Branding At Its Finest—Cult Brand: REI

November is upon us and Thanksgiving is right around the corner, which also means Black Friday is fast approaching. Over the last couple of decades, Black Friday has traditionally become the busiest shopping day in the U.S.--last year, shoppers reportedly spent a combined $1 million per minute between online and in-store purchases. Most stores have already been gearing up for the big day and have employees braced for the long shifts and chaotic crowds, however, one well-known retailer does just the opposite: they close their stores.

Recreational Equipment, Inc., better known as REI, actually shuts down all 154 of their stores, halts online orders and pays their employees to instead, #OptOutside. The initiative began in 2015 as a way to urge both customers and employees to spend the day outside enjoying nature with loved ones as opposed to joining the masses on the hunt for sales. REI was the first major retailer to do this, and although many companies gawked at their seeming stupidity, customers praised them. Even without Black Friday sales, REI continues to be a thriving outdoor and sporting goods retailer with a customer base now more loyal than ever.

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REI began in 1955 as a small co-operative in Seattle selling equipment geared toward serious climbers and mountaineers. In fact, REI’s first ever full-time employee and later CEO was Jim Whittaker, the first American to ever summit Mount Everest. The company continued to market to only these serious athletes until the 1980’s when they shifted toward a more family-friendly offering and began supplies for camping, cycling, kayaking, and other less extreme outdoor sports. However, at its core, REI has always remained true to its customer: the outdoorsman. REI’s products are meant to be enjoyed and put to use outdoors, so they invited everyone to join them in doing so and #OptOutside. The campaign earned 6.7 billion media impressions and 1.2 billion social impressions. Social media mentions rose 7,000 percent in only 24 hours. Instantly, everyone was talking about REI, and now more enthused to support them than ever.

REI fosters a feeling of community among both their customers and employees that is inclusive to everyone. Their entire brand identity revolves around the phrase “an outdoor life is a life well lived.” It doesn’t matter your social status, gender, religion, age, political beliefs; if you’re an outdoor enthusiast, then you belong. REI doesn’t just symbolize a retailer, it’s an experience. And more and more, studies are showing that people would rather pay for experiences over material items. REI encourages all of its customers to tag them on Instagram when sharing memories from their adventures. The company listened to their customers and recognized most of them would rather spend time outside than shopping, and thus the #OptOutside campaign was born. Unlike their competitors, REI has built personal relationships with consumers by demonstrating they care about their well being. Customers know they can trust REI and its employees for advice on not only which walking sticks to buy, but also which hiking trail to take. Additionally, their site offers a section on expert advice with hundreds of articles ranging from how to hike with your dog to treating blisters.

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For the fourth consecutive year, REI will yet again #OptOutside this Black Friday, now joined by hundreds of other retailers who followed the trend. Each year, REI sees an uptick in the number of members who join after Black Friday, now encouraged to join after witnessing firsthand the company’s generosity toward its employees and legitimate understanding of its customers. At the end of the day, if there’s one thing REI has an expert grasp on, it’s customer care. Their marketing strategy is something that inspires our team at EMB, and it is most definitely something we strive to emulate.