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The Power of Story

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I heard a great story recently. Many of you may have heard it already if you love the outdoors.

It's about REI. Their point of view as a company is that a life well spent is a life spent outdoors. This became real in the lives of its staff and customers in a new way on Black Friday 2015.

We know that Black Friday is traditionally a major shopping day and retailers count on large crowds to help make their sales numbers for the holiday season. REI took a different approach. They decided to close their 143 stores on the day after Thanksgiving and pay their 14,000 employees for the day off so they would get out and enjoy the outdoors…and they encouraged their customers to do the same.

Time outdoors makes you healthier and happier. And there are so many ways to get out. No need to be extreme. Just find a place near you, then open the door and head outside.

Seemed like a risk to go counter to the retail trend. But what happened is that REI customers, when they heard about it through a video announcement and social media, were inspired that this brand was behaving in a fashion that was congruent with its values. And perhaps more powerfully, congruent with the values of these customers—with what was inside them. And that was—to get outside.

Millions of supporters chose to #OptOutside.

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“What began as a group of 23 mountain climbing buddies is now the nation's largest consumer cooperative. But no matter how large we grow, our roots remain firmly planted in the outdoors…Our core purpose guides everything we do: we all work to inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.”

What happened? Loyalty grew and along with it, sales. These customers in support of REI came back the next week and the company sales went beyond what they would have on a normal Black Friday. Why? Because it was authentic. It wasn't a trick to fool the customer into coming in later. It was an authentic statement about why REI exists and what they believe in. It gave a unique opportunity for REI’s staff and customers to live into those values in a new and unique way and create their own stories outdoors.

Marketing is about building relationships with people—your customers, your staff and your community. Telling your story is one of the most powerful ways to connect with an audience, draw them into the experience of your brand, and ultimately build relationship with them. As REI did, you can shape the future for good by the stories you tell today. The story doesn’t have to be totally unique. It just has to be true to who you are as a company. It could be a story about a member of your team going beyond what was expected in service to a customer. A story of persistence on the part of a team member to strengthen stability in your organization through an improvement in your IT systems. A story about your company’s involvement in a community cause. A story about a product you're rolling out and how this fulfills your promise in a new way. Whatever the story, let it be authentic to who you are as a firm—something that expresses your values and how you live out your mission.

As a leader in your firm, you have to decide each day how you will allocate your time. At first, telling a story may not seem like a wise use of that time or a critical business function. Try it. You might be surprised. Just like it happened for REI, it could change the narrative of your bottom line for the better. It’s not rocket science. But it can have rocket power to take you places you’ve never been before. Like outside.

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