For those in the know of outdoor products, Dakine is a respected heritage brand, especially for surfers of all kinds, snowboarders and skiers, and hikers. It’s built its brand over the last 39 years by appealing to a core and loyal lifestyle audience.
The company, based in the windsurf capital of Hood River, Oregon, on the banks of the Columbia River, is now getting a digital makeover, thanks to fellow Northwest-based agency Possible from Seattle. It’s one that allows them to speak to their customers in new ways and help build an already successful company through a more modern approach.
The process of changing the brand model to one that leans heavily on data began eight months ago, when Shawn LaRowe, now vice president of product and marketing, was asked to take on the marketing role. The initial idea was to split the model and put the consumer at the center of everything, with digital as the enabler.
“I said, ‘we don’t have that talent today in the building to do that, so we should find a great digital partner to help us along that journey.’ At that time, coincidentally, I had a long relationship with [now former Possible chief executive] Shane [Atchison]. He had sent me a photo of him mountain biking with all Dakine gear and I kind of flippantly replied, ‘you should help us’ and he replied back that he’d love to help us,” said LaRowe.
LaRowe sees a new world coming for Dakine, one that is accelerating more towards the digital space than the analog space. “It’s moving at such a rapid pace that we want people who live and breathe it to be our partners in our transformation," he added.
The first part of that transformation was to get Possible on board to first help energize the company’s passionate employee base, then find what the true focus of the business would be, and finally to implement a new data-centric approach.
Possible seemed a perfect fit for Dakine, since many Possible employees live an outdoor lifestyle and use the products they make every day, such as mountain packs and bags, apparel, accessories and the company’s signature surf leashes and harnesses.
Starting a digital shift
Finding a fit between the company and the agency was made easier by the familiarity of the brand.
“Everyone who works on the project lives and breathes the outdoor lifestyle and knows Dakine from a consumer perspective. That meant we could get under the skin of the business challenge a lot more quickly,” said Gareth Jones, managing director at Possible Seattle.” That kind of real cultural connection is the most important thing. You’re trying to be a real strategic partner for the client. You can connect on a human level, you can work together to build the brand and develop the brand from a very real place.”
Jones added that the capabilities of Possible played into the start of the transformation, from being a digital-first agency and using data to generate real human insights, then building the whole brand strategy approach from a data-centric place.
When Dakine started down the rebranding path, it wanted to move the marketing model from the ‘I feel, I want’ phase to "the data is out there, our consumers are telling us things, let’s listen to that and use the data points for a marketing strategy for the brand," according to LaRowe.
“When we started with Possible, they asked questions like, ‘What’s your brand's north star?’ And we didn’t have one. We just inherently know it and show up every day at work. So, we started to do a lot of work initially taking all the analytics – they have an amazing marketing science department that translated those insights from our consumers into an empathy model telling us what emotions drive Dakine consumers, which then led into the creation of our north star work,” he said.
That north star statement is one about breaking through barriers. As they put together a new brand manifesto, that came up, and phrases like “break barriers, break through” and “broken conventions” popped up, giving them a direction.
“It was interesting to sit down and talk about what Dakine’s business challenge was. It was fascinating that people felt very strongly and had an affinity for Dakine, but for different reasons. Some knew it completely for surfing, some for mountain biking. It needed that north star to link all those things together,” added Jones.
The team used a proprietary tool Possible developed to allow them to do social listening, which Jones said is crucial to identifying the emotions behind certain conversations. With an empathy model, it lets them analyze the emotion behind a conversation, so not just keyword analysis, which can be misleading.
“It’s an amazing model because it’s based on real consumers with real data, not a bunch of people sitting in a conference room saying ‘Dakine should be this’. That was the biggest hurdle we did not have our hands around, and it really helped frame up that work and landed us in a really cool spot to start to energize the brand and take it to the next phase of development,” said LaRowe.
The next steps
The team wrote up the manifesto, laying out that Dakine would be peeling back the curtain on their employees who live the lifestyle. Along with that came a video of those employees at work and at play, to get the team energized.
“The plan is to get a highly-engaged employee base, taking the north star work and apply that to any function, whether they’re in product or finance or procurement. They’re all moving towards a bigger idea, towards a guiding light to get them fired up to come to work every day,” said LaRowe.
Jones gives credit to the Dakine team, since many clients get impatient and just want work out in the market with something shiny to talk about. He said it’s not often they get to build a brand from the inside out, taking the time to get employees rallied around that and be out there living the brand before moving into a customer-facing campaign cycle.
“Nothing of this process has been traditional. None of this will really be advertising. Nothing is messages out in market,” said Jones. “It’s kind of just like lifting the curtain to reveal the kind of stuff that happens at Dakine and the lifestyle that Dakine employees live. [Possible] thinks of customers not channels. The way we’ve approached this challenge is from a true customer-centric point. The stuff you’ll see in market is real and relevant.”
While it’s not yet set in stone what the consumer-facing side will reveal through the new branding, it’s obvious that lifestyle, driven by consumer data, will have much to do with what the public sees, especially as Dakine gets ready to celebrate 40 years of outdoor business.
“We’re going to spin out authentic storytelling around the people that built this company that continue to work here every day," concluded LaRowe. "They’re real people with real passions about product. We work across five different sports, and to do each one vertically is a challenge in itself. The work that Possible has helped us do is, there are a couple really powerful themes that unite all those sports and more, the mindset and the emotions behind the consumers. That’s hopefully what we’re going to try and tease out.
"In 2019 it will be 40 years of Dakine, and I’m excited to have the Possible team on the 40th anniversary and see what magic we can make."