You don't have to be an avid camper or climber to see that REI has made some pretty savvy marketing moves lately. The outdoor retail giant has been taking strategic chances, and it's paying off big time in both earned media impressions and sales. Last year, the company reached 2.56 billion dollars in revenue--and ultimately chose to give away 70 percent of its profits to the causes it cares most about.

Even if your brand is decidedly indoor in nature, there's a lot to be learned from REI's strategy--a plan that's stayed one huge hiking boot ahead of (and helped to shape) the biggest trends in marketing.

These three key takeaways from recent major initiatives can help inform your own brand strategy.

Take a Stand When It Aligns With Your Core Values

Exploiting social causes to generate news around your brand rarely goes well, and taking a stance on a political issue runs the risk of alienating part of your audience. But when the social cause or political issue is part of your brand's core values, it makes a lot more sense to speak up.

Stressing its own core values, REI spoke up when a 2017 presidential order reduced the size of two National landmarks by 2 million acres, dedicating part of its homepage to share the message, "Despite the loss of millions of acres of protected lands this week REI will continue to advocate for the places we all love" (Patagonia also spoke up, with "The President Stole Your Land" page takeover).

Also in 2017, REI launched the Force of Nature brand initiative, which aims to advance gender equality in the traditionally male-dominated outdoor category. This initiative came with a $1 million commitment to support nonprofits that create opportunities for women in the outdoors, more than 1,000 events to help women connect with fellow female outdoor enthusiasts, product development for more women's gear and apparel, and an effort to feature more women in their advertising and marketing materials. In addition to some major goodwill from their female customers and employees, sales in full-priced women's apparel have increased 20 percent.

Stray From the Pack

All of us have heard from our parents--or even said to our own kids--"If everyone else were jumping off a cliff, would you do it too?" Well, that message must have resonated with REI, because when most brands were boasting how early they would open on Black Friday (or even Thanksgiving), REI straight up cancelled it.

In 2015, REI decided to give their employees a day off, and closed its doors on Black Friday. You know, the day that--at the time--generated more than $12 billion in revenue (combined with Thanksgiving, or "Black Friday Eve"). Urging customers to instead #OptOutside, the brand generated a ton of buzz, got some others on board with the anti-Black Friday movement, and now had an annual campaign.

More than two years later, we're still talking about it--which is more than can be said about the retailers that opened their doors at midnight. Buzz around the promotion continues, and this year, they expanded the initiative to include a partnership with Lyft giving customers a discount on a ride to parks in 12 cities.

We all prefer Cyber Monday anyway, right?

Excel at Follow-Through

Too often brands get excited about a new initiative, but get discouraged when it doesn't immediately result in revenue. Dipping a toe into something new--but not staying committed, is the quickest way to ensure you'll waste your time and money.

REI's knew video wasn't going to be short term investment. They dove in, invested, and stayed the course. As a result, their video efforts have resulted in stunning documentaries that have earned 45 million views, and have enhanced REI's credibility in the outdoor space. Not to mention that the videos are award-winning: REI's Paolo Mottola won Content Marketing Institute's Content Marketer of the Year award, largely due to these video efforts.

So whether your brand is focusing on podcasts, microinfluencers, social media,   chatbots, or another 2018 marketing trend, commit to it to make the spend worth it.

Need some support in getting your own campaign off the ground? There are content marketing experts that can help.

Published on: Feb 23, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.