The Top Things We Learned from Surf Summit 18
Words: Kailee Bradstreet and Kelsey Smith
All photos: Jon Steele
In the spirit of innovation, we decided to take a different spin on our coverage of Surf Summit 18 to provide an overview of insightful points, recurring themes, and the most important messages from the stellar line up of speakers at this year’s event. We hope these takeaways will help initiate a conversation at your company about how to evolve and grow, not just as it applies to your business, but the industry as a whole.
1. Tell better stories
"When something cool becomes popular, it becomes uncool. But it's up to the individual or brand to keep it authentic and relevant," points out Mike Ness of Social Distortion as he paralleled the success of the surf industry to punk rock. To keep authenticity alive, we need to do a better job of telling authentic stories from our world. While this one might seem obvious, it was a recurring theme in almost every presentation at Surf Summit 18.
Dana White emphasized using the athletes and ambassadors of the sport to help tell your message in new and different ways as they do at the UFC. Although not many of our businesses have $1 million and some change to create a commercial to market our stories like the UFC is hyping its next big fight between Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo, we do have an authentic outlook and creative eye to glean the most interesting tidbits. For example, White suggested putting a mic on athletes during heats: "I bet the conversations and banter they have in the water are really interesting. People want to hear that stuff."
Shaheen Sadeghi, President & CEO, LAB Holding, LLC, built upon this point, acknowledging the surf industry as the original sub-culture, an attribute that sets us apart and makes us special—unlike mass production. When something becomes mass, it tends to lose its value. "Formulas have no human empathy," says Sadeghi, "so when a brand gets to the mass level, it's hard to keep the human factor."
"Surfing invented intrinsic value," says Sadeghi, and when big "mainstream" companies are trying to find what makes them authentic, we already have cultural currency on lock while they don’t. Leverage that social capital and communicate it in a way that not only attracts the right consumer, but also helps you grow in a healthy way.
Nick Tran, VP of Integrated Marketing at Stance, identified this in his talk on "listening to your audience." Communicate your message based off what your consumer wants and needs. By relying on social media as a fluid two-way communication tool, brands can show their commitment to the most dedicated fans.
The underlying question becomes, how are you communicating your authenticity?
Take a spin through photos from day two and three speakers and events:
2. "Think less like marketers and more like inventors." – Mike Yapp, Google/YouTube's ZOO
YouTube’s Mike Yapp pointed out that smaller businesses in our space have the power to reinvent, although he admits “reinvention takes balls,” and that often times people trying to reinvent at big companies are at risk of losing their jobs. Still, if we don’t take risks we won’t grow. “Don’t give people what they want, give them what they need.” Develop "creative ideas that become necessary," added Yapp, explaining, "the service you give to a commodity depends on the need of that commodity." Keep pushing innovation to prevent from stepping down as an authoritative voice for your niche. This requires us to think outside the box, instead of just recreating the same products over and over again. When we all start conforming and going along with what big business tells us we must do in order to grow, we start losing our uniqueness. Both Shaheen Sadeghi and Social Distortion's Mike Ness drove this point home. “Punk rock was something inside you, being rebellious, just not being satisfied with what’s going on right now,” said Ness, comparing that to some big cities’ that are being gentrified with cookie-cutter stores like American Apparel and Pottery Barn. “People are afraid to take risks," he adds, "but anything independent is punk rock."
Innovation is two fold: we need product innovation but also brand innovation in how we interact with the consumer. Yapp got us thinking about the power of mobile tech innovation. Virtual and augmented reality experiences for your consumer can be the next step for e-commerce. Think bigger. He used the example of Renner's Google Cardboard in-store experience. Google Brazil developed Google Cardboard, an interactive 3-D experience that allows the consumer to understand the inspiration behind a collection on the retail floor.
3. Get back to the basics
“I’m not a demo, or a barcode, I’m a human being,” points out Shaheen Sadeghi. People want substance in their life, not just stuff. Bob McKnight, CEO and founder of Quiksilver, touched on this in his speech the first night. "We've lost the specialness in retail and we need to bring it back." He believes there is too much "stuff" and some brands' race to the top resulted in a race to the bottom in price points. Instead of focusing on pumping out more and more SKU’s, identify the intrinsic value your brand brings and deliver that authentically. Sadeghi backed this up by voicing that it’s not about price anymore, it’s about culture, and that there’s a reversal of roles happening right now: Instead of a consumer culture with a “race to the bottom” like McKnight pointed out, the tide is turning toward specialty retail, or “the farmer,” who carefully curates stories and experiences around products (think the local artisan at your farmer’s market versus buying a pair of jeans for $7.99 at a fast fashion retailer). Today’s customer is willing to spend more if it means supporting the local farmer, his story, and the unique buying experience. "Culture is the new currency," Sadeghi says. “It's not an end-game, but a journey.”
This industry was founded on the little guy, and “the little guy can make a big difference,” says Yapp so take risks and tell great stories. "All great products come from small companies," says Sadeghi. So instead of homogenizing, use "community, culture, commerce, and consciousness," as Sadehi puts it, to build your brand.