When Mike St. Pierre started Hyperlite Mountain Gear five years ago, he knew that getting noticed in a crowded field wasn’t going to be easy.

But he hit on the idea of recruiting “ambassadors” to elevate the visibility of the brand, and offer feedback on how to make it better. The company gave its gear to athletes, who would then use the company’s backpacks, stuff sacks, tents and tarps on their next climb or trek. Afterwards, the ambassadors mention the gear on social media platforms where they recount their latest exploits. Additionally, they suggest changes to make the products better.

“They serve a marketing role and also an R&D function,” said St. Pierre, the Biddeford company’s founder and chief executive officer. “They become evangelists of the brand and help to spread the word. And a lot of people look up to what they do.”

Mountain gear, by its nature, isn’t a high-profile product while in use. Plastering a company logo on a mountain climber’s shirt isn’t likely to gain a lot of attention when that climber is thousands of feet up the side of a cliff, usually with just one or two fellow climbers. Most climbs or bike runs through forests aren’t exactly spectator sports.

But Hyperlite Mountain Gear still wanted people to know about the gear it makes.

St. Pierre hit on the ambassador idea and said he talked to a couple of people he knew “who were doing cool things in the outdoors.” Those initial contacts led him to others. The company now has about two dozen ambassadors – including ice, rock and mountain climbers; backcountry skiers; mountain bikers; and hikers.

The upside was that it didn’t require a lot of money to get the campaign going.

“There’s not a lot of cost – just the cost of the products – and you get a great deal of return,” he said.

St. Pierre said he never even considered conventional marketing, knowing the cost would be too high.

“I didn’t even look,” he said. “We just started pulling (ambassadors) in.”

What makes the marketing work is subtlety, said Lizzy Scully, a rock climber who was an ambassador and is now the company’s marketing director.

“People who are good climbers also seem to have a lot of social media presence. And a really good athlete is going to tag (the brand) in every social media post,” she said.

They might mention the gear in response to a question or comment. It’s that kind of context than brings subtle attention to the Hyperlite products within a very targeted market, she said.

Like St. Pierre, Scully said the company has benefited from the athletes providing free advice and publicity in return for free gear.