Content Marketing (Part One): An REI Case Study

Published: January 12, 2018

Torey Azure


The term content marketing has become a bit of a buzzword in the marketing world over the past few years. It is a concept that leaves many scratching their heads due to its broad applications and a generally slippery definition. The general idea behind content marketing is to grow your audience (and retain current customer-base) by illuminating the benefits of engagement in an imaginative, experimental or experiential manner. With that being said, content marketing, in its most stripped down definition, is a form of marketing that seeks to attract and engage target audiences via education rather than the traditional promotion of a product or service.

For many small businesses content marketing manifests itself in the form of blog posts, infographics, microsites, user-generated social media campaigns and interactive pop-up experiences. The intent here is to separate yourself from the white noise as a credible resource––or thought leader––capable of providing a fresh voice and meaningful information. Again, educational experiences. Rather than expound upon the what of content marketing, it would probably prove more beneficial for us to showcase the work of a brand that really hits their content marketing campaigns out of the park.

Washington State-based Recreation Equipment Inc., or as we all know them: REI, has proven themselves to be innovators in the area of content marketing. REI, which is a member co-op (like Costco), exercises content marketing in nearly every one of its forms––microsites, fun and informative print guides, expert advice, experiential in-store events and user-generated social media. More importantly, they execute each campaign to near perfection. Now, let’s take a look at some of the great content they have produced and examine the elements within each campaign:


One of the most robust content marketing offerings coming from REI is their Projects series of websites that provides invaluable information for climbers, mountain bikers, backcountry skiers, and runners. Each site provides things like maps, guides, resources and forums for those specific outdoor enthusiasts. The reason behind REI’s decision to devote resources to the creation and maintenance of these sites is pretty apparent: these are the places and spaces that their products are put to the test.

With each Project site, REI is positioning themselves as a credible resource for outdoor adventure. They don’t hawk their goods anywhere on these sites (a key component to content marketing)––they are solely devoted to being an educational resource for users. Pages are lightly branded with global navigation capability, so that you can shop REI and bounce around unfettered to core digital offerings.

REI Adventures Project

Here are a couple examples of other microsites that REI has launched for more robust user-engagement. The content is curated by REI from divergent sources but the most valuable, of course, is the user-generated content. Check out the Co-Op Journal, Expert Advice and Adventures.

REI Co-Op Journal Microsites

REI Infographics
REI has mastered the art of the infographic––and other print/digital one-sheets––with their creative angles and fresh perspectives on all things outdoors. In the image you will see some creative examples ranging from Tips for Happy Camping, Zombie Apocalypse Survival Skills and the The Art and Science of S’mores. Keeping it educational and fun––content marketing at its finest.


The REI #Opt Outside campaign was, and continues to be, an exercise in flawless PR execution. Here is the story taken directly from their website:

For three years running, REI has skipped the Black Friday frenzy. We closed our stores and gave employees a paid day off. Millions of people like you joined us outside. Awesome.

Black Friday is over, but let’s keep the adventure going. Let’s get outside every day.

This piece of REI’s content marketing maneuvered seamlessly from PR to user-generated social media campaign with users posting photos of their outdoor excursions using the now pervasive adventurer rally cry #Opt Outside.

REI Opt Outside

REI Seattle is well-known for the Pinnacle climbing wall in their flagship Seattle store. Climbers of all abilities can receive private instruction, reserve it, attend classes or drop-in during open climb hours. This is just one example of the many types of on-site experiences, workshops, classes and events that REI holds at its stores for unique customer engagement. REI’s Classes and Events section gives more details and examples of how REI utilizes experiential content marketing to their benefit but, more importantly, the benefit of their key demographic.

REI Rock Wall

We hope that our mini-case study about REI’s utilization of content marketing was helpful in some small way. This post itself was somewhat meta as it is now BrandCraft content marketing. Stay tuned for Content Marketing: Part Deux, dropping later this month, where we will delve further into the nuts and bolts of its application for small business…

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