Reef has been a staple in the surf community since its inception nearly 35 years ago.

The company has been, at times, a quiet force to be reckoned with, living under giant VF Corp’s umbrella since 2005 but still maintaining a level of autonomy and authenticity with guidance from original co-founder Santiago Aguerre, who recently has been helping with product strategy.

reef rebrand strategy

The company has quite the storied legacy to build upon. Photo: Reef

Rising to notoriety as a sandal maker focused on beach lifestyle in its humble beginnings, Reef has become so much more than that over the years, expanding into apparel, shoes and accessories that speak to an audience interested in travel and other adventure sports.

But recently, Reef has been looking back at its DNA, and trying to better understand its strongest position in the market today in order to set the company up for success in the future. As part of this deep dive, Reef is undergoing a bit of a reset with its new brand campaign, set to launch in April and hone in on the products and beach lifestyle that put it on the map, according to VP Marketing Mike Matey.

We caught up with Matey to hear some of the early details around the revised strategy, and what we can expect from Reef moving into the rest of 2018.

reef rebrand strategy

2018 marks Matey’s fifth year as VP of Marketing at Reef’s Carlsbad, Califiornia, office. Photo: Reef

Why did you and the team at Reef feel 2018 was the right time to launch this rebranded version of Reef?

We are constantly analyzing the marketplace, gaining deep consumer insights and listening to our employees, which led us to re-evaluate our brand purpose and campaign.

Can you give us some detail into the thought process behind the rebrand and what has changed?

For the last 5 years, we positioned the brand to pursue adventure travel which is a big space with lots of opportunity. That inspired our Just Passing Through brand story, which took us off the beach to some extreme places like the mountains of Canada in the winter.

But our DNA as a surf and beach brand kept challenging this strategy and our entire organization felt it was time to take a step back and regroup. We involved a wide range of stakeholders, including Reef co-founder Santiago, and conducted an intensive brand purpose audit.

We define purpose as the intersection of where the needs of the world and our passion as a brand intersect. The world is filled with pressure, stress and too much technology, and people have a natural need for balance and harmony — and that's what the beach life provides.

The beach offers a special kind of freedom you can't find elsewhere. When you put on a pair of sandals, no matter where you are, your blood pressure goes down.

Through this process, our brand purpose became clear. To unite the world around the fun, freedom and spirit of the beach. This is the north star that will inform all our actions as a brand and will be expressed in a new brand campaign that launches this April.

Reef is honing in on the original inspiration the Aguerre brothers had when founding the brand. Photo: Reef

What was Fernando and Santiago’s original vision for the brand and how do you think you’ve gotten back to that vision with this campaign?

Fernando and Santiago loved product innovation, surfing, the beach, being the life of the party and feeling free. Essentially, HAVE FUN! Our new purpose gets us back to exactly that.

This purpose will inform everything we do and will connect at every level of our consumer experience. Being a brand that is inspired by the spirit of the beach has attracted many consumers to Reef over the years and we're confident they'll respond positively.

Are you also aiming to speak to a younger, new demographic with this campaign?

We've always targeted young consumers, but this clarity in purpose will help us elevate our voice and connect better emotionally.

reef rebrand strategy

The legacy lives on at Reef. Photo: Reef

In terms of product, what are you putting emphasis on for 2018, and how are you communicating that to the end consumer?

We are continuing to build on our leadership in sandals (the ultimate icons of freeing your toes), and we have some amazing stories in this category for both men and women, including a new version of our most famous sandal, the Mick Fanning Bottle Opener.

We will also be featuring new waterproof leather sandals (Voyage Collection), energy-return sandals (Cushion Bounce), rubber sandals that have been revolutionized with a contoured footbed, arch support, superior strap strength that won't "blow-out," and enhanced biodegradability (Escape Collection). We have an exciting collaboration with Corona Beer we will be rolling out, too.

We are also putting energy into our shoes category with an innovation in Stretch Fit (the Discovery), and dialing up our innovation in apparel with perforated 4-way stretch boardshorts. These product stories will support the brand campaign, and we will communicate through all channels: advertising, PR, social, events, in-store.

reef rebrand strategy

Matey at Reef’s Carlsbad, California, headquarters. Photo: Reef

What is your take on the current state of retail and how is Reef adjusting its strategy to be competitive in the current market?

Consumers are going to where they find the best experience, and online retail is clearly gaining more momentum.

Our first adjustment was sharpening our purpose and communications to drive overall demand for Reef. Our second adjustment was to increase our investments in sell-through drivers to help all our retailers present Reef in the best and most compelling way to their customers.

What, in your opinion, is the single thing a brand can do to make the most impact at the moment?

Have a clear purpose and lead with that!

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