The Business of Brand: One Company’s Audacious Approach

November 23, 2021

Black Friday – the busiest shopping day of the entire year and the official start of the holiday gift-buying season. Eager shoppers line up in droves outside their favorite retailers hours before they open, money in hand, weather be damned, and turkey still digesting. The objective: get deep discounts on the year’s must-have merchandise. Today’s meaning of “Black Friday” came about in the 1980’s because, as people started their holiday shopping, it was often the day of the year when retailers’ profit margins shifted from “in the red” to “in the black.”

As a retailer, you’d be crazy to close your doors on Black Friday, right? Not necessarily.

Though certainly profitable for merchants and a winning day of savings for many consumers, Black Friday also faces its share of criticism. It’s perhaps best known for inciting mass hysteria, selfishness, and unruly behavior just one day after gathering with friends and family to give thanks for the many things we already have.

A Bold Brand Choice
It was for these reasons that Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) made a decision some might consider insane. In 2015, REI decided to close every one of its stores on Black Friday and give each of its then 12,000-plus employees a paid day off. They encouraged employees and customers to skip the Black Friday frenzy, gather their loved ones, and opt instead to spend their day enjoying the great outdoors. And it’s a tradition they’ve continued every year since.

Why would REI make a decision that could potentially cost them thousands of dollars in revenue? It came down to one thing – the values at the core of their brand identity.

What’s in a Brand?
Your brand identity consists of both tangible and intangible aspects, all of which come together to distinguish the products and services you sell from those of your competitors. It includes everything from your logo design, price point, and marketing channels to promises you make to the consumer and the culture and feelings you wish to inspire inside and outside the walls of your organization. Ideally, everything you do should mesh with the brand you’ve established.

For REI, shutting its doors on Black Friday was a daring, attention-grabbing way to reiterate the intangible ideals their company works to impose day-in and day-out.

REI is not only a leading retailer of outdoor equipment, they sell an entire outdoor experience. Their overall motivation as a company is to inspire a love of the great outdoors while also providing the equipment, advice, and opportunities people need to connect to nature and start adventuring. Jerry Stritzke, REI’s CEO at the time, explained that closing on Black Friday was a way to get back to the core of REI’s brand values: “…It was about reclaiming a day that was distorting a time to give thanks for what we have, and re-grounding in what we value most in life as an outdoor community.”

Big or Small, Brand Matters
Sure, national retailers like REI have a little more room to experiment and make bold moves with the actions they take to tell their story. They can afford to sacrifice sales for the sake of making a larger point. They’ve got the resources to offer an extra paid day off to their employees. Just because you operate on a smaller scale, however, doesn’t mean you can’t represent your brand in a big way.

In everything you do, remember where your company came from, where it’s going, and who you want to come along for the ride. This information will guide your branding efforts. Whether your business is large or small, there are no limits to the ways you can show your customers what you’re all about. With a bit of ingenuity and thoughtfulness, your brand’s story, like REI’s, can be a tale told for many years to come.

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