In June ExpertVoice hosted the Expert Effect, our annual summit where we invite brands to join us in Park City for engaging workshops and breakout sessions. And this year, these forward-thinking brands heard from a panel of experts. If you didn’t get to be there for this event — or you loved it so much that you want a recap — here is a condensed version.
Moderator: Good afternoon and welcome to our Expert Panel. The goal of this panel is to demonstrate the value of ExpertVoice through sharing our experts’ experiences. Our expert community is made up of four types of experts: retail sales associates, online influencers, industry professionals and knowledgeable friends and family. This panel features one of each — plus another online influencer for good measure.
- Amy Parulis is representing retail sales associates. Amy has worked in the outdoor industry for several years, most recently as the Community Relations and Events Manager for Denali Outdoors. She’s in the top 5% in the camping and hiking categories on ExpertVoice and is an active member of our Expert Underground.
- We’re proud to have industry professional, Samuel Crossley here with us today. Sam is a professional climbing photographer and filmmaker who spent the last two years behind the camera for the Oscar-winning film, “Free Solo.” This summer he’s working as the director of photography on a feature-length documentary and has a few other projects he’s keeping under wraps.
- Katie Boue is an online influencer who is a part-time road traveler, full-time adventurer and public lands advocate. She’s been featured in and written for publications including Outsider Magazine, CNN and the REI Co-op Journal. And she’s the founder of a new initiative called The Outdoor Advocacy Project.
- Our second online influencer is Caroline Gleich. Caroline is a professional ski mountaineer, adventurer and activist. She’s been featured on the covers of Backcountry, Powder and Ski magazines, in addition to a couple of ski films. And just a few weeks before the Expert Effect, Caroline summited Mt. Everest…with a torn ACL.
- Chance Murray is here to represent knowledgeable friends and family as both a hunting and cycling expert.. Chance is a friend of mine who is experienced in mountain biking, road cycling, cyclocross, has participated in several races of 200+ miles and is a hunting guide for Wild Country Outfitters. And according to his wife, when it’s duck hunting season, she never sees him.
What’s the brand and/or product you recommend the most and why?
Amy: Darn Tough Socks. They’re extremely durable. I have 68 pairs. When I post hiking photos on Instagram and tag the brand, they respond! A good quality product from a local brand that engages with me on social media — I love ‘em.
Sam: The one piece of gear that trumps both camera and climbing gear for outdoor filmmaking and photography is your shoes. I don’t want to fall off the rock into abyss so I’m all about safety. The Approach shoe has sticky rubber for climbing but it’s also a hiking shoe that’s durable and comfortable so you can shoot in it all day. I’m wearing La Sportiva TX3, which are my favorite.
How can brands help you make better recommendations?
Caroline: Having some context from the product designers helps me know the intended use, purpose and audience for the gear. It’s nice to have inside information from the designer about why this pocket is here or that zipper is there. It helps with your own use and also with recommending that product to other people.
Chance: Intentionality for the products is helpful to understand. In addition, I need time to work it. I only advocate for a product after I’ve pushed it to extremes and it held up well. I need time to ensure it stands up to my expectations.
Katie: Coming from a marketing background, I think we need to bridge the gap between the timeline of the product development team and the marketing team. Try to get the product into the hands of experts early, making them part of the product development process.
Personal experience is important for product recommendations — but what if you work at a store that sells thousands of products? How do you ensure you’re giving good recommendations when you don’t have firsthand experience with every product?
Amy: I haven’t tried every product in our store but I want to be able to help my customers when they have questions, so I ask people I trust about their experiences. I also listen to tech reps and learn more about the brand and the product on ExpertVoice.
Caroline: Endorsing or promoting products that I haven’t tested, I have to rely on the brand’s reputation, their soul. How is their customer service? Their return policy? Their warranty? If I know they have an iron-clad warranty or stringent manufacturing and testing standards, that gives me more confidence in recommending a product I may not have a lot of experience with.
Outside of commission or payment, what value do you see in giving a good recommendation?
Amy: I enjoy the outdoors and I’m excited to get people outside, and to get them out there safely. And I want them to have a good experience and enjoy outdoor activities so they’ll come back and shop with us again.
Caroline: It’s gratifying for me to see people get into the sport — especially backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. It took me about 10 years to get my kit together. My hip flexors are still recovering from carrying around the extra weight of the wrong gear. So it’s nice to help people skip that step of searching for years to find the right equipment. Because the right gear can make your experience so much more enjoyable.
Sam: It’s like a passing of a torch for me. I work with a lot of people on a lot of different projects and they all have knowledge they pass on to me and I want to return the favor. I like being able to help. Recommending something and seeing someone get better because of your recommendation — there’s not a lot else you can ask for.
Chance: I’m advocating for an experience, not necessarily for a product. But I know that better products can lead to a better experience.
For our online influencers with tens of thousands of followers, I imagine it’s important to be authentic and only recommend gear you believe in. How do you decide which products or brands to advocate for?
Katie: I made a conscious decision — which was a little scary — to only partner with brands that truly align with the values I’m trying to present to my audience about sustainability and advocacy. Because every brand that I recommend is an extension on my own values.
Caroline: I agree with Katie. For me, it comes down to corporate and social responsibility. Are they transparent? Do they have females in leadership positions? Those are important to me when I’m choosing brands I’ll represent. I try to ask the hard questions and if their answers don’t line up, I’ll say no.
When people ask you for advice, are they always asking for product recommendations?
Chance: I get two types of questions. One is from people who are new to the sport and are wondering, “What should I buy? There are so many options out there.” The other type of question comes from people who have been in the sport for a while. They’re looking at what they have and what I’m using and they’re trying to reconcile why we have different gear. So their question is, “Should I be using what you’re using?”
How can brands do a better job of getting you aware of and engaged with new products?
Caroline: One of my favorite interactions with a brand was a farm-to-table dinner at OR. I like informal gatherings that are fun but also include light product education. I also like when brands call me, sometimes I prefer that to email.
Amy: Retail sales associates are not paid a lot so anytime you can seed product, that’s great. Or if you can’t seed product, providing a steep discount or setting up a rental program helps us get that firsthand experience. Because when you can give a recommendation that stems from personal experience, that’s huge.
Chance: I know this is hard to do but some communication follow-through would go a long way. I’ve been turned off by a lot of brands because I’ve been given a product to test or I’ve purchased a product to test it, and I have some pretty strong opinions about how it performs. Then I share that information and never hear back — or I get a canned response. I’d appreciate some acknowledgement or follow-up to close the loop. Brands have an entire ecosystem of experts using their products, valuing them would go a long way.
The attendees also had a chance to ask questions. Here are some questions from the brands themselves.
When you make a recommendation for someone to buy something, where do you send them and why?
Amy: I send them to the company that I work for. But if we don’t carry it, I’ll send them to my favorite local shops. Again, it’s about firsthand experience. If I had a great experience with a store, I’ll send them there.
Chance: I try to set them up with people in my network. If it’s a bike, I call ahead and let the shop know what the person is looking for. I try to set the shop up for success as well as make sure my friend or associate or whoever I’m giving buying advice to has a good experience and finds what they need. These are valuable relationships to me so I like to make sure there is a personal handoff.
Caroline: It depends on the product category. Sometimes if you find what you need — in your size — online, you have to buy it right away. But I typically try to send people to small, independent retailers.
What is a surefire way a brand can instantly gain or lose your trust?
Amy: When brands like, comment or retweet, that gets me and my sales associates jazzed. So from the retail sales side, having brands interact with us is great. It’s encouraging when you know that the brands you love are paying attention to you.
Sam: I don’t like when a brand pushes heteronormativity; that makes me feel like I don’t fit in. On the opposite side, I appreciate when brands change their logo on Facebook to include a Pride Flag during Pride Week. To see a brand like Arc’teryx change their logo to support their customers like me, that will gain my support.
Katie: For me, it’s rooted in authenticity. Sustainability is a sexy sell but I want to make sure brands aren’t just “greenwashing.” Also, I look at who is represented in their marketing. I feel like I get half-baked tokenism because I’m Cuban and queer so that I check some kind of box. So that’s a red flag for me.
Chance: Personal relationships. I like having multiple touchpoints where I provide feedback and receive validation for my feedback. What turns me off is when a brand makes me feel like I’m not important, that my feedback isn’t important. I’m not going to affiliate myself or my friends with its products anymore.
Caroline: I want to echo what Katie said about tokenism. I love the boys but I’d like to have some ladies out there with me. Another thing that gives me a lot of loyalty is when a brand is willing to put people and planet over profit.
If you’re an expert who wants to learn more about the brands you love and how you can earn behind-the-scenes access and exclusive discounts on the products you use every day, get started here.
If you’re a brand that wants to know how experts like Chance, Katie, Caroline, Amy and Sam can help you drive brand awareness and sales, learn more here.