Positively Good Marketing is Campaign Monitor’s series at the intersection of marketing and social responsibility. Showcasing socially conscious companies whose missions center around bettering the world, PGM specifically studies how these companies’ digital marketing strategies—from email newsletters to Instagram posts—reflect and further their core values and initiatives.
Recreational Equipment, Inc, better known as REI, sells gear and clothes for customers who love to be outside, whether you’re camping, hiking, paddling, or just lazing around in a hammock.
They have an extensive online store as well as brick-and-mortar locations and the REI Outlet. They make a big splash every year as one of the few stores that doesn’t open its doors on Black Friday, encouraging people to Opt Outside instead.
But the company does much, much more than just sell outdoor gear.
Who they are
REI isn’t your average store. It’s actually a co-op, founded in 1938 when “Mary and Lloyd Anderson and 21 of their mountaineering friends pooled their resources, combined their skills, and worked together to help millions of people experience the transformational power of the outdoors,” according to a message from REI’s president on their website.
REI aims to cultivate a community of people who love being outside and want to invest in the world around them. In fact, the co-op invests nearly 70% of profits into the outdoors, nonprofits, and causes close to the co-op’s collective heart.
The REI Co-op loves the outdoors and provides a community for people who feel the same.
What they do
REI sells high-quality gear to help people get the most out of the outdoors and even designs their own line of products, too. They have products for yoga, rock climbing (indoor or outdoor), snowboarding, camping, and the list goes on. If you want to get outside, REI sells whatever you might need, including leashes and water bottles (and much more) for your dog.
In addition, REI also hosts classes and events, offers expert advice, publishes their own journal, and even plans REI Adventures, detailed trips to places like Machu Picchu and Portugal that involve a lot of hiking, biking, and other physical activities. REI has created a community where experts and novices can collaborate and share their love of the outdoors.
Positively good marketing:
Read on to discover the ways that REI uses their platform to further their mission to advocate for and introduce people to the transformational power of the outdoors:
1. Positively good branding
The Opt Outside movement, initiated by REI, began on Black Friday a few years ago, but since then, the movement has grown to encourage people to step away from their screens and get outside throughout the year.
This isn’t a marketing trick; REI doesn’t ask people to go outside with brand new REI gear. They simply want people to go outside.
These days, most consumers can spot when a company is being authentic or not. That’s one reason that Opt Outside is so powerful: REI doesn’t tell people to get outside or use the hashtag to promote their own products and make more money.
Instead, they back up their mission by closing their own stores, prioritizing their employees’ wellbeing over profits. REI has put their money where their mouth is and that makes an impact on consumers, and hopefully, their success will encourage other companies to do the same.
Education and resources
As a part of REI’s attempts to help people get outside, they’ve developed resources to help people plan outdoor adventures. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re an experienced outdoorsman, their guides have you covered. Simply download the appropriate app or check out the website and start planning.
You can choose from the Hiking Project, the MTB Project (mountain biking), the Mountain Project, the Trail Run Project, The Ultimate Guide to National Parks, or the Powder Project (“Backcountry Ski Maps & Secret Stashes). You can either download the corresponding apps or go to each project’s website to gain access to hundreds of thousands of trails and climbing routes, offline maps, live GPS that shows your location on a trail, community-built trip reports and forums, adding up to the equivalent of 4,746 guidebooks according to REI’s website.
Once again, REI has gone the extra mile. If you’re an expert mountain climber, you can access their resources to help you plan your next big hike. If you’re trying something new and nervous about a trip, their resources can prepare you to keep you well-informed.
Whatever you’re looking for, REI has you covered. They’ve made themselves a resource that inspires brand loyalty, even a cult following.
They also publish articles that cover topics from getting started with winter hiking to advice on how to choose a jogging baby stroller. Again, REI positions itself as a valuable resource and a trusted advisor to their followers, inspiring loyalty and return customers.
REI stores also host events ranging from a day volunteering to clear up a local park to classes with certified instructors that teach people the basics of mountain climbing. These events further prove that REI’s mission statement isn’t just a marketing ploy.
With the rise of gen z consumers—who comprise about 40% of consumers—who are more socially conscious than previous generations were at their age, companies that claim to be mission-driven need to back those claims up with proof and action.
2. Positively good content
Force of Nature
As another part of REI’s 2017 initiatives, they published Force of Nature: A Collection of Art & Stories Celebrating Fearless Women, which is exactly what it sounds like. They intend—through this publication, other women-centric stories, and by bringing women together through their events and classes—to make the great outdoors “the largest playing field on earth.”
These stories—as well as classes they teach meant to make women feel prepared and welcome outdoors—encourage women to be active, to get outside and get dirty, and to generally break into areas typically considered male spaces.
After all, REI’s own research found that 63% of women couldn’t even think of a female outdoor role model.
REI pursues gender equity through publishing and sharing stories like these and allowing women to come together and find kindred spirits through their classes; these represent part of the human aspect of the gender equity equation.
They also invest in nonprofits with similar goals, encouraging women to get outside and be more active, in order to extend the reach of their mission and even address the gap in women’s gear (there isn’t nearly as much high-quality gear for women).
REI could’ve donated to nonprofits in order to work towards gender equity in the great outdoors, but they went further and produced their own publication, reaching out to their co-op members and fans to ask for stories and art. And it worked.
Because their mission is one shared by many people—one reason why the co-op is so popular—they didn’t have to break the bank to achieve their mission. They reached out to their customers and pooled resources and talents to create Force of Nature.
Recruit like-minded people
Remember, you’re not alone in your mission. The customers who believe in your goals as much as you do want to be a part of the solution. Obviously, not everyone can donate $500,000 to nonprofits, but by inviting your customers to help you create something phenomenal, they get to be a part of the solution.
3. Positively good philanthropy
In addition to the money REI donated to nonprofits working for gender equity in the great outdoors, they donated over $8 million to over 400 nonprofits. If that seems too good to be true, don’t take my word for it. You can check out REI’s detailed stewardship report for yourself.
The beauty of this report is that it offers a transparent look at how REI has used their profits and their status as a well-known company to work toward the goals they claim to believe in. Any company can claim they care about gender equality. Any company can post to twitter after a tragedy or put a flag filter over a social media profile picture. REI takes their dedication to their purpose seriously and they offer a transparent look at what they’ve done.
This authenticity connects with today’s consumers and will become more and more important in digital marketing in the years to come, particularly for companies with socially conscious mission statements at the core of their business.
Not only does the stewardship report show how the company is working toward their goals, it also allows customers, fans, and co-op members to see and judge the company’s choices for themselves.
The company doesn’t stop with their stewardship report when it comes to transparency. They also offer a page on their website where members can read a message from the company’s president, see a full membership report, and even check out the names and pictures of the company’s Board of Director’s.
This transparency encourages accountability from the Board as well as the president. By knowing who these company leaders are, members can hold them accountable if their actions don’t align with the company goals that so many of their customers share.
Co-op members can rest assured that REI’s leadership supports the company’s mission without hypocrisy and profits will go where they say they will, into worthwhile and meaningful nonprofits and initiatives.
4. Positively good revenue
Multiple options for multiple types of subscribers
In order to drive in the revenue the company needs to support its ambitious philanthropic goals, they turn to email marketing. Unlike other digital marketing channels, email marketing can drive people to multiple pages on REI’s website.
Take this email that subscribers received with the subject line “Hit the Trail in 2019,” for example:
In order to promote multiple types of content, emails can include multiple calls-to-action—shop backpacking picks, see backpacking trips—that lead their subscribers to their store as well as their resources page. The email also provides text links, but because these links are a different format, they don’t compete with the more visible CTA buttons.
The email also includes beautiful images of people using their backpacks to catch the reader’s attention and inspire them to get adventuring, just like the subject line suggests.
The images in the email are consistent with the types of images found across REI’s platforms, from their blog to their social media accounts to their website. The images—which feature two people in backpacks walking across rocky terrain and a man next to a tent pulling supplies from his backpack—include both the featured selling point, backpacks, as well as gear that’s also mentioned later in the email, like boots and the tent.
Focus on your mission
Even when they’re selling, REI keeps their mission to get people outdoors and away from their screens front and center.
In this example, REI reminds their subscribers what they’re all about, getting people outside:
In the winter, a lot of people don’t want to go outside because it’s often cold and wet. REI knows their customers’ pain points and delivers a solution straight to their inbox, even speaking to the problem in the subject line “Winter Ain’t So Bad When You’re Prepared.”
They also take the time to remind people to get outside instead of spending all their time shopping through the holidays. Even during the time when most businesses are pushing the hard sell, REI prioritizes their customers’ well-being and the company’s mission statement over profits.
REI keeps their mission front and center in everything they do, from email marketing to conducting their own original research. Though many companies don’t have the resources to match REI’s socially conscious efforts in scale, their marketing provides a blueprint that any business can model, regardless of size:
- Make yourself a resource for your customer’s shared interests in order to inspire a cult following that allows your fans to grow with you.
- Host events to help teach classes and to create a community where customers with similar interests can get to know your brand as well as one another.
- Reach out to the people who share your mission and invite them to co-create with you. You’ll create phenomenal content together, expand your reach, and foster lifelong brand advocates.
- Prioritize transparency in your leadership and create a clear report that allows your customers and loyal fans to know exactly what your company has accomplished.
- Even when securing sales is your priority, keep the focus of your marketing on your socially-conscious goals.
When in doubt, remember customers and prospective customers choose your company because of the values you share. Trust them to help you in your goals. Invite them to join you in your efforts—both by helping you share responsibility and by holding your company accountable—and you’ll find customers who will remain lifelong followers.
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