34%). In many categories, including outdoors, most of the new consumers (who entered in 2020), fall into the casual category, and the opportunity is to trade them up to more frequent users.
- Moderate (or medium user) participants are defined as those who participate between 12 to 51 outings per year, at least once per month and less than once a week. These represented another one-third of consumers in 2020.
The super heavy consumer or “core” frequent user is a proven model. In addition to outdoors, super heavy users are valuable to understand in many industries, ranging from computer and video games, to cigarette smoking, to social drinking to fitness apps, and yes, even hot dogs (in hot dogs, the frequent user is the teenage boy).
While it varies from category to category, it’s common for the heavy or super heavy users to contribute most of the category activity, and the Pareto principle often applies, with 20% of the users (the super heavy ones) creating 80% of the activity. Similarly, these highly-involved consumers often contribute 80% of the spending in the category.
Since outdoor recreation encompasses over 122 categories, brands will find it helpful to deep dive into a segmentation made up of the specific users of their category. Each category can be further segmented by frequency, spending, psychographics, demographics and need states. The most popular categories by numbers of consumers participating are:
- Running, jogging and trail running (64 million)
- Hiking (58 million)
- Fishing including fresh and salt water as well as fly fishing (55 million)
- Biking including road, mountain and BMX (53 million)
- Camping including car, backyard, backpacking and RV (48 million)
- Wildlife viewing (21 million)
- Birdwatching more than one-quarter mile from vehicle/home (15 million)
- Hunting with rifle/shotgun/handgun/bow (15 million)
- Skiing including alpine, downhill, free ski and Telemark (14 million)
- Recreational kayaking (13 million)
- Backpacking overnight (11 million)
- Canoeing (10 million)
- Snorkeling (8 million)
- Shooting including sports clay and trap/skeet (7 million)
While a heavy user customer segmentation approach is a good first step, there are often meaningful differences between the heavy users for a brand to understand. For instance, there may be a super frequent fisherman who spends most of his or her free time fishing. This individual may spend relatively little on equipment and rely on fish as a dietary staple. In contrast, another super frequent user may be more of a sport fisherman who owns a boat and views this as a hobby. The sport fisherman’s spending may be much greater on equipment.
Psychographic Customer Segmentation Examples: Outdoors
Spending time enjoying the outdoors is a very broad category frame of reference, attracting consumers with shared basic motivations or “antes” such as getting sunshine, fresh air, relaxing, walking for enjoyment, walking for a purpose and barbecuing/picnicking.
This broad frame of reference is a good starting point for outdoor brands to consider for customer segmentation, and may be ideal for a retailer that offers products across a broad range of outdoor categories, like REI, Big 5 or Cabela’s. A more focused category-specific segmentation will be most helpful to retailers and brands that focus on a more specific category product range.
60% of the population qualified as an outdoor consumer, made up of seven psychographic segments.
More frequent and engaged outdoor consumers include Urban Athlete, Achiever and Outdoor Native segments. The first three segments are all much more regular users and spenders, representing a combined 42% of the population and 66% of the spending. Many outdoor brands will market primarily to these three segments, and secondarily to the fourth segment.
- Urban Athlete: (20% of outdoor consumers, 33% of outdoor spending, 165 spending index). The spending index will be 100 if the consumers account for their fair share of purchasing, so the Urban Athlete index of 165 is quite high, though not exceptional.
This segment was “raised on team sports” and seeks competition, intensity and socialization in their time outside. These are their defining psychographics differentiators. For Urban Athletes, time outside includes time in more urban outdoor areas like parks, basketball courts, and gyms in addition to more rural mountains and lakes. Activities that they skew high on are skateboarding, outdoor yoga, mountain biking, races, basketball, CrossFit/drills/HIIT. They tend to identify more with athletic brands and don’t consider themselves “outdoorsy.”
- Achiever (10% of outdoor consumers, 17% of outdoor spending, 170 spending index). The Achiever, as the name suggests, is driven by performance and competition and seek “professional level” gear for their chosen activity. They want the best products on the market. Some of the activities they participate in include running, team sports, camping, climbing, mountain biking and camping. Demographically, this segment skews to younger males with children at home who live in or near a city.
- Outdoor Native (12% of outdoor consumers, 16% of outdoor spending, 133 spending index). Outdoor Natives are motivated by the enjoyment and experience of spending time outdoors, particularly with their families. Favored activities include camping, day hiking, playing outside, running and cycling. They prioritize versality, affordability and functionality in their product choices and mix more traditional outdoor brands with more mainstream athletic brands.
One moderately-involved and engaged outdoor psychographic segment, the Aspirational Core, presents opportunities for outdoor brands, typically as a second priority behind the first three.
- Aspirational Core (14% of outdoor consumers, 14% of outdoor spend, 100 index). These consumers want to be outdoorsy and seek adventure, but participate less regularly. They “stick close to home” even though they aspire to go farther for their outdoor activities, and are most likely to focus on just one or two activities. At times, they will rent outdoor gear as they are undecided on investing and committing to the activity on an ongoing basis. Demographically, they skew to younger and single.
There are also three less involved segments: Athleisurist, Sideliner, and Complacent. Together, these three represent a combined 22% of outdoor category spending and 46% of outdoor consumers. This means that in this customer segmentation example, almost half of the segment consumers are less attractive for brands to focus on.
- Athleisurist (20% of outdoor consumers, 12% of outdoor spend, 60 index). This segment enjoys less active outdoor pursuits like gardening, relaxing outside and walking for enjoyment. They seek sensible basics in their products and mainstream outdoor brands. Demographically, they skew to older and female consumers.
- Sideliner (12% of outdoor consumers, 4% of outdoor spend, 33 index). This consumer enjoys barbecuing, walking outdoors and relaxing but faces physical limitations that prevent more strenuous outdoor activities.
- Complacent (14% of outdoor consumers, 29% of outdoor spend, 29 index). This low-intensity segment prefers the creature comforts of indoors to outdoors. Their motivation for spending time outdoors is limited to getting fresh air and their backyard is “enough outdoors” for them.
In the outdoor space, a critical psychographic segmenting dimension is the desire for eco-friendly brands and sustainable choices. This is an important dimension that should be integrated into future outdoor consumer segmentations to better understand the customers and provide solutions that meet their needs.
Psychographic Customer Segmentation Examples: RV Owners
RVs appeal to a specific segment of outdoor consumers and RV owners provide a customer segmentation example, this time in a more focused category than outdoors overall. There were approximately 13 million RV owner households in 2020. Since all of these consumers have chosen to own an RV, rather than rent, they have already demonstrated a level of commitment to spending time outdoors.
There are five segments of frequent users of RVs: Happy Campers, Adventure Seekers, Full Timers, Avid RVers and Escapist, who spend between 55 to 365 days a year in their RV. Within the frequent user segments, the motivations or psychographics create the five groups:
- Happy Campers: (3% of RV owners, 75% of vacation time in RV)
- Adventure Seekers: (1% of RV owners, 71% of vacation time in RV)
- Full Timers: (1.5% of RV owners, 90% of vacation time in RV)
- Avid RVers (6% of RV owners, 75% of vacation time in RV)
- Escapists (16% of RV owners, 67% of vacation time in RV)
An RV brand targeting Escapists will focus on a different marketing message and approach than one targeting Happy Campers, for example. The RV brand will likely be interested in the overall outdoor segments to provide a broader context for their owner’s outdoor preferences.
In this example, we can’t directly and precisely compare the outdoor and RV psychographic segmentations in the way that we would with a proprietary study. Still, it appears that the Escapist RV segment shares common ground and overlap with the Outdoor Native outdoor segment. This type of matrixed understanding can be quite helpful for the brand’s innovation and marketing team.
Beyond qualitative mapping from judgment, we more precisely map segmentations by using typing algorithms made up of predictor questions and/or proxy variables. The most actionable segmentation for your brand will likely integrate multiple approaches with behavioral, psychographic and demographic variables.
Psychographic Customer Segmentation Examples: Active Consumers
A third psychographic customer segmentation example is active consumers. Around 60% of US adults ages 13-59 qualify as “active” in that they play sports, exercise or do some type of activity that requires physical exertion around two days a week or more often. This activity can be done either indoors or outdoors.
There are a range of motivations and related behaviors among consumers, creating different psychographic segments in the 13-59 age range including three more involved segments:
- Committed Exercisers – 32% (exercise for fitness)
- Competitors – 21% (competitive sports, including high school and college)
- Hard Workers – 8% (work physically demanding jobs)
As an example of how two different brands target the different active segments, the Sqwincher brand provides hydrating primarily for Hard Workers in workplace settings, while the Gatorade brand offers hydration based on “sports science to fuel athletes,” i.e., Competitors. Of course, Gatorade is highly popular with aspirational athletes of all ages, but its core target is a more serious athlete.
Demographic Customer Segmentation Example: Women’s Outdoor and Active Brands
A third customer segmentation approach and example is demographic. Some of the most common variables in segmenting customers based on demographics for the outdoor market include gender, presence of children and marital status, age, urban vs. rural (population density), geographic region of the country and household income. In some cases, the first segmentation decision is a demographic classification.
Women’s outdoor apparel provides a good customer segmentation example. There are many brands specifically focused on designing outdoor and active clothing for women, often with empowerment and sustainability as part of their core values. Example brands are:
Athleta— We’re here to empower women and girls. Our core values: movement matters, performance empowers, design for life, sisterhood elevates, sustainability sustains us
Title Nine— Who we are: We are a small, Northern California company, woman-run and owned since 1989. No larger corporation, no outside investors -with the help of our community and our customers we’ve boot-strapped our way to a band of 300 or so – all committed to the idea of women owning and risking and leading. We believe that the outdoors and a good workout can be an antidote to many of life’s problems. Above all, we believe in women. We are fit to run, we are fit to lead, we are fit to win.
Wild Rye— What we’re here for: To create a welcoming and inclusive access point to the outdoors, to build confidence and community, to protect the places we play, to celebrate fresh air and fun, to empower women-identifying individuals from the backcountry to the boardroom
Wondery— Mission: to be a sustainable lifestyle brand dedicated to liberating women in the outdoors through awareness, resources and the creation of a women’s outdoor community
Need State or Consumption Occasion Customer Segmentation Beverage Example
A fourth customer segmentation approach focuses on need states or consumption occasions.
The definition of the need state is “why people use the product or do the task in the moment.”
Taking the hydration beverage example a step further, it turns out an important customer segmentation approach is the consumption occasion or need state.
Looking at active consumers for the Gatorade brand, we found six consumption occasions including:
- Sports/exercise performance improvement
- Basic quench (hydration)
- Energy boost
The beverage consumption occasions were used to identify opportunities for innovation.
A second need state-based customer segmentation example comes from convenience store prepared foods. This client identified strategic growth opportunity areas from the most important intersections of the customer segment and need state targets.
It’s impossible to appeal to all 161 million Americans who spend time outdoors, so carefully-considered segmentation is especially crucial for outdoor and active brands. Use these customer segmentation examples as a launching point for your brand’s approach.