By Neil Patel published March 30, 2015

8 Absolutely Brilliant Content Marketing Innovations from the World’s Best Brands

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Editor’s note: Because several more content marketing examples have been unearthed, we’ve updated this post.

You’re about to witness some of the most amazing content marketing efforts in the world. The universe of content marketing is changing, and these brands are driving that change. When it comes to innovation, power, and masterful expertise, these are the ones to watch.

But why should you watch them? So you can learn and imitate. There is still room for innovation in your industry. You may not have the massive audience of, say, IBM, but that’s no reason why you can’t take their innovative ideas and transfer them into your own vertical.

As you read through this list of the paragons of content marketing, take one or two ideas and put them into practice in your content marketing efforts today.

1. IBM – Technical and authoritative expertise

How did IBM become such a respected voice in its field? Part of the reason is its long, rich history. But another part – the part that I’m interested in – is its powerful content strategy.

To uphold the reputation of a more-than-130-year-old company, it has to produce authoritative content. Because the company is a technical one, it has to ensure that the content is technically authoritative. And because the company is trusted by millions, it has to make sure that the content is at expert level.

IBM delivers on all fronts. It’s a huge company, so it has a lot of different blogs. Here’s a sampling:

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IBM works in a variety of industries, and its content reflects these broad areas. Much of its content is collected in a library of resources. These include analyst papers, education, training, case studies, data sheets, executive briefs, FAQs, systems red books, white papers, consultant reports, and just about any other technical documentation you might want.

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All of IBM’s content reinforces these themes: It’s technical. It’s authoritative. It’s expert level.

What you can do about it:

If you want to create a content campaign that will compete with the biggest brands in the industry, take a page from IBM’s playbook. Trustworthy content is well written. It possesses authority. It has an expert voice. And it deals with technical information in a masterful way.

2. Hootsuite – Popular appeal

How do you make a popular product even more popular? You let it ride the coattails of something wildly successful. Hootsuite’s viral video, A Game of Social Thrones, spiraled it to heights of popularity, capitalizing on the success of Game of Thrones:

Hootsuite’s value proposition is that it “lets you do more with social media.”

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This value proposition could potentially reach a huge audience. Hootsuite knows that its audience consists of people who enjoy Game of Thrones. That’s why a video like Hootsuite’s could garner nearly a million views within a few months.

Hootsuite fights serious and boring content like it’s the plague:

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Although a lot of Hootsuite’s blog content deals with important topics, it does what it can to make it entertaining, too.

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Part of the genius of great content is its ability to have popular appeal. Although your brand or product may be technical and specialized, you can still write content with which your audience will identify on a popular level.

What you can do about it:

Don’t be serious all the time. Create some fun, light content now and then.

3. Buffer – Social promotion

Buffer does a lot of things right. Take the blog articles. The top three of the last 12 months each averaged 2,289 words and 22 images. Each is highly authoritative. That alone is reason enough to laud Buffer.

Check out the articles’ stats:

Now, take a look at their social signals:

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There’s something going on under the surface. Remember, Buffer is a social-sharing service. It’s not just a blog. It pioneered the generation of scheduled content for maximum visibility and shareability. Buffer is the business that told us to update Facebook at 2 p.m., retweet at 5 p.m., limit tweets to 100 characters, keep Facebook posts to 40 characters, and stick to 60 characters for Google Plus. So, of course Buffer follows its own research in creating, publishing, and promoting its content.

The Buffer articles’ social signals tell the story. The brand’s success is less about killer content (which is a requisite), and more about its highly sharpened spear tip – social strategy.

Why are Buffer’s blogs so eminently shareable on social media? There are at least five reasons. Buffer:

  1. Doesn’t forget about killer content – A blog article is going nowhere fast unless it has the sizzle of great information.
  1. Asks for shares – Most of the articles end with a CTA like this one:buffer-example 2-image 10
  2. Spreads strategically – The data-driven information on best time and length for posting actually works.
  1. Uses subtle cues to advance social sharing – In particular, Buffer’s blog posts reinforce the sharing message by reminding readers about how many others are sharing the brand’s content.buffer-example 3-image 11
  1. Has social fans – Buffer speaks to an audience of social sharers – social media professionals, brand managers, and social gurus. These people click the “share” button in their sleep.

What you can do about it:

Promote the heck out of your content. Social sharing is just as valuable as creating the content itself.

4. Microsoft – The power of story

Humans are wired to listen to stories, love stories, and tell stories.

A Harvard Business Review article explains that storytelling prompts the body to produce the neurochemical oxytocin. Oxytocin is the “feel-good” hormone; it also is released when people demonstrate trust or kindness toward one another. In one study, Berkeley scientists discovered that the body produces oxytocin when exposed to character-driven stories.

If your content can prompt the body to produce oxytocin, then you know you’ve done something right.

That’s exactly what Microsoft has done. And that’s exactly why Microsoft’s content is so compelling.

Microsoft isn’t supposed to be hormonal. After all, it produces software, right? Software isn’t exactly a topic to produce gushing acts of affection or feel-good surges … or is it? Microsoft thinks that it can be, and the blog Stories proves it to be so.

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Stories is just that — stories about people. This article about sportscaster Daniel Jeremiah doesn’t contain the word software. It’s a human-experience story – of triumph, challenge, redemption, and probably a good bit of oxytocin.

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And then there’s this brilliant piece of content, a tear-jerking narrative with the theme of helping others.

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Why does the world’s largest software company tell a bunch of stories about people?

I can think of a few good reasons. There’s one that is especially important: Stories connect people in powerful and compelling ways.

A story of a sportscaster may not cause you to go out and buy Microsoft Office, but it will stick in your mind, maybe pump some oxytocin into your system, and create a few warm-and-fuzzy feelings toward a software company.

What you can do about it:

Tell stories, and make your content about people. You need to speak as a human to other humans. In their November CCO article, Kevin Lund and Eileen Sutton explain three easy steps to speak human:

  1. Be storied. (Sounds kind of like Microsoft’s blog, huh?)
  2. Be humble.
  3. Be relevant.

5. McDonald’s – Customer service through content

McDonald’s has a lot of haters. But, it more than makes up for what it lacks in quality and health with its content genius.

Jay Baer of Convince & Convert is so taken with McDonald’s content strategy that he is using it as a central component of his forthcoming book. He calls McDonald’s strategy “the best example of content marketing ever.” Coming from Jay, that’s a pretty significant statement. He goes on to claim that this “could be the start of a cultural change that impacts every business.”

What is this of which he speaks? Take a look.

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McDonald’s Canada took on a campaign to answer customer questions about the food. It received a lot of questions – not all nice ones.

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Why would McDonald’s take on the challenge to review 450 questions per day, and answer more than 10,000 in total? What compels McDonald’s to commit to transparency, and let the spite-filled questions linger in a public space?

It’s customer service. McDonald’s wants to answer all food questions, good or bad. It wants people to gather around this information. It wants customers to be informed. It wants customers hungry, not just for Big Macs, but for a brand that speaks truth to them.

Baer interviewed Joel Yashinksy, CMO of McDonald’s Canada. Here’s what he had to say:

If you have a good story to tell, tell it. But you have to do it in a way that’s authentic, and you have to have that conversation with the customer. You can’t just preach to the consumer these things that you know are true. You have to engage them so that they can come to learn it and believe it and build that trust with you.

That sounds to me like a pretty solid customer service plan. And McDonald’s Canada is doing it with content. Not bad.

6. Disney – Spreading magic

Disney’s most treasured asset isn’t something that you can touch, see, measure, weigh, or toggle on Google Analytics. It’s magic.

Disney sells magic in vacation packages. It promotes magic as a lifestyle. Its bus is even called the Magic Express and its cruise name is named Magic, too.

Even if you’re a stalwart and dour parent with extreme self-discipline and a scrooge-like approach to life, you aren’t immune to this Disney magic. It is like a drug. Once people taste it, they crave it. Even children who never visited its theme parks somehow know that Frozen’s Anna and Elsa are wonderfully appealing and oh-so-magical.

Disney knows that its magic is transportable. That’s what it strives to do with its content – spread the magic without spilling.

Look at its blog:

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This is a helpful post. Parents, eager (or desperate) for a Valentine’s Day party to satisfy the expectations of dream-filled young ones can get some ideas, including how to make a Mickey cake and singing balloon. Disney’s content conveyed its trademark – the intangible commodity of magic.

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A quick search for “magic” on the Disney blog alone brings up nearly 13,000 results.

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What you can do about it:

What does your brand specialize in? It doesn’t have to be magic. Whatever it is, be the best at it. Shape all your content around a single concept, and saturate the web with top-notch content on that single theme.

7. HubSpot – Sheer quantity

HubSpot coined the term inbound marketing, which gives it an almost unfair advantage in the content marketing game. The inbound methodology turns “strangers into customers and promoters of your business,” as described by HubSpot.

So what precisely do you do to accomplish such awesome results? Content. It’s all about content. Below is HubSpot’s diagram of the inbound methodology. I put red boxes around content-focused tactics.

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Image Source: http://www.hubspot.com/inbound-marketing

HubSpot explains that “inbound is about creating and sharing content with the world. By creating content specifically designed to appeal to your dream customers, inbound attracts qualified prospects to your business and keeps them coming back for more.”

HubSpot obeys its own dictum with astonishing compliance. Let me prove it.

For starters, HubSpot publishes books or guides in PDF form. They’re detailed. They’re authoritative. And there are hundreds of them freely available in HubSpot’s library.

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HubSpot has more than just e-books. Its content library includes:

  • Marketing kits
  • Templates
  • User guides
  • Case studies
  • Webinars
  • Worksheets

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Plus, HubSpot has video courses, too.

When it comes to topical categories, HubSpot delivers a huge array geared toward marketers:

  • Agencies
  • Analytics
  • Blogging
  • Content creation
  • E-commerce
  • Education
  • Email marketing
  • HubSpot software
  • Inbound marketing
  • Inbound sales
  • Lead generation
  • Marketing automation
  • Media
  • Mobile marketing
  • Nonprofit
  • Other
  • PPC
  • PR
  • SEO
  • Social media
  • Viral marketing
  • Website design

I could stop there, and leave you to gape at HubSpot’s overwhelming amount of content. But there’s more. HubSpot has blogs.

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Each blog category includes a flood of content on a daily basis. I dipped into them on a random Monday morning. Here’s what I saw – two posts published eight minutes ago, one published an hour ago, two hours ago, three hours ago …

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HubSpot doesn’t stop there. It offers hundreds of evergreen pages, product pages, review pages, informational pages, pricing tools, and an incredibly wide variety of other content.

If it weren’t so awesome, the sheer quantity would be exhausting. As it is, HubSpot is clearly winning at the content marketing game. It’s not just because it invented “inbound.” It’s because it innovated content marketing away from a one-and-done-blog concept to create a Vesuvius eruption of content.

What you can do about it:

Don’t create content just to have more content. I focused on HubSpot’s quantity, but more is not better unless that more is better. Quality matters. Produce better content before you think about producing more content.

Create more content deliberately. Drive yourself to become a productive blogger who publishes content worthy of attention.

8. GoPro – Jaw-dropping visual content

You know that you’re supposed to use visual content. It’s a best practice that everyone believes, repeats, and heeds. I’ve discovered huge traffic upticks from infographics and other visual elements.

But have you ever used visual content like this?

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Image Source: https://gopro.com/channel/photo-of-the-day

GoPro does. In fact, the video camera company’s entire content strategy is built around the visuals. Its website hosts a huge library of videos. If you’re not careful, you could spend the entire day watching this stuff.

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It’s pretty appealing. GoPro’s YouTube channel has 2.7 million subscribers, plus several hundred thousand subscribers to its alternate channels (World, MX, and Tutorials). On Instagram, it has 4.2 million followers, and equally retina-blasting images and videos.

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This is a brand that has something to say in a very visual way.

Here’s the thing about GoPro. It doesn’t showcase its product. It’s virtually nonexistent in the brand’s content marketing efforts. Instead, GoPro focuses on its users.

It’s all about being a hero. GoPro makes a camera called the Hero, but it also turns its customers into heroes. Most of the content is created by passionate users who are, in turn, becoming public heroes.

There is power in visual content. I’ve doubled my traffic with infographics. Posts with photos get higher engagement. Visual content is powerful and shareable. It’s the perfect solution to a boring content strategy.

What you can do about it:

What’s that you say? You aren’t in a visually oriented product business? No problem. You can do visual appeal whether you make a camera or sell less-exciting software – think about how to visually tell your stories or use images to enhance your text content.

Conclusion

You can watch and learn from some of the world’s greatest content marketing efforts, learning as you go how to:

  • Become a technical and authoritative master of your subject.
  • Make your content appealing to the masses.
  • Share it like crazy on social media.
  • Tell a story and be human.
  • Focus on a single powerful theme.
  • Produce content in sufficient quantity.
  • Augment your content with amazing visuals.

I guarantee that if you start doing this, your content marketing will never be the same.

What are your favorite content marketing companies, and why?

Want to ensure the magic infuses your content marketing? Connect today with the Content Marketing Institute and sign up for daily and/or weekly highlights of the CMI blog and exclusive content from CMI Founder Joe Pulizzi.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Neil Patel

Neil Patel is the co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar, and KISSmetrics. He helps companies like Amazon, NBC, GM, HP and Viacom grow their revenue. The Wall Street Journal calls him a top influencer on the web, and Entrepreneur Magazine says he has created one of the 100 most brilliant companies in the world. You can connect with him on Twitter @neilpatel.

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  • http://www.businessesgrow.com/ Mark W. Schaefer

    Lesson from this: It’s easy to have an amazing content strategy if you have millions of dollars to throw at it. Other than the Buffer example, this content is being created through pure might. It’s easy to be great when you can hire the best resources to help. : )

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks for commenting Mark. Of course, I totally see your point, but I come by way more examples from small businesses who are excelling at content marketing. Without the political red tape and focus on a thousand personas, smaller businesses can take the advantage. I just interviewed 20 businesses that didn’t have two nickels to rub together and they are all outshining large businesses. Yes, budget helps, but sometimes little to no resources helps as well. Talk to you soon!

      • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

        You guys all bring up great and valid points. I have to agree with Joe — I have seen the smallest boutiques and businesses come up with the most interesting and successful viral campaigns. Often times money doesn’t translate into success in marketing — it sure doesn’t hurt though 😉

        • Tami Iseli

          Ok, Joe and Neil, you both say you’ve seen lots of great stuff come from small companies. This is something I’m really interested in because most of my clients are small businesses with limited budgets. So I’d like to throw out a challenge to you both – show us some links to articles that you or others have written that showcase the work of some of these small businesses! In my experience, such examples are pretty hard to find…

          • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

            Sure Tami…my new book, Content Inc., coming out in September is specifically for startups and small businesses. Until then, I feature a few of these on my podcast, also called Content Inc. http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/content-inc-podcast/

            Specifically, check out episodes 25-28. Hope it helps

          • Tami Iseli

            Thanks Joe – will do. Looking forward to your book!

    • David Butler

      I’m glad you said this. Makes me wondering how much dollars are available for all the other marketing deliverables

  • antonio susta

    More than the dollars are stories that speak by themselves. Money not necessarily are transformed in great ideas. There are some Innovative Small, lean companies that are great in crafting effecting and remarkable Contents. Most of Corporate contents done with lots of money, especially in B2b, is boring to death..

    • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

      Antonio, great point. It’s good to be mindful of the money and time that goes into some of these large scale content projects. However, it’s good to also try to replicate things that larger companies do.

  • Ronnie Jones

    I’ve got to agree with the others, these companies are giants and can afford to pump out that much content

    • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

      Ronnie — I agree with that, however, it’s important to see that tactics they utilize that work for them. I try to replicate proven strategies to the best of my ability — and just scale it based on budget.

  • Gisela Geweßler

    Such a great article! Great Choice of companies and helpful advices

    • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

      Gisela, glad I could help. Looking forward to hearing more from you.

  • Saqib Javaid

    All the Points which you have mentioned into this Articles are Valid But Now i think More then them will be Useful in 2015.

  • Saqib Javaid

    But Those all are the Top Rated Brands. SO your Sharing are Owsum.

  • Maggie Burke

    Nice article and great examples of compelling content here, but you can do amazing projects in-house without the multi-million dollar price tag. Example: Lotus truck Jump for EMC TV (EMC Corp) well under a half million dollars to to produce in house and more than 30 million views worldwide so far. Oh…and a Guinness World Record. check it out:

  • http://www.ecowarriorprincess.net/ Jennifer Nini

    I missed the byline at the beginning but am not surprised to find that Neil wrote this. Wonderful

  • http://thedigitalelevator.com/ Daniel Lofaso

    Those are some great examples, thank you for researching and sharing. Not sure what all the fuss is about “it’s easy to do content marketing with big budgets.” For one, it’s not, a lot of big brands get it wrong – like Samsung using stock broker ads on surfing websites. For those commenting that money makes content marketing easy are missing the point. Yes, it does make things easier but money doesn’t buy creativity. Thank you Neil and Joe for the informative post.

  • Amanda

    Very interesting, I would also like to see a future list of smaller brands who are doing a bang-up job.

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  • http://yescharis.com/ Chris Chi

    Interesting post, thanks Neil!

    I like the way GoPro uses it devices to take stunning visuals and share them to its audience. Grabs attention and self promotion all together, two birds with one stone!

    Chris from http://yescharis.com/

  • http://www.makethemostof.co.uk louise

    Very focused article. Thank you for sharing.

  • Tami Demayo

    So useful! Thanks for the compilation and astute commentary. The advice to tell human stories (Microsoft) is nothing new. But it bears repeating often, because many companies have a hard time resisting the urge to put their brands and marketing messages front and center in their “customer success stories.”