Competitive Brand Audit
This project was a done in collaboration with Eli Kahn during an internship at REI.
The cover image for this project was created by in-house designers at REI and is not my original work.

The Task
Unpack competitor approaches to branding and paint a picture of REI’s competitive branding landscape. Insights will inform future brand strategy and positioning.
The Goal
Gain a better understanding of how and what other brands are communicating to customers in the name of maintaining/attaining brand differentiation and achieving a unique position for REI in the broader market.​​​​​​​
Our workstation. A few brands, like National Geographic, Moosejaw, Cabela's, and the ACLU were dropped from the audit later in the process for various strategic reasons.
Step 1: Define Scope
The creative director managing this project provided a list of the brands we'd be auditing, which fell into three categories: 
Outdoor retailers – direct competitors
Patagonia
Backcountry
Burton
L.L. Bean
Outdoor Voices
EVO
∙REI (internal audit)
Heritage brands – excellent at leveraging and communicating heritage
Converse
Filson
Large retailers – manage various ancillary or sub-brands under a large umbrella
Target

Step 2: Gather Material
We began by collecting as much digital and physical media as we could find from each company on our list. In every case where the brand we were researching had a store in the Seattle area, we visited that store to photograph wayfinding signage, window and product displays, product segmentation, brand history displays, and anything else that might be valuable. In cases where brands had multiple locations in Seattle, we visited all their stores to see what differed and what remained consistent. 
This was a very long (and very fun) day.
In addition to what we gathered in person, we also took a deep dive into the online presence of each brand, dissecting purchase funnels, social media profiles, blogs, photo styles, font choices, and much more.

Step 3: Contemplate
Once our brains and our work cubby were fully stuffed with brand content, we sat in the space we had created and thought. We had conversations about what each brand was projecting, how they related to each other and what their respective personalities were. We considered the personas who would choose one brand over another and what was important to these people. We did word association exercises with each brand and posted sticky notes with the adjectives that bubbled to the surface. And we brought people in from around the office to look at our boards and talk with us about their understanding of each brand.

Step 4: Refine
Finally, we took our insights and refined them into something coherent and presentable. We settled on two to three characteristics or adjectives for each brand, and then used three examples of branding from each company to explain how these characteristics were being communicated to customers. For example, we said that Patagonia was authentic and assertive and then explained specifically how they convey these qualities through their choices in marketing languagephoto style, and their in-store experience.

Step 5: Present
Once we felt confident in our distillations we compiled a presentation deck with our findings. We presented first to the branding team, then to a collection of brand strategists and creative directors across REI, and finally to the Co-op Brands division which runs REI's in-house brand of retail goods. Each presentation included a 45 minute talk followed by a 15 minute group discussion about our findings.
Below, you will find our my presentation notes along with our final deck.

Our folder structure. Organization was paramount with the amount of material we collected.

Takeaways
Working on this project was an extremely valuable learning opportunity for me, and it helped to grow my understanding of brand strategy and marketplace positioning. It was fascinating to bring my outsider's understanding of the brand and discuss it with the people who had helped shape it from the inside.
I am very grateful to my mentors and managers at REI for creating this project and allowing and encouraging us to be candid in our assessment of internal branding choices.

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