If you search for the term "platform" on Wikipedia, the encyclopedia offers 23 different explanations, depending on the context. The term really does have many meanings. If we’re talking about the innovative power of networks, Wikipedia itself is one of the best definitions. The history of the online encyclopedia is well-known. Around the same time that Wikipedia was launched, Microsoft started the Encarta project. The idea was to create a digital encyclopedia completely separate from physical books. In contrast to Wikipedia, the endeavor was supported by the latest technology, financial resources and countless IT experts. Wikipedia, on the other hand, relied on the power of the platform. People around the world were expected to fill the online encyclopedia on an honorary basis, with enthusiasm and diligence. The result is well-known. A quick test: when was the last time you used Encarta to search for something? In addition to having an astronomical number of users, the site is also known for the exceedingly high accuracy of its content. Studies show that Wikipedia is more accurate than printed and edited encyclopedias, due to the large number of persons reading and checking the articles. This success was only possible due to the ambitious shared vision that has emerged with the platform, alongside the millions of articles. It is a vision that unites and motivates the users to this day: everyone on earth should have access to the collective knowledge of the world at any time. A noble goal. And it’s a goal that has been inspiring large numbers of people for a long period of time.
You may wonder how such a platform would work. After all, there is no shared product in the industry, no shared value added. But if we've learned anything about disruptive business models and ‘can-do’ thinking from Silicon Valley, we know that success doesn’t always require a prescribed path. Ultimately, projects, products, partnerships and innovations are created only through exchange. They all result from a big idea which has tacitly united the industry for a long time — the desire for the new. The effort to create something that has never been seen before has to be the core idea of a platform for the outdoor industry. The industry has a lot of untapped potential here in particular. If the outdoor industry wants to compete with other industries, it has to be networked better. A big asset for the industry in this respect is the credibility it conveys. The product by itself is usually easy to imitate, so why shouldn’t a manufacturer in the fashion industry make functional clothing too? The only thing that’s still protecting the industry is the outdoor spirit sold along with every brand. And that’s exactly where an outdoor platform will make its contribution. The platform acts as a digital habitat and plays a huge role in shaping the idea of what is considered “outdoor” and what is not. Only when brands actively participate in this definition, openly and without bias, can the industry as a whole develop further.
In addition to providing meaning and purpose inwardly, an outdoor platform also exerts an outward appeal. As the nucleus of new ideas, it attracts trendsetters and opinion leaders who are looking for new ways of expressing the existing concept of “outdoor.” Involving the customer in this way is possible on several levels. For one thing, customers can be integrated directly into the development process of new products through crowdsourcing projects. Direct involvement can also take place in symposia, discussion forums or BarCamps. All of these methods give consumers the chance to actively participate. Information management is a more passive, but just as attractive method of integration. Information is a particularly valuable asset in the field of innovation. Sharing it with consumers involves a huge appreciation in value and can act to boost loyalty.
There are several advantages for brand manufacturers. For a start, including the consumer in the platform means actively increasing customer loyalty. On the other hand, the previously defined idea of “outdoor” is communicated straight to the consumers and then passed on to others. For any interested opinion leaders, a platform provides the opportunity for active participation and gives a leg up in the form of extra knowledge that enhances and consolidates their role.
To cover all these functions, one event per year lasting 3-4 days is not enough. While the physical get-together will always be required, its purpose will change. In the past, events of this kind were trade fairs where orders were placed and little more. In the future, however, it will be much more important to discuss and fill out ideas that have formed digitally throughout the year and connect them with faces. So physical events will add depth and substance to the digital platform — not the other way round. Only when this happens will the industry be able to develop its full power: united in purpose, with combined strengths, open to new approaches and with a direct channel to the end consumers.