• Nomad

    Nomad Travel:

    Voyages of discovery rediscovered

    Nomad started out as a manufacturer of travel and camping products such as sleeping bags, backpacks, tents, (hiking) boots and functional clothing. Established in the 1980s, the brand quickly managed to gain a leading position within the traditional distribution channels, including shops specialising in outdoor sporting goods, sports shops with an Outdoor department, chain stores and camping-supply shops.

    The experience of the Nomad brand revolves around the nomadic existence: the brand explicitly aims at people who seek meaningful experience by going on trips, both far away and nearby. This sociocultural point of departure (i.e. the idea of travelling specifically for the interaction with the environment) distinguishes Nomad from most of its competitors that are explicitly concerned with (extreme) mountaineering and thus cater to those who are concerned with accomplishing something as a way of confirming their own abilities, whereby the environment is often seen as an opponent rather than as a destination.

    Nomad makes a distinction between performance-driven brands (basic outdoor) and experience-driven brands (travel). As this distinction was not self-evident for the public, Nomad was forced to make clearer choices. They translated the romance of and longing for the nomadic life into a Western motive like ‘going wherever you want to go’—the ultimate sign of independence. Which group is truly independent at this point in their life? This question brought Nomad back to its beginnings. By zooming in even closer on this specific group, they could identify a ‘role model’ for the ideal Nomad customer: ‘the backpacker just before starting to work’. The boundary of this group was easy to determine: it lies at the birth of one’s first child, since that is where the absolute lack of freedom begins. Nomad uses a lifecycle approach here in asking when in one’s life one’s emotions are strongest? It turns out that there are three such moments in one’s life: 1) one has the most independence just before starting work (average age: 24); 2) one has the least independence around the age of 34; and 3) one as fully regained one’s independence around the age of 48. In this way, the company managed to create a real focus.

    ‘Adventurous travel is like a virus for many people,’ says Barry Kooijmans, Nomad director. ‘Once they’ve been to some far-away destination completely on their own—often during their studies or after secondary school—it’s often as if a switch has been flipped. They’ve caught the travel bug, and from that moment on they are constantly thinking about their next trip. Unfortunately, the role Nomad plays in that is subordinate to that experience: the Nomad product helps them in their travel, but is never the experience itself. A Nomad backpack, for instance, is covered with all kinds of traces of past trips and will one day end up somewhere in the attic as a lasting reminder of the trip for when the individual is old and grey. That’s especially the case for the backpack (the Nomad product icon). Unfortunately, our other products don’t have the prospect of an extended life in the “attic of memories”.’

    The company initially tried to infuse a certain atmosphere and sense of experience in the product. Examples of ideas that could enhance the experience of the product include special pockets in backpacks for your travel diary, a free CD with world music and free translation guides. But these fail to penetrate the hearts and souls of those who use them. Nomad therefore decided to create an environment in which the experience would be the focus. ‘Too often, existing travel organisations still assume that the traveller wants to visit the highlights of a particular country. It is still possible to make real discoveries if you let go of the ‘visitor mentality’ and start organising trips on the basis of an ‘experience mentality’. Considering that the number of trips on offer is still highly limited, Nomad has put together a ‘pilot’ trip, together with an external firm. In this, Nomad is working on the principle that discovery is still possible, as long as you are looking to deepen your understanding of the roots of a country or a culture. Nomad now organises trips to Ecuador (‘Amazon under your skin’), Tibet and Nepal, Argentina (‘Pure Patagonia’) and Iceland (‘Discover Nordic walking’).

    The basic situation

    In coming up with ideas for Nomad trips, the vision of doing everything possible to bring about a transformation is essential. This is no simple task, considering that transformations are highly personal and thus strongly influenced by personal and situational circumstances. Moreover, adventurous travel is not new and already available in varying degrees. As experienced travellers, the people at Nomad initially looked into what they themselves still considered to be a challenge. Everyone at Nomad had his or her own dream trips, and one of the best of those was developed into a ‘pilot’.

    Under the title ‘Discover Buddhism’, a (unique) trip was created, in which learning about Tibetan Buddhism is divided into ‘a journey within’ and ‘a journey outside’. The process of getting acquainted starts well before departure, when all those who will be going on the trip, but also their non-travelling partners, take part in a number of different, authentic meditation workshops in the Netherlands. The journey continues in Nepal, where the group remains for five days in silence at an authentic Tibetan monastery. After having undergone a Buddhist experience that has stimulated all their senses, the group resumes its journey in a more sports-oriented way. A nine-day trek past various monasteries in Tibet brings the participants to great heights—both spiritually and physically (5000 metres). This dual character of the journey not only makes the trip unique but also symbolises what Nomad stands for as a brand: beautiful on the inside, sturdy on the outside, the urge to discover, cultural interest, masculine and feminine, yin and yang, and young at heart.

    What does Nomad offer the participants?

    A Nomad trip is a tremendous challenge, both physically and spiritually. Participants who have had experience with meditation will find the second part of the trip challenging, while the experienced hikers will find the first part more challenging. The solidarity and support one gets from the others on the trip can lead to special connections among the participants. The workshops involve the home front with the trip and the travellers and enable participants to prepare themselves mentally (and physically) for the trip. In addition, Nomad involves those travellers who are open to the opportunity in its organisation: prototypes of newly developed products are available upon request. Those who make the pilot trip can also contribute to the further development of this and future trips. But the ultimate goal remains the act of undergoing an extraordinary experience that could well be a turning pointin one’s life. Nomad also organises business-to-business trips. To that end, a special trip by balloon is being created that will cross the valleys in western Nepal that are controlled by Maoist rebels.

    What does this mean for the staff at Nomad and their culture?

    Nomad itself is mostly made up of people in their twenties and thirties. The identification and definition of Nomad’s end-users has helped the company in terms of selecting its own staff. The employees need to fit with the image of the lifecycle target group.

    The Nomad trips are also leading for internal (mental) processes. They offer themes for the development of new products and provide an immediate testing centre for prototypes. The shift in consciousness is of even greater importance: the idea that Nomad is no longer a manufacturer, but above all a brand that helps shape the nomadic existence.

    Besides awareness, this also requires a different attitude from their employees. Being used to merely communicate on a business-to-business level, they suddenly experience the direct contact with their end-users more intensely. With the supply chain changing from being horizontally structured towards being vertically structured (and probably ending up in a matrix type structure), they are also slowly learning to exchange product and brand experiences on a one-to-one level.

    What is the business model with which money is being made?

    The revenues from the first trip will in no way measure up to the investment made in terms of time and marketing communication. A very modest direct income will be generated through the orders that participants will place for Nomad products. For now it is a clear choice to use it as a communication tool and to wait and see if the target group will accept the trips Nomad is offering as an extension of its product line. If the experimental trips can be repeated several times, that would be an indication that the brand has gone beyond its identity as an equipment maker to become a travel brand and an experience maker. Only then will the transformation from marketing tool to line extension take place, in which case the generation of profit margins similar to those of existing travel organisations will be the goal. Then there will also be the confidence that the Nomad brand can also be developed further on the level of both products and services. The trips seem to be popular, and it looks like Nomad may well be able to bring about this transformation.


    Business in progress, brief from the CEO april 2011

    Dear Albert, Nice to hear from you and great to be part (again) of one of your courses. Hopefully things go well with you (personally) and your team (businesswise). Here are my answers briefly:

    1. Did the value proposition to your customers change? and if yes how?

    Yes, certainly did. Regarding the Nomad Travel Experiences we managed to set our brand image on a new level. Although scope was limited, it was great to experience that many costumers (for example while visiting our booth at De Vakantiebeurs in Utrecht) recognized our Travel Services as a logical part of our (brand) offering. It was clearly positioned on an exclusive (or better: ‘different) level which gave the total NOMAD brand a refreshing image. Regarding the life cycle approach it helped us making a focused product offering that clearly supports the needs of our customers. To summarise: most people really appreciated the fact that we offered these special journeys.  

    2. Did the perception of your customers change about Nomad? 

    It did, but it takes a long time to get the message through if you are a midsized company. For this reason we decided to open a Nomad Brand Store (in Arnhem, close to our office). The 3D environment makes it easier for us to show customers where we stand and also turn it directly into turnover. The Travel Experiences could have been a great part of this store, but for other reasons (see next question) we decided to stop offering the Travel experiences. 

    3. What impact did these have an our processes and organisation? 

    Offering the Travel experiences on the very special, personal way we did it, made it hard to integrate it in our business model. Because we are specialised in manufacturing travel equipment, offering travel services is another thing. Although we intensively worked together with a company that is specialised in Travel Services, we never succeeded in really making it part of our company.

    As a marketing proposal the project was great to do and for me personally it proved all the great things I learned about the Experience Economy. Basically we reached a point where we had to decide to really invest in Nomad as a Travel Service company and go for it, or to end the co-operation and focus on Nomad as an equipment maker. Although with regret (because our trips were truly emotional, personal and definitely life changing transformations!), I do think that the current economic situation demands a very clear and decisive focus. The Travel Experiences were too much distracting and time consuming for our organisation at the time being, and given the results in terms of total reach of our offering we had to decide accordingly. So for now, they are put on hold but I keep them in my mind. I still believe they have the potential to strengthen our brand positioning and be profitable on their own as a ‘product’. Also, I will keep on looking for alternative opportunities to make ‘transformational travel experiences’ part of the Nomad experience (e.g.: license opportunities).  

    4. What impact did this have on your employees and culture within Nomad? 

    Staff clearly recognised the added value of Nomad’s Travel Experiences to set our image as a ‘travel brand’ instead of an ‘outdoor (sports) brand’. The stories of our participants also motivated my own staff to travel more frequently and beyond safe borders. Nomad’s Travel experiences to them was the ultimate example of true travelling. I would say the impact is that our people travel more frequent and more daring than ever before!

    5. Did the adjustment of strategy result in a better market penetration?

    Yes. Especially in export markets where it is harder to ‘stand out from the crowd’, NOMAD was clearly recognised as being different than it’s competitors. With Nomad’s Experiences we really made a very clear proposition about the brand Nomad but also for Nomad as a company

    6. Did it result in better margins? Income streams and cost structures?

    The Travel Experiences have not been profitable as a business proposition on its own. We calculated that it could only be workable if we would really become a true travel agent. 

    7. Did the transformational propositions change your core business?

    Thinking about ‘experiences’ instead of products or services have been adopted in our daily business. Whenever we have mini-events such as tent shows, the opening of the Nomad brand store, special Nomad activities at our retailers, trade shows etcetera, we try to incorporate the ‘experience thinking’ in our creative process. Apart from getting better ideas and results, it also stimulates people to think ‘out of the box’ in general.  

    Hopefully these answers are of value to you and your participants!

    Kind regards,

    Barry @nomad.info