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December 03, 2019

How REI Lives and Shares Its Brand Values

Written by Don Scales
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How did you spend your Black Friday?

If you went shopping in search of Black Friday sales, you were not alone. Adobe Analytics says that total sales for Black Friday weekend were hitting $29 billion. That’s good news for the retail industry, which certainly needs the boost that Black Friday sales bring.

But one major retailer did not earn a nickel from Black Friday: REI. And REI is just fine with that.

For the fourth straight year, the popular outdoor retailer once again closed its doors on Black Friday. At a time when retailers are actually opening their doors on Thanksgiving, a move like that takes guts.

But REI, a co-op with millions of members, believes that closing its doors in Black Friday serves a larger, long-term purpose to support its brand values.

You see, REI is more than a retailer of outdoor gear. It’s a company that believes in the outdoors, period. According to the company’s website:

At Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) we believe a life outdoors is a life well-lived.

We believe that it’s in the wild, untamed and natural places that we find our best selves, so our purpose is to awaken a lifelong love of the outdoors, for all.

Since 2015, the company has been taking a dramatic step to live up to that ethos. REI closes all its doors on Black Friday and gives all its employees an opportunity to #OptInside with family and friends. In 2019, REI upped the ante by launching the Opt to Act, which encouraged its 18 million members to sign up for various cleanup events that occurred on Black Friday.

In a letter to members, CEO Eric Artz not only shared links to specific clean-up activities occurring around the country, he also rolled out more ways REI is making a stronger commitment to sustainability/ESG beyond Black Friday:

As we ask you to steward the outdoor places you love this Black Friday, we’re also announcing a series of our own commitments. We’re rethinking the future of retail and finding ways for every REI member to take part in the circular economy with more used and rental gear choices. We’re tackling waste in our own operations and in communities across the country. And we’re redoubling our efforts to eliminate unnecessary packaging in our industry. You can read more about these commitments here, and we’ll share even more in the coming months about the ongoing ways we’ll be stepping up the fight for life outdoors.

There’s a lot to admire about REI’s actions. Here’s what stands out for me about REI’s annual Black Friday freeze out:

  • It’s consistent with the company’s brand values. So it’s authentic.
  • The effort involves not only customers but also employees.
  • REI is in it for the long haul (check out its stewardship report for more insight).
  • REI tells its story impressively, coordinating many elements, including a strong PR program, effective social media (search for #OptOutside on Instagram and Twitter, and you’ll get the idea), and a compelling website.

Communicating your brand values is not easy. Investis Digital recently conducted a study with Forrester that shows only 25% of businesses rate themselves as very effective at consistently managing their brand values across digital channels. And nearly 40% of businesses said they fail to actively manage their corporate brands through digital channels.

Meanwhile, nearly 70 million American adults make purchase decisions based on their values, according to the Retail Industry Leaders Association. According to Forrester, 52% of U.S. consumers say they factor brand values into their purchasing decisions, up from 43% in 2015.

Sharing your brand values does not necessarily mean embracing cause marketing or purpose over profit although it often does. It means connecting your message to what you stand for, whether it’s “empowering every person and every organization to achieve more” (Microsoft) or living 10 values ranging from selflessness to inclusion (Netflix).

To me, living and sharing your company’s values internally and externally is the foundation of your success. The approach is working for REI: the company’s membership numbers have swelled from 3.7 million in 2008 to 18 million today, and it achieved record sales in 2018, according to Business Insider.

How do you live and share your brand values?

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