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Social Spotlight: REI’s #OptOutside and How a Campaign Becomes a Movement

Welcome to the Social Spotlight, where we dive deep into what we love about a brand’s approach to a specific social campaign. From strategy through execution and results, we’ll examine what makes the best brands on social tick — and leave you with some key takeaways to consider for your own brand’s social strategy.

Overview

Many brands focus their marketing efforts on building an always-on, consistent social strategy with the goal of remaining top-of-mind with consumers year-round. But REI has proven that there’s something to be said for focusing on a specific moment in time and owning it like no other brand ever has. And in an age where 70% of consumers indicate that it’s important for brands to take a socio-political stand, finding a social good angle to support with your campaign has never been so vital. But once you’ve made the initial splash – the most successful of which are built around an idea the reframes an entire set of cultural norms – how do you keep the momentum going year after year to ensure that your annual campaign continues to build equity for your brand? This week’s featured brand, outdoor retailer REI, is a study in sustained growth for a radical idea.

Analysis

Recreational Equipment, Inc. was founded as a co-op in 1938 by a climbing enthusiast couple, Lloyd and Mary Anderson, with the goal of making outdoor gear available and affordable for others like them. The spirit of accessible exploration has driven REI from the beginning, and this consistent laser focus on a distinct brand value is what makes a campaign like #OptOutside, launched 77 years after REI’s founding in 2015, so instantly resonant and effective. Initially conceived as a stand against the ghastly American consumerism of Black Friday, the messaging around #OptOutside was inclusive of everyone who would benefit from not being able to shop at REI stores or on the website (and spending time outdoors instead) – both consumers and REI employees. 

Not opening stores or processing online payments on the biggest shopping day of the year was a stunning statement rooted in what REI has stood for since its founding, and the impact it made was a marketing coup. The 2015 inaugural campaign netted a 7000% increase in social impressions and more than 2.7 billion media impressions in the first 24 hours, not to mention an absurd 9 Cannes Lions for REI’s PR agency, Edelman.  

As impressive as those results are, the initial shock value of REI’s business counter-intuitive stand drove much of the media interest. That left REI with the challenge of growing and evolving  #OptOutside in the subsequent years to build the campaign from a one-time PR stunt into an annual American tradition. That meant expanding the purpose and goals of the campaign to be bigger, more audacious and more impactful by growing #OptOutside from an individualized experience to a cultural movement. 

And that’s where things start to get interesting, as far as results are concerned: According to Sprout’s listening data, the #OptOutside hashtag was used 156K times on Twitter and Instagram during the inaugural campaign in 2015. By 2019’s iteration, that had increased a respectable 66% to 259K uses. But engagement with those hashtags was up a whopping 3000% over the same time period, from 338K engagements in 2015 to 11.6 million in 2019. That means not only were people participating, they were engaging their friends and followers in conversation about #OptOutside. Pair that kind of peer-to-peer engagement with the overall 91% positive sentiment rating for the campaign over its history and you have the makings of a movement. 

  • Goals: Brand awareness and perception were the initial goals for the 2015 launch of #OptOutside, driven primarily by media and social impressions and dependent on the boldness and novelty of REI’s stand against consumerism in favor of spending time in nature. But as REI looked to extend the campaign, the clear link between supporting environmental causes (you know, so there’s an outside to opt for) and growing the reach and impact of the movement became clear. 
  • Offline connection: As REI partnered with nonprofits, starting with the National Parks Service in 2016 and expanding to more than 700 partner organizations by 2018, the “good purpose” focus of the campaign took center stage. By 2019, as the global threat of climate change dominated news headlines and contributed to an already charged political environment in America, REI repositioned #OptOutside. Initially a call for individuals to connect with nature instead of consumerism, the 2019 campaign sought to extend both the purpose and the timeframe of the movement. Sub-branded as “Opt to Act: 52 weeks of action to leave the world better than we found it,” the latest incarnation of #OptOutside finds REI recommitting to reducing its own environmental impact. The brand has pledged that it will be a zero-waste company (meaning that 90% of waste is diverted from landfills) by the end of 2020 by expanding its gear trade-in and rental programs and eliminating poly packaging for shipped orders.  
  • Key channels: Twitter and Instagram have carried the bulk of the conversation around #OptOutside, with more than 14.2 million uses of the hashtag currently on Instagram. One of the more inspired elements of the campaign from its inception is the partnership between REI and its employees to bring #OptOutside to life: From year one, employees have been encouraged to share what they’re doing with their day off on social or on Medium, with the results collected and shared on the campaign microsite. It’s certainly not new to use employees as advocates, but REI gave them motivation (no work on Black Friday) and a platform (the campaign) in which to shine as brand ambassadors. 

Takeaways

#OptOutside is one of the most recognizable and successful campaigns of the ‘10s, because it was built on long-standing brand values by a brand that is unafraid of bucking convention. The distribution, partner strategy and inclusiveness of the campaign drove significant cultural awareness, engagement and participation because REI gave us all a platform for choosing the road less traveled.

TL;DR:

    1. Don’t shy away from changing your goals as your campaign grows up. Stewarding a movement means the foundation may start with your brand, but it rarely goes beyond that unless your audience sees a way to participate and make it their own. And that means being willing to step back, relinquish control and watch what they do with your idea. REI won in part because it leaned hard into brand awareness in the beginning but was able and willing to shift focus to engagement and advocacy goals as the campaign matured and the audience shaped the movement to meet their needs.
    2. Have a lot of partners. Engaging in mutually beneficial partner relationships with other brands and nonprofits allows you to extend the reach and relevance of the message, not to mention the ability to borrow the equity (and share your own) of your partners’ audiences. 
    3. Rethink employee advocacy. It’s simple to ask your employees to advocate on your brand’s behalf, but the real power lies in asking yourself whether you’ve given them intrinsic motivation to do so. REI could have asked its employees to share the message encouraging consumers to opt outside on Black Friday but still asked the employees themselves to come into work. And many of them would have, out of obligation or even concern about their job security if they didn’t. But instead, the brand created space for its most vital brand advocates to not only participate but to lead the way for consumers. If your employee advocacy strategy stops at asking your colleagues to share your brand’s content, it’s time to reconsider how to build a more symbiotic relationship. The content will be better and your employees will be happier to share it.

This post Social Spotlight: REI’s #OptOutside and How a Campaign Becomes a Movement originally appeared on Sprout Social.

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About Daniel Rodgers

A lot of news that you will not see in the paper. A lot of technology that is coming out that will not see in the paper.

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Marketers are still asking, what is B2B influencer marketing? Here’s a definition I’ve been using over the past 5 years or so:

B2B influencer marketing is activating internal and external subject matter experts with engaged networks to advocate and co-create content of mutual value that drives measurable business goals.

As the groundswell around influencer marketing rises and becomes a normal part of the B2B marketing mix, the volume of information and misinformation on the topic also increases.

One of the most popular questions people also ask about B2B influencer marketing focuses on what makes a good business influencer? By now we all know that popularity alone does not make someone influential. It’s certainly important, it's just not the only thing.

As B2B marketers mature in their understanding of the role influence plays and how the dynamic of brand content co-created with industry experts plays out with customers, they begin to realize that other factors matter. Topical relevance matters of course as well as resonance of the topic amongst an influencer’s community.

B2B Marketing Influencers

The intersection of individual expertise, how well that expertise resonates with followers and the size of network creates a baseline of characteristics when evaluating whether a certain influencer might be a match.

But there’s more than that. Understanding what makes a great influencer is both art and science, soft and hard skills. The success of identifying, qualifying and engaging influencers is also directly tied to how they will be engaged and to what end.

Some people reading this might think that influencer marketing isn’t the magic pill some are playing it up to be. There’s a reason for that, because it’s not magic. It’s more like alchemy.

The reality is, there’s no one formula for the perfect B2B influencer, but there are some common characteristics that B2B brands should look for in varying proportions according to what’s important to a program or activation. I call those characteristics:

The 5 Ps of B2B Influence

Proficiency - In B2B marketing, the vast majority of those considered influential possess deep expertise in the field they work in. This is a significant difference from many B2C influencers who are often self proclaimed as influential with clever media creation skills.

As B2C influencer content and engagement tactics evolve, some are crossing over into B2B with a trickle of opportunists successfully creating influence amongst B2B audiences not solely for their expertise, but for a combination of adept social media content creation skills and some expertise. B2B marketers who do their due diligence will be able to filter accordingly.

Popularity - While network size is not the only thing, nor is it the most important thing, it is definitely a metric to consider. Some marketers swing in the direction of ignoring audience size altogether because of lower engagement rates with popular influencers. This is simply foolish. All things being the same, I’ll take 2% engagement of an influencer with a million followers over 2% from someone that has 1,000 followers.

What matters is how network size factors in with the type of influencer you need. For example, popular influencers aka “brandividuals” are often best for top of funnel content. Niche domain expert influencers are better for middle and end of funnel content. Engaging a brandividual and expecting conversions is just naive.

Personality - If you’ve worked in B2C influencer marketing and been exposed to all the characters there, B2B is going to seem a bit dry. Now there are some colorful characters in the B2B influencer community, no doubt. But personality is often a trait that needs to be uncovered when you’re working with some types of business influencers.

The good news is that savvy influencer marketing practitioners know how to plant the seeds that can grow and blossom within an otherwise introverted influencer. You don’t need them to be a colorful character, ripe with personality per se, but you do want them to connect with the passion they have with their craft and how their expertise can help others be successful.

Publishing - Content is the media that conveys the ideas of influence and while B2B influencers are not expected to produce the same types and quantity of content as in B2C, it is ideal when there’s a platform where the influencer publishes. At a minimum, that would be social networks but to be a B2B influencer, it’s most likely that also includes articles contributed to publications if not research, books and presentations.

Promotion - The value a B2B influencer brings beyond adding expertise and credibility to brand content is the ability to share what they helped create with their network. Trust of brand content is at a low, especially with advertising. Customers yearn for authentic content and the right kind of influencer collaboration can give them that, delivered via the influencer’s own distribution channels. That means social networks for course but also potentially blogs, email newsletters, podcast, LinkedIn Live, contributed articles or columns in industry publications.

I know some people reading this are thinking there could be even more P’s like being Prolific, Persuasive or Passion. Yes, there could be so many more but we have to draw the line somewhere! It's important to be able to manage the data and insights necessary to factor these characteristics into selection, qualification and engagement.

Some of these traits will not fully reveal themselves until you work with an influencer on a few content activations. Others will fluctuate over time and that is normal. It's important to understand that influence is a temporal thing. It is not fixed or permanent. It’s important marketers realize that before they disengage an influencer in the short term due to lower performance. The same goes for high expectations after great performance.

Organic influencer engagement is a little dynamic and what you don’t spend on paid influencers like an ad buy you will (in part) need to invest in relationship management, education and even tips that will help the influencers be more effective.

B2B brands with high influencer churn or low performance often apply “ad buy” perspectives to a what is actually a relationship driven effort. Mismatched expectations are not helpful for anyone, so think about the 5Ps as you evaluate and nurture your influencer community. Consider where of each your ideal influencers need to score on the 5 Ps in order to be a good match for the kind of activation you have in mind.

When there’s 5P alignment, there's happiness: for customers, influencers and your B2B brand.

The post 5 Key Traits of the Best B2B Influencers appeared first on Online Marketing Blog - TopRank®.

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