Welcome to the Crystal Baller, our annual roundup of emerging digital, marketing and product trends that will shape the outdoor, active and wellness industries.

We touch a lot of different product categories at Monday—from shoes to mountain bikes to better-for-you CPG—and we’re voracious trend report readers, tradeshow attendees, and question askers. It all adds up to an inside view of what’s happening right now in our clients’ businesses and the broader industry. And we want to give you a peek too. If you work in marketing for outdoor, active and wellness brands, here’s what you should be paying attention to in 2024.

1. Three AI qualities to embrace: Authenticity, Augmentation and All-about-you

If 2023 was the year of AI, I see 2024 as the year of AAI—where the extra A stands for authentic, augmenting, and all-about-you artificial intelligence. Let’s break that down.

Authentic AI: What’s become clear one year into the AI age is that we don’t want AI friends and we’re already tired of the AI aesthetic that’s too perfect or too surreal. Our brains are over the wonder of AI generated imagery—we just want something relatable and easy to compute. We want AI to enhance real experiences and human relationships, we don’t want to replace them or even mediate them. Smart brands will focus on automation that reduces barriers to connection and prioritizes real humans, with all our flaws. 

Augmenting AI: I entered a pumpkin pie contest this past autumn that judged entrants on two categories: taste and description. A local chef friend created a visual and flavour masterpiece—then turned to Chat GPT to write the description. The judges’ universal response? “Sounds like a robot wrote it.” This is the year we all learn to use AI as our co-creators, not our replacements. The ability to craft effective prompts will go a long way in this new world—as will knowing when to take back the wheel from our digital assistants. Monday designer Nicole spelled out three practical ways AI can improve your creative work. It’s very much worth a read. 

All-about-you AI: I get excited about possibilities for personalization. I will consent to all the cookies if your website intuits my gender, size, and colour preferences, recommends only what truly aligns with my aesthetic and can guess if I want to ship to my US PO box, the office or my home address. AI-powered personalization could simplify our lives and really smooth the ecommerce conversion process.

2. Profit over growth

This was a notable shift in 2023 that will continue through 2024. Many startups discovered that the old funding model is broken. As the stock market booms, there are still investment dollars to be found—but the focus for investors will be on profitability, not “growth at all costs.” There’s lots to be said for slower, sustainable business. 

One of the biggest breakout brands of the last few years, Vuori, followed this model—in part because investors simply didn’t get the brand at first. It meant the founder had to focus on building a profitable brand—and in two years, they were already in the black. You can read about it here on FastCo, but here’s a salient takeaway:

…it was crucial to make money on the very first purchase, because there was no guarantee that the customer would come back a second time. So early on Kudla was very conservative about how much Vuori spent on digital advertising. “We never acquired a customer at a loss,” Kudla says. “We were hyper-focused on cash flow, and getting the unit economics of a transaction profitable.”’

For brands, this will mean striking a balance of DTC and retail, developing a really great product and telling your story well. It also means revisiting the way we think about venture funding, focusing on building profitable brands and making deals around steady, sustainable payouts—not just that unicorn 100x return.

3. Nothing new

Budget is top of mind for consumers with these lingering recession vibes (we’ve been feeling it in Canada all year, and my American clients say they’ve got the bug now too). In response, we saw a huge move towards thrifted, secondhand and—particularly exciting—reworked goods. That’s going to continue in 2024, with a big “buy less new” movement where we’ll celebrate outfit repeating (how did this ever become a bad thing?) and shopping friends’ closets.

In fact, Instagram’s 2024 Trend Talk report listed “Buy less new clothes” “Repeating outfits” and “Thrifting and/or shopping secondhand” as three out of four major sustainable fashion trends to watch. Makes you want to ask every brand that isn’t doing their own branded resale: what the heck are you waiting for?

4. Rise of the small content creator

Here’s what’s out for 2024: paying more to acquire a customer than you’ll profit from their purchase. 

We all know ROAS on Meta ads is bleak at the moment—and many brands feel the same about big Instagram and TikTok names asking tens (or even hundreds) of thousands for a single post with no guarantee of an ROI. I won’t go all in and say the influencer is dead, but (unless you’re Emma Chamberlain) brands are no longer willing to pay a premium without a promise of sales. This is the year to nurture reciprocal relationships with a big roster of high performing affiliates. These are content creators with a small but attentive following—they know their audience and how to create videos that convert. It means no longer taking a passive approach to your affiliate program: Give your creators plenty of product and creators make a return if their content performs. The better it performs, the bigger the percentage they can earn on each sale. 

If you’re going to explore this channel, understand that volume is the name of the game. Look for a dedicated community manager to source/vet creators for brand alignment, track their performance and offer weekly tools, tips, coaching and incentives. They should build your pool of ambassadors, then nurture the all-stars with stand-out content.

5. Fibre

Whether you spell it fibre or fiber, chances are your body loves it and isn’t getting enough of it. In our obsession with probiotics and adaptogens and electrolytes (still obsessed with all of the above 🙋🏻‍♀️) we’ve overlooked that one thing that ACTUALLY keeps our digestion on track: fibre! This is the year we channel our inner gran and fixate on cool alternatives to Metamucil that will surely be hitting the Erewhon shelves in no time.

6. Women in the sports spotlight

Forgive me diehard fans, but sports finally got interesting this year. We got to see Courtney Dauwalter absolutely dominate ultra running as the first athlete to win the UTMB, Western States and Hardrock 100—the world’s three major 100-mile races—in a single year. We held back tears when Canadian soccer icon Christine Sinclair played her final match after 20 legendary years. And we saw Brazilian skate queen Leticia Bufoni rail grind out of an airplane. Add to that the second annual Tour de France Femmes, record attendance at the FIFA Women’s World Cup and a casual 92,000 fans showing up to watch women’s volleyball at the University of Nebraska, and one thing becomes clear: we are paying attention to women athletes because they are making it impossible not to. My hope is that the big brand deals follow, and we’ll see women sign record-breaking contracts in historically male-dominated sports.

7. One last wildcard: Padel comes to North America

Controversial question, but what if pickleball has seen its peak? We’re always looking for that new new, and I’m calling it: this year we’ll embrace pickleball’s European (and arguably much more dominant) cousin, Padel. Padel has the speed of pickleball and the scoring of tennis. The court is a bit bigger than pickleball, the ball is a bit smaller than a tennis ball. The racket is small, heavy and perforated. It doesn’t require the technical mastery of tennis and moves faster. It’s not as fun to say as pickleball, but it might be just as fun to play.

If you know me, you know I have a lot more than seven opinions about what will shape the year ahead. If you want some insight into what’s coming and how it can shape your brand, get in touch.

Or if you want to check my track record, read my 2023 predictions here, and 2022 right here.