Brands are facing an ever increasing challenge of standing out from the noise. As earned media channels like Facebook and Twitter become less welcoming to brands who aren’t paying for reach, marketers are facing an uphill battle for creating truly content-driven campaigns that get noticed by consumers.
In 2015, outdoor retailer REI broke the holiday marketing mold and closed its stores on Black Friday, encouraging its shoppers and employees to #Optoutside, even paying its employees to do so. In an age where everyone is taking incessantly about marketing experiences, most are looking inward vs. thinking about how brand relevant experiences resonate beyond the walls of the store. REI shattered the entire idea of experiences with its brilliant delivery of its core brand promise, get the heck outside. It’s as if Whole Foods encouraged people to pick their own kale from gardens they helped inspire them to plant or if Walmart helped people save money through financial literacy courses at community colleges. Brand positioning for retail is increasingly becoming much more ethereal as people spend less time in physical retail environments. Great brands have always existed in consumer’s minds, the real opportunity for retailers in now to bring experiences to life all along the path to purchase, not just in store.
When REI did the unthinkable and closed its doors on retail’s former pinnacle day, it firmly planted its flag in the fertile ground of brand relevancy. Millions of people joined the #optoutside bandwagon not in support of REI but in support of what it stands for. Content related to the program has exploded and frequently has nothing to do with REI but everything to do with its core values. Content Communities are the essence of great branding and the future of marketing, especially digital media. Thanks to its support and participation, REI is the brand most associated with the conversation which helps it win related searches and the organic path to purchase for outdoor gear.
The beauty of content communities is the connection that they provide to all members. Demographics go out the window when you have a community that loves outdoor gear, cars, sneakers or food. Sure there are some groups that are more prevalent but people of all ages, socio-economic status, religion etc. love these things and naturally connect to others with shared interests. People actively seek out and engage with their passions online, consuming, creating and interacting with content across a variety of channels. Brands spend a ton of resources talking ‘at’ these channels, smart brands are actively participating in them by fostering their growth through original content creation. No brand could possibly create the volume of content needed to be a relevant part of #Optoutside, but by engaging people with a passion for the outdoors, REI is able to to be part of the conversation on a much deeper level than simply advertising to it.
At Photofy, we are believers in and facilitators of content communities. Using our platform, many brands are extending their participation in content categories including fitness, beauty and home through robust content streams created by their employees and customers. For example, franchisees of fitness chain F45 create localized content for their gyms that ladders up to its ‘Life-changing’ personal fitness positioning using a common set of brand elements. This creates scaled content creating with local authenticity and connectivity. Coupled with its corporate marketing, this approach provide a comprehensive digital marketing footprint that closely connects the most relevant content to the shopper’s most likely to become F45 members. Over time, customer content can be combined to create even more relevant connection and reach.
The best part of content communities is the brand controls its content, not a third-party that separates the brand from its customers. Content from #Optoutside exists across platforms, not beholden to any specific site. In the not to distant future, we believe most brands will opt to include content communities as part of an overall strategy and leverage their employees, partners and shoppers to help drive their participation. Early-movers like REI will have a decided advantage over those that show up to the party late.