NOTE: This may be relevant to those working on content development strategy within their organizations (these are great marketing techniques for small business). It’s a casual analysis of a nice contribution to the art and science of content marketing.

Today, I received a direct mail piece from REI – and boy did they deliver. As a marketer, I nearly wept!

This is a catalog camouflaged in brilliant content marketing.

It’s beautiful, powerful and one of the latest in the long evolution of content marketing. You can trace the origins to John Deere, and their publication “Furrow” magazine. They believe providing knowledge to farmers is the best way to build relationships. And, it’s worked – many within the company attribute their success to Furrow (published quarterly and consistently since 1895).

REI Produces a Masters Class on Content Development Strategy

REI has created an outstanding example of how to marry products with compelling, inspirational content. Anybody involved in content marketing today, will appreciate the effort and probably be a little intimidated. And, to be sure, it does seems like a significant challenge. However, the content is really just three well-crafted blog posts accompanied by awesome, real photographs. It’s not outlandish from a journalistic perspective. The majority of the time was probably devoted to the content development strategy behind it and execution of the layout. This is a catalog camouflaged in brilliant content marketing [learn about our content marketing services]. Check out this photograph of the cover:

Content Marketing Cover
Sans the logo, it could be an Instagram post – using the Hefe or Hudson filter! The cover speaks to their target market – people who love and appreciate the beauty of the out-of-doors. It doesn’t display product. In fact, you won’t see any product until page six. And, when you do, it’s contextually relevant – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Next you enter into a two-page spread with a beautiful panoramic view (part of their content plan template). They use these pages to build context around the opening statement “Every Trail Connects”. Within three pages, they have their target hooked – daydreaming and salivating about their next outdoor adventure. But they’re not finished setting it (the hook).

Content Development Strategy Component

The first article is about José Gonzales, and the community-driven things he’s doing to connect with people on the Bay Area Ridge Trail. This is just a portion of the full blog post at approximately 250 words – super easy to absorb. What’s critical is the invitation to:

Read the full story at

There are seven such invitations to visit their blog or website contained within this piece. All of which are subtly placed and gentle in expression. They’ve used beautiful visuals and layout to inspire the reader to make an online journey. You’ll also notice, you’re five pages deep and they haven’t added their logo (other than the cover). The products featured are either customized to promote the story or the brands are barely visible. So it actually FEELS like real, honest content – and it is. Each of the three articles document wonderful people, doing extraordinary things for others – all of which supports the REI brand proposition. Here’s a photo of the Gonzales story:

Content Development Strategy piece

Now, REI is ready to introduce the reader to a carefully chosen set of products, flanked by images that tie the Bay Area Ridge Trail to the product – moving the appropriate gear into the shot with models in realistic, active scenes.


This part of their catalog continues for five pages, and references only eight products. Product shots, like the one for Patagonia above, account for less than 50% of the layout. The other 50% is dedicated to large supporting images to maintain the mood of the preceding article.

Immediately after, you’re thrust into another compelling article – approximately 1,000 words and complete. The photography is not stock. It’s from the actual experience. It puts you there. Or makes you want to be there. This is the adventure you should be having.


The article spans six pages, including another beautiful two-page panoramic photograph. They follow with another four-page product catalog (again with 50% of the layout dedicated to lifestyle photography). Then, another short article. And they conclude with a four-page catalog spread split in two by another amazing two-page panoramic photo.

The cover is important because it supports their environmentally-friendly stance. The paper used to produce the piece was FSC® (Forest Stewardship Council) certified. Every bit of this piece contributes to the vibrancy of the REI brand.


Content Development Strategy Tips Exhibited by REI

  • You don’t have to go crazy creating a large pile of content, but you do have to have good content.
  • Find a way to get photography to support your stories.
  • The content doesn’t have to be technical or product-based. It can, and probably should, be about what the customer gets when they use the product or service.
  • Don’t be afraid to lose the logo – let the entirety of the piece support your brand vs. every element.
  • Make sure the content and your products/services are compatible – create a smooth, natural transition to a sales-based conversation.

Let us know if you have any questions about how to apply to your content development strategy – as always you can reach out to us at The SEO keyword for this post is: Content Development Strategy and Content Marketing.
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Creative Commons License
REI & Content Development Strategy by John-Scott Dixon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.