The REI campaign “Opt Outside” involved shutting down business on one of the biggest, if not THE biggest profitable retail days of the year: Black Friday. The decision rested on value of a different kind, a concept far less tangible but much more rewarding. The company believed it could make up its Black Friday losses through gains in loyalty, by appealing to the emotional and ethical pith of its audience. And it worked.
Carrying on from that success, REI did another campaign and it focused squarely on a social issue. It was called Force of Nature and involved an effort to invest in nonprofits that assist and support women who enjoy the outdoors. They also began to offer more high-tech gear for women in their stores and programmed 1,000 different events for women. This increased sales by 20%, building an interesting proof case about the connection between corporate social activism and consumer behavior.
Retail Dive explains the result of the Force of Nature campaign in three ways: REI excelled at differentiation, brand identity, and engagement. The first two seem particularly interesting if looked at from the perspective of the millennial generation, because they confirm solicitation on the part of Gen Y for authenticity and social relevance from brands, two things that in the past have been demonstrated as successful approaches for marketing to millennials, and now there’s further evidence.
Authenticity marketing if done honestly will speak to a value(s) in a company’s vision. For REI that value is believing there’s great fulfilment to be gained from experiencing the outdoors. Both campaigns validated this perspective and made it more visible in the world.
Such visibility involves a longer narrative than traditional ads, because it’s born of a company’s values system, and typically involves actions outside of direct profit building, like philanthropy. It’s precisely this arc and social connectedness that allows for a more resonant sense of identity for millennials. Loyalty created from this resonance has greater sticking power than loyalty driven by other reasons, because values are longer lasting than preferences---appeal to them and you get customer engagement with longevity.