Discover Your Trail

Two Things | Product Campaign | Strategy + Research  

the-north-face-1-logo-png-transparent.png

TL;DR

The Ask:

Connect with a broader, more diverse audience with their new line of hiking apparel. We wanted to transform perception and expression of hiking and trail running in a way that is authentic to The North Face, yet also reflects Next Gen and how they define hiking and trail running. 

Challenge

Changing perspective on the status quo of what hiking and trail mean to become more inclusive. Traditionally hiking and trail have been exclusively White, leaving out many other groups of people who should have access to the outdoors. 

Business Goal:

Define rich emotional themes around trail and the TNF brand that define narratives for creative exploration.

 

Drive a diverse, younger audience to consider The North Face as their year-round, go-to outdoor brand. We also wanted to invite and welcome new audiences to get on the trails and explore with The North Face. 

Opportunity:

Seize the opportunity to create inclusivity and make the outdoors accessible for everyone. 

Research Goal:

We wanted to surface insights that would help The North Face articulate a cohesive and compelling vision for trail, hiking, and trail running. We also wanted to surface key barriers to trail participation, especially those in underrepresented groups. 

Audience:

  • Age 25 - 32

  • Live an active lifestyle 

  • People from diverse background and ethnicities

  • Broad sample across US cities and suburbs 

  • Are hikers and trail runners AND are occasional hikers and trail runners AND those new to trail and hiking 

Research Approach:

Talked to 12 (NextGen) current trail and trail-interested participants about hiking, trail running, and brands. Each interview was 90 minutes with one-on-one in-depth interviews.

 

The conversations were structured but not standardized. Our focus was surfacing raw emotional elements that could yield strong brand narratives.

 

We sought to dimensionalize the core insight that guided the VECTIV launch:
Everyone from elite trail athletes to beginner hikers loves the trail because it connects them to nature.

My Role: 

  • Helped to gather participants for the study

  • Helped craft the discussion guide 

  • Conducted some of the interviews

  • Took notes during the interviews 

  • Worked on crafting the research narrative and insights 

Research Findings:

Next Gen respondents described being on the trail as transformative, a refreshing antidote to the rigors of life of daily life. There were unique stressors and benefits to hiking that we heard repeatedly. 

Stressor

1. Always on 

2. COVID captivity 

3. Fear of failure

Benefit of Trail 

1. Freedom 

2. Excitement 

3. Growth 

Overarching Learnings

Trail Attraction

Trail is attractive to a wide variety of NextGen demographics, and their motivations surfaced several shared practical and emotional themes. The benefits of trail address many of the challenges presented by modern life.

Hiking More

Most respondents wish they could go out on trail more than they actually get to go, especially those new to trail. A variety of practical and emotional barriers stand in the way. 

Aspirational Goals

While a vision for the future of trail for everyone proved elusive, most respondents had distinct aspirations for their own future on the trail—many made a direct connection to future trail gear buys as part of the journey (shoes, apparel, and equipment). This was more prevalent among the New To Trail. 

Insight #1

I Feel More Human

People crave a connection to nature, and in it, they recognize something essential about themselves. There is the sense that modern life is incongruous with our natural state, and the trail provides a way for us to tap into a deeper, truer self. Perhaps an idealized self, but certainly one that is more open, present, and alive than that which inhabits daily urban life. There was often a pause before people said the word “human”, as if they were searching to articulate an elusive and nuanced state of being. 

Many respondents used the word “human” to sum up what they feel when they hit the trail

  • Closer to who I really am and what I’m meant to be

  • A more pure version of me 

  • A better version of me

  • Wholeness and integration

  • Self-fulfilled contentment 

  • Connected to my senses

  • A sense of true freedom – to roam, to shout, to be still – a birthright

  • Connected to an ancestral legacy of being free on the land

​"It feels like a sense of belonging and just like you're on the right path. It just feels like you're where you should be.”

"I feel like Earth is like hey, you could do no wrong here because you're home you know? ”

"You're provided the opportunity to be more human when you’re on the trail.”

"I'll leave it how you found it. If you found it, it's kind of like that's like, also the high like, the interaction with humans is like, I want to leave you better than I found you. I want you to feel better. ”

"So the thing that appeals to me about like hiking trails is like the tranquility of it all. Not necessarily the physical aspect of it. ”

"Wow, they [Twain, Throreau] really like they had it right. And I had it wrong. I was like no Creek. Creeks do crackle and Brooks do babble so and stuff like that. ”

Insight #2

I Feel Small, and It Feels Great

There are few other places in life where being made to feel “small” is viewed as a positive experience. Nature gives us permission to get outside ourselves, imparting simultaneous feelings of insignificance and majesty. Elements of self-absorption and self consciousness are removed, and replaced by a sense of connection to a vast and elegant presence. A bullseye antidote for many identity issues faced by NextGen, who face simultaneous pressures to self-promote and insecurity about status and approval.

Many respondents used the words “I feel small” to describe a positive experience on trail, and it had to do with:

  • Feeling liberated from the personal

  • Energized humility–small but “in power” 

  • Make the worries of life feel smaller, not as big of an issue 

  • The stressors in life are reduced

  • A physical space that allows one to experience grandeur

  • Connected, immersed in the beauty of the surroundings 

  • A sense of respect and gratitude 

  • Aware of a larger time-frame, possibly exceeding one’s lifespan 

  • An inversion of typical identity ideation (from feeling big outside/small inside TO small outside/big inside) 

"It's this very awesome feeling of feeling so small, but like so in power. Because it's just like ascending. ”

 

"…it’s like you are emotionally and mentally humbled. And it's this like, very awesome feeling of feeling so small, but like so in power…That type of humility on the trail is really hard to get from other things, or it's, I don't want to say it's the easiest to get. But it is the most tangible. ”

"It makes you feel smarter, because like, okay, in the scheme of things, my life doesn't really matter from just a blip. And that's the type of those are the types of experiences and moments you get when you're confronted by something of a big, big scale. ”

"I'll leave it how you found it. If you found it, it's kind of like that's like, also the high like, the interaction with humans is like, I want to leave you better than I found you. I want you to feel better. ”

"So I look at nature. I'm like, Oh, my God, like, that's my hair. And this is my skin. This is. So I feel like more a part of it than like a small thing in it. ”

"It really puts like, your problems, or whatever you got going on. It really puts it into perspective. And it makes you think, again, at least for me, it makes me think that it's not as big of a problem as I thought, and it's definitely something that you can tackle. You know, I tend to think more positively about things like that, in general, when I'm out in nature for sure. ”

Insight #3

Sense of Achievement

Many people expressed that going on the trail imparts an authentic sense of achievement, one that has a lasting effect, and does not depend on the approval of others. It activates what feels like an augmentation: a surefire way to get reset, cleansed, and become more open-minded and self-sufficient. People also reported the feeling continues upon returning home, and the rewards of the trail inform and enhance other aspects in ‘day-to-day’ life. Trail participation could be positioned as a way to boost self-esteem, agency and resilience in all of life.

There is something uniquely and intrinsically rewarding about hiking

  • Rewarding in all phases—the trip out of the city, beauty on the trail, wildlife, reaching the top, sitting still, a mid-hike picnic, completing the loop, and the feeling after all is done

  • Many cited “a challenge” in how they selected trails which increased the sense of achievement in completion

  • A sense of pride: enjoying the outcome and reward—it’s worth it and feels good

  • More intrinsically rewarding than a gym workout

  • It feels like an accomplishment to get there and all the steps that it took to get there

  • Finishing a trail feels earned and everything you do after feels earned as well

  • Feel better than everyone else, when getting back from a hike 

  • Discovering you are more capable than you thought – feeling carries over into life

What I really enjoyed is that, the outcome of it, or the reward of it, like, you get to do this thing, and it's hard, but like the outcome is worth it. ”

"I gravitate towards the hikes where I know that I'll be challenged in some way. Whether that's the duration of the hike, or that's the type of terrain involved. I definitely enjoy the feeling of like, I don't know, I think it's probably just that sense of accomplishment. ”

"It makes me feel definitely makes me feel good. has me reflect on life, you know, say, when you're staring at a computer screen, for most of your days, it's, it's rewarding to see something else. ”

"I think it's just again, like knowing you're doing something hard. And like that hard is temporary. I think we forget that things like everything we face is temporary. ”

"I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from being active outside , but not in a punishing way. ”

"I think it's just again, like knowing you're doing something hard. And like that hard is temporary. I think we forget that things like everything we face is temporary. ”

Insight #4

Sense of Achievement

Many people expressed that going on the trail imparts an authentic sense of achievement, one that has a lasting effect, and does not depend on the approval of others. It activates what feels like an augmentation: a surefire way to get reset, cleansed, and become more open-minded and self-sufficient. People also reported the feeling continues upon returning home, and the rewards of the trail inform and enhance other aspects in ‘day-to-day’ life. Trail participation could be positioned as a way to boost self-esteem, agency and resilience in all of life.

Team: 

Cat Marsh: Strategist

Tunde Whitten: Strategist