As operators of adventure businesses, we all know we need to market in order to grow and maintain visitation. And as technology progresses and digital marketing efforts increase, it’s easy to get enticed by the latest “shiny object”—whether that’s a TikTok trend or a new chatbot feature. But at the end of the day, we’re still selling to people who need to trust that we know what we’re doing and that our business is the right fit for them.
Whether you’re a commercial operator or you’re selling experiential programming, one of the best ways to create longevity in your marketing is to position yourself and/or your team as an expert or experts in your field. Done right, this will establish credibility and trust with your audience, which can be far more powerful than “buy now” in marketing.
Be Confident in What You Know
First and foremost, in order to be positioned as an expert, you must have a high degree of skill in or knowledge of a subject—or a variety of subjects—related to your field. Promoting expertise you don’t actually have will ultimately damage your brand when exposed.
Conversely, many of you may not consider yourselves experts when in reality you are, especially to the general public. Through education and years of experience, you’ve probably developed a lot of knowledge to share. Believe in your expertise and leverage it to improve your business.
Lean into previous experience. Even if you’re somewhat new to aerial adventure or experiential programs, you can still flex relevant previous experience. For example, are you opening a brand-new adventure park after 10 years of guiding rock-climbing groups? Great, then you’re likely an expert in rock climbing, climbing gear, and backcountry safety, all of which can translate to an adventure park setting. Are you running an experiential program after completing a master’s degree in education? Perfect, you have credentials to flaunt.
If you’re a seasoned professional who has run the same operation for 20 years, there is plenty you can do to publicly acknowledge that expertise. Consider including the year you started on your logo or on a banner on your website—longevity speaks volumes. Likewise, if your operation has an immaculate safety record, put that information front and center.
Leverage your staff’s experience as well. The more experts you have on your team, the easier it is to market collective expertise. Staff bio pages are a great place to not only add a personal touch, but also to show off what your employees know. This is where any relevant certifications, credentials, and/or education should be listed.
Be sure to have staff share the type of work they’ve done rather than just the work they’ve been trained in. “I have X number of years of experience working with this type of group” can often go further with prospective clients than the number of acronyms a person has after their name.
Share Information Freely
Credentials and experience are needed to gain expertise, but to be positioned as an expert, you need to actually share information that is going to add value to your customers’ lives. One of the most effective ways to do this is through blogging.
Well-written posts on topics you know a lot about—that are also relevant to your business—can provide a lot of value. Good blog content is useful to both the audience as a means of gaining knowledge and the author as a vehicle to leverage your expertise and grow your business.
While new bloggers are often tempted to publish content directly related to the business itself, like a “Top Five Things to Know Before You Book,” most content should be designed purely to add value to the reader’s life. If readers are interested in the topic itself, they’re more likely to click, and more likely to trust you with other content moving forward.
If you are not quite sure where to begin, consider writing about areas related to your industry that you’re passionate about. I’ve seen experiential education providers write about emotional intelligence in schools, corporate team-building companies write about employee retention, and outdoor adventure operators write about environmental impact.
Borrowed credibility. You don’t have to feed this content machine on your own either. It’s a good idea to share content from other experts, too. This strategy—often called “borrowed credibility”—allows you to align yourself with the right people (i.e., credible sources) and shows that you keep up on trends related to your business.
For example, if your program aims to get people off their screen and outdoors, perhaps there’s a great research article on kids and screentime you can share. If you are an experiential provider that specializes in helping corporate groups work better together, you can share an article about the latest trends in workplace culture and remote work.
Disseminating content. Of course, once you publish high-quality content you will want to push it out to your customers. If you are concerned about email volume (and the dreaded “unsubscribe” that comes with too many emails), consider bundling several pieces of content into one post or newsletter. A high-quality monthly newsletter might include one blog post you’ve written, one article from an external subject matter expert, and a link to a promotion or upcoming event.
And remember, if the information or data has changed, update your post. This is an easy way to keep things fresh (and the information correct) for your audience, and as a bonus, search engines prioritize updated and relevant content.
Are You An Innovator?
Some operators are innovators, contributing ideas and improvements to the field or developing new products. Such innovations—big and small—can be shared with your audience as a way of establishing your expertise.
If you’re not quite sure if this applies to you, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
• Did you recently present on a new topic, activity, or best practice at a conference? If yes, consider writing a blog post about the presentation topic and some of the key takeaways. The post will serve as a value-add for readers (and other practitioners) while showing expertise.
• Are you a content creator? There are a number of providers out there, specifically in the experiential field, who host podcasts or have YouTube channels. The content often includes other practitioners sharing tips on new activities, discussing challenges and solutions, or “things you wish you had known” when starting in the field. This can be a credibility builder, so make sure your channels are visible to customers.
• Have you created or contributed to a new product? If you contributed to designing or developing any of the specialized products your park uses—harnesses, gloves, attachment points, etc.—lean into that as an example of your expertise. You can point to these innovations with signage, or a blog post like “Five Considerations in Developing Our Gloves.” Likewise, if you’re an experiential provider who created a new game or activity, point that out in your newsletter, on social media, or in a blog post.
Not all industry experts are innovators, and that’s OK. But if you believe you have made a contribution to the field, consider some of the different ways you can tout that.
Know How to Say “No”
One piece of advice I wish I had gotten early in my career is it’s OK to say “no” to a client. Few things show expertise and build trust more effectively than being able to say, “I don’t think we are equipped to help you, but here’s what we recommend…”
Case in point: I once had a client who badly wanted to do trust falls as part of an experiential program. This was not appropriate for the group for a variety of factors—safety, optics, and where the group was in its development, to name a few. After politely telling them I didn’t think the activity was appropriate for them, the pushback began. They looked for every possible way to make it happen, even suggesting we bring in safety mats (in case anyone was dropped, of course).
My colleagues and I stood our ground, though, not wanting to be associated with the liability, safety concerns, and potential trauma that could accompany this activity. After one final email exchange with their decision maker, I was convinced we would never hear from this client again.
They came back the next day with a signed contract.
Be confident. Telling a client your product might not be the right fit for them shows you are confident in what you can and can’t offer, committed to finding them the right product, and busy enough that you don’t have to take just any work. Learning to say “no” is critical, particularly for experiential providers, because you’re promising your client not only a good time but specific learning outcomes and deliverables as well.
Of course, a hard “no” is off putting to a prospective client. Don’t burn a bridge. Instead, offer other options. This may sound like, “Our venue can’t accommodate a group of your size, but let me recommend another facility.” Or, “We don’t focus on that topic, but we do have some great activities to surface behaviors around trust and communication.”
I’ve found the majority of the time, if you tell a client your product may not be the right fit, the client ends up choosing to find a way to work with you anyway.
Expertise Doesn’t End When People Walk in The Door
Oftentimes, we think of marketing as everything that happens before a customer books. But we need to deliver on our promised expertise once people walk through the door in order to create happy customers who will serve as our advocates.
This can be done in ways both subtle and explicit. For example, if your park or tour is ACCT-accredited, don’t be afraid to hang those signs loud and proud, and even make mention of your accreditations in your safety briefing. If you’re an experiential provider using expert facilitators, have them give a hat tip to their credentials when they introduce themselves to a group.
The key is to lean into your expertise without detracting from the client experience. A quick mention of years of experience from a seasoned facilitator can go a long way, but if a park monitor spouts off their climbing resume during a safety briefing—a time when throughput is key and people want to get moving—you may lose your audience.
Don’t Forget the Small Stuff
It is often said that five-star service isn’t about the first 95 percent, it’s about the last 5 percent. The same could be said about expert marketing. For example, if you are a commercial operator, don’t just embed your ACCT accreditations and decades of experience on a random website page—display that information front and center on the landing screen.
Likewise, if you are an experiential provider certified in DiSC or Myers-Briggs, it’s great to display that on your website. But that doesn’t necessarily help if all your competitors are doing the same. Pop those certifications in less-expected places, like your email signature, and look for ways to educate your prospective clients on the differences between the instruments.
Those little touches add up and help build the trust you need to create a positive customer relationship.
Even if you don’t feel like you know everything, lean into what you do know. For others to believe that you are an expert in the field, you have to first believe it yourself.