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REIAs marketers we talk a lot about real-time response and true social agility. But very few brands were able to master the art. So is agile marketing a myth?

A lot of brands are struggling with agility in marketing: thinking on their feet, coming up with original and fully custom responses, being innovative in the way they influence conversations. Marketers are used to running campaigns, those that take 3-6 months to produce.

Real-time community response is not hard. If you have time to answer a tweet or a question on Facebook, you consider it a job well done. A satisfied customer is a repeat customer, so that’s great. But to break through the noise, marketers have to master the art of not only real-time response but the art of the ‘wow’ response–the response that actually makes customers sit up in their chairs and have them say: “Wow! That’s really creative!”

One way to achieve that is to appeal to your customer’s ego through the fully personalized response. Not only it is flattering, but it is also very personal. Old Spice perfected that with Mustafa’s video responses quite some time ago. My friend Ramon De Leon, marketing mastermind of a six store Domino’s Pizza franchise in Chicago, goes one step further and truly touches his customers through personal relationships. He does fantastic job with sending his customers and fans a personal video responses in real-time. Not only that, through having a personal relationship with his patrons and paying attention to both real-life and Twitter conversations, Ramon knows who his customer’s idols are and when he gets a chance to meet the person his customer admires, he always asks him/her to record a custom 5-second greeting to that particular customer and he posts it real-time–that is his way of saying “I truly care!” Here is the video of MC Hammer signing the autograph and doing a shout out for one of Ramon’s customers. And here is the tweet from Valeria, another customer, when Ramon taped a video greeting from Brian Solis at LeWeb just for her (she is a big fan of Brian’s).

A week ago I had my own encounter with the “wow” experience when my casual tweet to REI “What is the best gift suggestion you have this year?” was answered through the custom video. Not only the video was custom made for me, it was made within less than an hour. Even for the most innovative companies, that speed of response is to be envied.


Was I pleasantly surprised? Definitely! Was I flattered? Heck yes! Someone actually took time to create a custom response for me. Not only that, they presented themselves as a socially-savvy brand. And that peaked my interest. So I decided to meet REI’s social media team and investigate further.

It turns out that REI started their social programs about five years ago. The social team is composed of three people, all passionate about working with customers. It was a natural fit for the brand because the company is a member-owned co-op. “Our members are the source of our inspiration,” says Lulu Gephart, social media team member at REI. “We love to bring our member’s outdoor inspiration and expertize to life on our social platforms.”

And it shows. Take, for example, their new 1440 project: http://www.rei1440project.com/ . The concept here is to help REI community celebrate every minute of the day spent outside (there are 1440 minutes in a day). The site reads the time-stamp metadata on your photos to slot them in the right minute of the day, creating a brand new way to look at the collective adventures. Gephart says: “Going forward we’ll look for ways to weave these photos into a variety of marketing vehicles as well as our store and site presences.”


This holiday season the team decided to spice it up and answer some holiday questions on Twitter with video. The program was called #giftpicks. To accomplish that they used Green Vests–the in-store employees who pride themselves on their passion and expertise in various product lines and who are always available to help. My video response came from Charis, a Green Vest who is currently working in the Bellingham, WA store.

Green Vests in multiple stores partnered with REI’s creative team and looked at what might make the best gift suggestion for a particular customer and together come up with the best video response. In 30-50 minutes no less! REI is uniquely positioned in that their creative team is located internally; they do all their production in-house.

“We pride ourselves on providing the inspiration and the expertise to help people get outdoors,” says Gephart. “The #giftpicks effort is one example of bringing that expertise to life and a great opportunity to humanize our brand a bit more. This experience is the digital replica of what you get when you walk into any of our stores.”

The team has shot about 90 custom videos during the period of several days. During that time the referral traffic to REI’s site doubled.

That is what I call making marketing personal. And the brands that embrace personal touch and creative agile response are reaping the benefits. Well done, REI!

This post was originally published in Fast Company

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2 Responses to “How REI Put A Bow On Social Marketing And Wowed Customers”

  1. Sara Harmon says:

    Dear Ms. Walter,

    My name is Sara Harmon. I am an Integrated Marketing Communications major at Ithaca College. I am very impressed by all of your achievements and recognitions. Not only are you a successful author, but you are also a recognized leader in business and marketing. I am aware of your extensive knowledge of social media, and I am curious how you think social media could engage Millennials in the news. I understand that you are very busy, but would you have the time for a 10 minute interview. Thank you for your time.

    Sara Harmon

  2. Great post.
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