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Custom Publishing Review: REI Gearmail

The unrealized potential of content

reiscrapI suppose there’s something to be said for minimalism in marketing communications. Keep it simple. Get to the point. Get out of the way. Case in point: Gearmail, the email bulletin from Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), the outdoor specialty co-op/retailer based in Kent, Washington.

Gearmail seems to arrive about once a week. In a brief HTML format, it includes a few product shots and seasonal offers with links to REI’s online store. Last week’s offer: “REI Expert Gift Picks + 50% Off at REI-Outlet!” In other words, Gearmail is an ad very much in character with REI’s low-key retail, catalog, and online experience.

I have no doubt that Gearmail works well (as far as ads go). The REI team has a record of remarkable success. But at the same time, one would expect more from a membership organization with nearly $1 billion in sales and 2.5 million members. With all of its expertise in outdoor recreation, its retail footprint, and its stellar positioning, REI has the potential to deliver an endless supply of valuable content that:

  • facilitates buying by engaging members at multiple points in the purchase cycle (e.g., buying tips, independent reviews, member reviews, and deeper product information online);
  • keeps REI at top-of-mind (e.g., with newsletters personalized for preferred product categories and tie-ins to local events and workshops);
  • increases profitability by integrating customers’ in-store and on-line experience (e.g., with product customization, inventory access, and improved logistics for delivery and customer service);
  • grows the REI community by helping members promote the brand (via content sharing and word-of-mouth) and by simply increasing the value of membership;
  • enhances performance/lowers cost of the other marketing efforts (e.g., using “flagship” publications that combine and/or align disparate marcomm programs).

Beyond Gearmail, REI content could include member adventure blogs, complete with multimedia from REI Adventures (REI’s adventure travel business); quarterly print and digital magazines segmented by interest such as REI Ski, REI Cycle, and REI Wilderness; enhanced catalog content with feature articles; and mobile content such as ski conditions, weather data, wilderness guides, and retail partner data such as restaurant guides and travel services.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of of content REI could provide to enrich its members’ brand experience. To create an actual content plan first requires asking a few basic questions, which I offer from my own perspective as an REI member: What can I learn from REI? How can REI enhance my enjoyment of the outdoors and bring friends and families together? How can I share my passions with other members? For REI (or any company seeking deeper customer relationships), answering questions like these is the first step to unlocking its content potential.END

David M. Kalman is the president of Terrella Media, Inc. and editor of BrandMagnet.

Related Content: REI GearMail Screenshot

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