December 03, 2015

Making Brand Decisions that Help Your Branding

The days following Thanksgiving hold the title as some of the busiest of the year for shoppers. There are millions of looking to purchase and billions of dollars being spent. For some brands, this year was different – instead of focusing on sales or discounts, they found the opportunity to make brand statements bigger than what they have on sale.

SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 27: Employees of Specialty Outdoor Retailer REI pose outside of the flagship store following the announcement of Black Friday closure at 143 stores nationwide as part of #OptOutside initiative on October 27, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Suzi Pratt/Getty Images for REI)

A number of big brands, including T.J. Maxx, Marshall’s, HomeGoods, DSW, Apple, Nordstrom and Sam’s Club, bucked the trend of opening their doors on Thanksgiving evening, making a point to emphasis their brands’ importance on valuing time with family. Of these, one brand’s strategy to tie the decision back to their brand attributes made it stand out among this group.

REI took the holiday weekend to make a big statement about their brand– closing their doors on both Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday.

They encouraged their would-be-shoppers to “Opt Outside,” in alignment with the brand’s equity in adventure. REI wanted to show a different way to spend the weekend, encouraging potential shoppers to enjoy the great outdoors, a concept that fits in line with their overall brand strategy.

CSgvm0QWIAA9K6IThis branding effort took many forms beyond the initial announcement. For instance, REI made a website available where over 1 million people posted pictures of their outdoor adventure and created the hashtag #OptOutside to further encourage sharing their . The CEO of the company wrote a heart-felt message to shoppers and employees about the company’s values and the brand’s stance on enjoying the outdoors, including the line “a life outdoors is a life well lived.” Again, their messaging and strategies showed consumers that the REI brand is a lifestyle, and goes beyond their name and logo.

And while they didn’t process any online orders on Black Friday, customers still shopped on their site – SimilarWeb reported that REI saw a 10 percent increase in online traffic on Thanksgiving, and a 26 percent lift on Black Friday. Did the lift overcome dollars that could have been made in-store? Who knows? But the effect on the brand I believe will be lasting.

The greatest lasting impression may be on the brand’s equity in outdoor adventure. If there were some who questioned the brand’s true passion for the outdoors, that equity was cemented by their bold move on Black Friday.

The decision was a reminder to REI shoppers that the products sold through REI have consistent value and demand a premium. REI isn’t looking to push volume out the door and compromise value perceptions it has built year-round. Not participating in Black Friday, maybe more than anything, says that REI is different. They are a different kind of retailer, one less focused on revenue and more focused on experiences, especially experiences that are in line with their brand.

REI took the unorthodox route in its moves this past weekend, where it chose not to get caught up in the holiday hysteria. In doing so, they reinforced that sometimes what defines our brands and makes a lasting brand difference is not what we choose to do, but what we choose not to do. And the most successful of these brands don’t just act in a vacuum – they act with a strategy that ties these decisions back to what their brand stands for, reinforcing the notion that they don’t just walk the branding walk, but talk the branding talk.

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Addison Whitney is a global branding firm with a passion for building strong brands.
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