The Story of a Purchase

Sep 06, 2016

You may not know this, but it's the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in the U.S. I am aware of this since some of my favorite outdoor retailers have been reminding me with signage every time I walk into one of their stores. Subaru has also been pointing it out in commercials-yes, old-fashioned television commercials-telling viewers about its partnership with the park service to bring its expertise on creating zero-landfill factories to the parks (which apparently produce a lot of garbage). And CBS Sunday Morning has been taking viewers to different national parks and telling the unique stories behind each. All of this marketing and publicity worked. It got me thinking about planning a trip.

I'm in New England, so the one most convenient to me is Acadia National Park, but I was there a few years ago. A few years before that, I spent the day in Yosemite National Park--which is not nearly enough time--but it's very far away. When I was a kid, my grandparents drove my cousin and me out to Yellowstone National Park, and I've been itching to get back ever since. But I've also been thinking about going to Florida to swim with manatees, and that means I should probably add the Everglades National Park to the list of possible destinations.

What's a girl to do with so many great national parks?

Well, similar to most Millennials, I turned to my mobile device. Before I knew it, I was downloading the REI Co-Op Guide to National Parks and scrolling through users' pictures of Yosemite and Rocky Mountain National Park. There were also trail maps and a to-do list in which you could save an itinerary for a park.

Most people would just find this useful. But as someone who thinks about this kind of thing all of the time, I said, "This is great content marketing!"

As the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) defines it, "Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience-and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action." It's the last bit of that definition that many companies are still struggling with, in part because it isn't often that we can point to this kind of content marketing and draw a straight line to a purchase. However, in the case of the REI app, I think I can do just that.

All of this got me thinking about camping closer to home. I went out in my shed and pulled out my old tent, ready to check its condition and set it up in the backyard. But I soon realized the poles had gone missing, probably during a move. I did some homework and discovered that the company that made the tent had gone out of business. Frankly, this was fine by me. I didn't buy that tent--it was a gift--and it was much too big for anything other than a weekend car camping trip (i.e., I wouldn't want to take it on a plane or backpacking). I wanted something that was better quality and more versatile.

There are at least four major outdoor retailers within a few minutes of my house--not to mention all of the stores available on the internet--but I ended up buying my new tent from REI. The store was top-of-mind thanks to my experience with the app (and a short film it created called Frank and the Tower), but I'd be lying if I said I didn't shop around. For me, value is everything--and I'm physically incapable of making a significant purchase without hours of research. But as I debated which tent to buy, I kept coming back to REI. Ultimately, the excellent user reviews (it's hard not to buy a tent when a user has uploaded a picture of one with a bear walking by in the background) and informative videos helped me make my decision.

That brings me back to a different part of that CMI definition: "valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience. ..." In the story I've just relayed, the company used content to ease me along at every stage of my buyer's journey--including valuable input from other people who had bought the same tent (and used it much more frequently and in worse weather than I ever will).

Content marketing is a long-distance event, not a sprint. Remember to build your endurance.