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REI: Brand Positioning Case Study

Oct 21, 2023
REI Brand Positioning

One of the most difficult things for any brand to do is to build an emotional connection with its audience. That’s why the connection REI has built with its members is so special. In 2022 alone, they welcomed 1.28m new lifetime members who all paid $30 to be a part.


Let’s get into it…

💼 The Brand: REI

REI began in 1938 when a group of 23 climbing friends, united by their love for the outdoors, decided to source quality and affordable gear for their adventures. Today REI now has 23 million lifetime members, more than 16,000 employees and 181 locations in 41 states.

💛 The Heart

  • REI believes that it’s in the wild that we find our best selves, so their purpose is “to awaken a lifelong love of the outdoors, for all.”

👤 The Head

  • REI isn’t your typical outdoor store… to start with, it’s owned by its customers — not shareholders
  • Using a co-op model, where customers can pay for a lifetime membership in exchange for special benefits, it allows them to operate differently…
  • For example, since 2015 they’ve closed all of their stores on Black Friday with their #OptOutside campaign
  • They have a robust equipment trade-in program where members can trade in their outdoor gear and/or purchase used gear traded in by other members
  • All of this positions REI in a different category than your typical outdoor store. They speak to their members’ desire to not just go on adventures, but to BE an adventurer.

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✋ The Hands 

  • It’s important at every stage of the customer lifecycle to speak to your audience’s emotional needs, but it’s essential when moving someone from “education” to “enrollment.” Here’s how REI pulls it off flawslessly on their website’s co-op membership page:
  • Above the Fold Copy
    • Smart use of a social proof slider that shares numbers of new lifetime members added in the previous year
    • Primary headline emphasizes that it’s a one-time payment and it speaks to their target persona’s desire to become an adventurer

  • FAQ Section
    • Headline speaks again to the desired identity of their audience
    • Because the co-op concept is somewhat unusual, it’s super smart to have plenty of FAQ’s ready to handle the potential confusion or questions from the audience.

REI's Emotional Edge

🚨 New section alert 🚨 

[Our mission is to make people feel seen, known, and understood through marketing. And the brands we break down do just that. Now we're adding a little insight into the the most powerful connector of all — the emotions — and how these brands build movements using their unique emotional edge.]

REI creates raving fans because of the way they craft an emotional journey for their customer. The idea of being a "lifetime adventurer" creates feelings of freedom, excitement, and, on the flip side, restlessness with the status quo. It speaks to a new level of identity — and they run their business in a way that allows their customers to achieve it.

Here's the takeaway — Structure your customer journey in a way that helps them achieve an identity. If you help someone become who they seek to become, they'll follow you forever.

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