How REI Gets Customer Storytelling Right

How REI Gets Customer Storytelling Right child page title

As many of my co-workers can attest to, I’m a bit overly attached to the words “aspirational” and “passionate.” When it comes to my work, I love it when I come across brands that line up with one or both of those – brands that inspire me to dream rather than sell to me, that connect with what I love, and cherish rather than argue features and benefits.

REI is one of those brands, and some of their recent video content is a prime example why. To be sure, REI has some advantages over many brands: they operate as a co-operative so naturally they place their members (not “customers”) front and center, and what they sell is perfectly suited towards helping their members embark on outdoor adventures and realize their passions. But even then, their current “Member Stories” videos stand out as prime examples of how brands can create content that connects and inspires.

For a great example, check out this story about 5-year old Evan, camping with his dad and earning his Junior Ranger badge. Or this one with a more urban take on outdoor adventure.

Why do they work?

It’s all about the members: Not every brand can tap into customer stories as naturally as REI, but every brand can learn from the deft touch REI employs in putting their members – and not their products – front and center.

Leads with the story, not the product: Much though I love geeking out over the latest outdoor gear, I’m much more likely to feel personally connected to a compelling story about an experience I can relate to – and ultimately, to the brand sharing the story. There is clearly a place for product-centric content, but fantastic storytelling can in many cases be much more powerful.

Taps into passions: Maybe it’s a Pacific Northwest thing, but through content like this REI’s ability to tap into its members passions – in this case for outdoor adventure – reminds me a lot of Nike’s advertising. These stories instantly make me *want* to get outside and create my own adventure (and maybe swing by my local REI store to pick up a few necessities along the way), and that’s a powerful bit of brand content.

Perfectly captures the brand: To its members, REI is exactly what these videos convey – a love for the outdoors, for discovery, for adventure, for creating and sharing your own personal stories with a fellow membership that shares your passions. The video series is a powerful way to reinforce that feeling.

Great content is only half the battle

Sorry to go all GI Joe in this post, but the other half of the battle is tapping into that content – all those great member stories – to make  it work for the brand across your communications and marketing channels. Some quick ideas on how REI could be doing this a bit more effectively:

Tie the stories into social media: Ask anyone managing brand social media channels on a day-to-day basis, and coming up with a constant, consistent flow of engaging content is one of their most challenging tasks. Member and customer stories like this are tailor-made for social media and could be seeded in a range of creative ways.

Invite members to share their own stories: As great as the stories are that REI has shared through these videos, I guarantee there are thousands more just as compelling, touching, and inspiring among the brand’s legion of devoted members. While it’s not realistic to fly a film crew off to capture every one, there are a number of fun ways REI could encourage and enable their members to create and share their own stories. It doesn’t have to be self-shot video even, just photo sharing via Instagram or Facebook with a short story (aggregated and shared by the REI team) could be an incredibly powerful way to amplify the impact of the original Member Stories videos.

Create a local connection: REI’s member community is really a collection of local communities, centered on their retail stores. They already do a nice job of highlighting local workshops, sales, volunteer activities and community events. And on REI’s Facebook page, you’ll find the My REI Adventure app that helps fans discover adventures in their local area. Now imagine connecting Member Story videos, photos, blog posts, etc. with the Adventure app – member-submitted stories about each local adventure – and highlighting those same stories on the individual store and store event pages. In short, this type of content creates lots of opportunities for helping to build and foster connections to your local REI member community and store.

What other great member or customer story content ideas have you seen that work?

Kevin brings over 16 years of marketing, strategy and communications experience to Pace. With time spent on both the agency and client-side, he spent seven years at Microsoft alongside several venture-funded startups and a non-profit. Kevin has been crafting campaigns and developing programs in community and word-of-mouth marketing—and their most recent incarnation, social media—since 2001. At Pace, Kevin currently leads the Verizon Wireless business and previously managed digital strategy, analytics and insights across the agency. Before joining Pace, Kevin developed social media strategy for clients such as Chrysler, Samsung, Verizon, Microsoft, Nature Made and Nike while at Ignite Social Media. Kevin is a graduate of both the University of Oregon and University of Washington.


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