A Case Study in Compelling Story Telling

September 12, 2017

A Case Study in Compelling Story Telling

REI Content marketing
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“Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but about the stories you tell.”
-Seth Godin

Every once in awhile a company goes so far above and beyond traditional marketing efforts that it merits recognition in our blog. A few months ago we looked at a Salomon sponsored video as an example of epic content marketing. Today, we are looking at another company focused on storytelling and creating masterful content that is 99.999% focused on creating value for the customer.

Telling a compelling story is a hard thing to do. As a marketer, it is your job to find your brand’s story, and then tell it in such a way that it moves your audience to complete a predetermined action or set of actions. In the case of today’s case study, the stories are told using many different mediums. This company sponsors many emotional, inspiring short films. They also create short educational “how to” videos. And you can’t forget my favorite medium–amazing long form articles and blog posts that are more like works of art than blogs. What company is this that has set the content bar so high for the rest of the world? Without further ado, I give you…

rei content marketing

REI’s short films: All the feels. And views.

One of the biggest investments any company can make in creating brand awareness is video. It can be extremely expensive to produce and there is no guarantee that just because you have a mega-super influencer that it will be successful (*cough PEPSI). While there are some companies that do it better than others, REI stands out from the pack in not only the quality of the videos they produce but also the quantity. For example, take the video Paul’s Boots, which as of this post has more than 1 million views.  It has won many awards and has been featured in innumerable blog posts (none so prestigious as this) and articles since its release. How would you even begin to quantify the ROI for such a project? Where does this video fall within the all mighty sales funnel? Looking at it strategically, this video inspires both the outdoorsy and non-outdoorsy alike. It is emotional (watch the first five minutes and try to get weepy) and inspiring. It is in no way a commercial or advertisement, and yet it pays for itself with the brand awareness it fosters. One of my favorite things about this video is the way it restores faith in humanity. It leaves you feeling good, more than that, it leaves you wanting to do good. To take an adventure.

Within Reach is another example of emotional storytelling through video. It follows a group of female climbers and documents their struggle for equality in both the climbing gym and the world at large. Like Paul’s Boots, Within Reach is not a commercial. It is a documentary. Like Paul’s Boots, it is beautifully produced and tells an amazing story. It is inspiring and leaves the audience with a longing for adventure. This short film exposes social issues and gives a voice to those who otherwise would not have a platform. From a business standpoint, it could be a risky play. There certainly could be fallout from customers who don’t support the same political agenda. But certainly, REI believes the benefits far outweigh the cost. So what is the ROI? What did REI gain from making this film? Well for one, over 250k people have viewed it on YouTube. It has sparked a much-needed conversation around gender equality in the gym and world at large and set up REI as an advocate for equality.

Content Marketing Institute (a big part of the inspiration behind this post) had this to say regarding REI’s video, “When you deliver amazing content experiences like those that Paolo and his team produce, audiences respond with more purchases and far stronger brand loyalty. Don’t be afraid to spread your video efforts across the funnel and even outside its reach to help your audience members wherever they may be on their own personal journey.

There are many more videos we could talk about, but suffice to say REI is killing it. Most of their videos have over 300k views and range from 5-40min. What better way to create brand awareness and loyalty than by making people feel?

Partnerships for breathtaking long form written content

REI partnered with Teton Gravity Research to produce a 6 part article series dedicated to telling the story of a woman in sports. Each article is a visual masterpiece and interactive. The combination of images, video, and text create an amazing storytelling experience.

Less political than the film Within Reach, these articles still stay true to REI’s advocacy for gender equality. Each story is incredibly well-written and does a great job educating the reader about the athlete. These articles don’t feel like articles, but more like stand alone websites. Each article is around 3k words and guess how many times REI is mentioned? Yep, 0. So how is that REI spends so much time and money to create this content and then not even use it to advertise? Because people like me find it, love it, and share it. Each piece of content REI produces has an audience and a purpose, but may not lead to measurable ROI. The value of each of these articles may not be trackable, but it certainly exists.

REI “how to” content reigns supreme

Finally, we have REI’s bread and butter: “How to” videos and articles.

REI how to content

As you can see, there is no shortage of topics to choose from. Once you click on one, you are redirected to another page with a plethora of articles and videos, breaking down your chosen topic and thoroughly explaining every possible nuance. For example, I chose Backpacking. Seems pretty standard. I expected quite a few articles teaching about first-aid, hiker safety, and loading a backpack correctly. What I found, however, was nothing short of overwhelming. It seems that like marketing guru Marcus Sheridan suggests, every question ever asked by a customer has been turned into a piece of content. There are far too many to even attempt a screen shot. And that is just one category! REI produces more content per quarter than most companies could in a year. An internal creative team produces between 10 and 20 educational videos each quarter. That’s a remarkable amount of content to just give away for free. Why not force customers to fill out a lead gen form or chat with customer service so there was a greater likelihood of selling something? REI knows that the more they educate their customers on using their products, the more their customers will buy because they feel more comfortable using the product.

“If someone has never been camping and REI can show how to get started with confidence, that consumer will be more likely to come to REI when it’s time to make a purchase. These are the shorter, how-to videos that many marketers employ, and they deliver measurable changes in buyer behavior near the act of making a purchase.”


REI is killing it with content marketing. Between the long form articles, short films, and free “how to” videos and blogs, they are creating brand awareness and loyalty with customers all along the sales funnel. There might not be a direct correlation between the number of views on YouTube and customer spend in any given quarter, but maybe that isn’t the point.

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