By Ann Gynn published July 17, 2015

Content Marketing Experts Reveal Which Brands are Pushing the Envelope

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A lot of brands are embracing the power of content marketing. Red Bull, Kraft, GE, Caterpillar are familiar names in the land of enterprise content marketing, but dozens of other brands are doing great work, too.

As Vertical Measures CEO Arnie Kuenn explains, “There are a lot of brands out there that have done big content things – Chipotle comes to mind. There are also less flashy, but just as successful brands that may not get a ton of news headlines, but consistently create useful, helpful content that has transformed their business.”

We wanted to hear which brands are inspiring today’s leading content marketing experts so we asked the speakers and friends who will share their insight at Content Marketing World 2015: What brands excel at creating content that pushes the envelope on what can be accomplished with content marketing?

Their responses run the gamut, from familiar brand names to little-known companies thriving in a unique niche – but every one offers an inspiration no matter the size of your content marketing team.

Take a big bite

I love Taco Bell. But let me clarify – it’s not the nachos that hook me. It’s the engaging, quirky, and fun online content. Just take a look at the myriad bright colors featured in the reel of photographs on its Instagram account. This immediately captures my attention.

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Plus, Taco Bell’s amusing, tongue-in-cheek voice is so compelling that its personality totally outweighs its product (which is great because that’s a far less-fattening way to indulge in the brand). Best of all, the online content exudes passion and positive energy, which makes the visuals, text, and messages they share easy to connect with.

Taco Bell dares to be different. Go check out the online content. And while you’re at it, can you please grab me a burrito?

Jordan Borensztajn, social media trainer, Social Needia | @JordanaOZ

Go beyond boundaries

The storytelling platform Maptia has built a powerful community in an incredibly competitive and tough space, but has managed to put together some of the best experiential travel content on the web. It’s particularly remarkable because Maptia does it through user-generated and submitted works at a time when everyone in that world is competing for those content creators.

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I think the lesson is that relationship building, slow-and-steady progress, an extremely high-quality bar, and remarkable work can be advantages rather than the disadvantages they’re often perceived to be in the fast-paced, startup-style, growth-hacking mentalities.

Rand Fishkin, co-author, Art of SEO; co-founder, Inbound.org and Moz | @randfish

Make mundane attractive

Dollar Shave Club leaps to mind because every touchpoint is fun. Do I look forward to grooming? Hell no. But I definitely look forward to Dollar Shave Club’s next video, post, social media update, email, and especially their packaging.

When you make the mundane insanely exciting, you make people smile. Joy may be hard to measure by way of marketing metrics, but it’s the universal spark of the spender.

Sadly, though some B2B marketers push (or at least deliver) the envelope, it’s awfully rare they bring a sense of humor to bear. I’d sure like to see it though.

Barry Feldman, founder, Feldman Creative | @FeldmanCreative

Be bold and helpful

Neil Patel and his team at QuickSprout are just doing an amazing job of providing content so useful that I can’t stand it, such as Stop Guessing: Here’s a Social Media Strategy That Works and another post about 22 Gmail plug-ins.

I also love what Doug Kessler has been doing at Velocity with the manifestos and calls-to-arms about crap content, and the search for meaning. They are making bold statements with well-designed and super-thoughtful pieces of content. I realize both of these examples are very “meta” (content marketing about content marketing) but they are really great.

Michael Brenner, head of strategy, NewsCred | @BrennerMichael

Bottle it up

I’m in love with what Coke is doing with its bottle these days. It’s a perfect expression of the brand in a cultural moment – whether using all of the Mad Men main character names on the bottles or making rainbow-colored bottles to highlight the landmark Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling. Coke is inserting itself in the zeitgeist in a way that is absolutely undeniably on-brand. Open Happiness, indeed.

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Image source

Julie Fleischer, director, data + content + media, Kraft Foods | @jfly

Disrupt longstanding brands

We’re really interested in what brands like JackThreads, Wayfair, and NET-A-PORTER are doing to combine the content and shopping experience. The integration of the experiential and editorial with a product, service, or some form of commerce is becoming a really effective mix that has the potential to drive a lot of disruption in many categories where incumbent brands have historically set the rules.

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It’s not simply that these companies are creating really good content, it’s that they’re learning to master and integrate two marketing systems – one focused on marketing products or services, and the other focused on marketing content. These companies are paving the way of how marketers establish more intimate relationships with niche lifestyle audiences, which has the very real potential of transforming the marketing landscape.

David Germano, vice president, Magnetic Content Studios | @david_germano

Tie the strings together

In my home life, I’m a DIYer at heart, and I find that Home Depot’s Apron Blog successfully speaks to me on a lot of levels, offering a mix of step-by-steps and recommendations without overtly selling me on this hammer or that pitchfork. The blog is written for me – an unskilled laborer who frequently bites off more than he can chew – and solves a lot of problems for me.

Joey Hall, vice president of content marketing, EnVeritas Group | @JKHallJr

Brew it up

I’m not even sure if Starbucks has a content marketing program – and if it does, it is so much a part of the brand that you don’t notice it. In my opinion, the best content delivered is that which the end user doesn’t see as content, but as a relatable interaction with the brand.

John Hunt, senior manager digital marketing corporate communications & content, Smead Manufacturing | @Smead_JohnH

Blur the lines

In the publishing space, Refinery29 and Apartment Therapy do a great job at being visually appealing without being flashy. And their content is excellent. Sometimes, it’s hard to distinguish between Refinery29’s editorial content and its branded content, meaning that they’re both equally engaging.

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Apartment Therapy is the master of curating user-generated content, which is an underutilized marketing tool. Readers love authenticity, and what’s more authentic than publishing real people’s content?

Sachin Kamdar, CEO & co-founder, Parse.ly | @SachinKamdar

Grab the hub and spoke

Yale Appliance, an everyday Boston appliance company, has driven more leads, revenue, and profitability with its content marketing. It follows a hub-and-spoke model of content creation – developing buying-guide hubs for all its major appliances and connecting them via spokes to comparisons, articles, reviews, videos, and more.

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This model can be replicated in any industry, in any size business. It takes an integrated strategy based on providing useful content that people need. This isn’t a quick win strategy – it’s a commitment to creating a culture of content marketing and sticking with it for the long run. It’s been proven again and again that this strategy truly works to drive results.

Arnie Kuenn, CEO, Vertical Measures | @ArnieK

Make sequence personal

With over 4,500 potential offerings for its audience, Illumina runs a huge risk of overloading customers with content and losing them in the process. To get around that challenge, the genetic-sequencing innovator has developed a tool that asks website visitors about their research project. It then automatically assembles a single, custom document for each visitor with relevant content based on the visitor’s responses. Why is this so good? It creates a great user experience that allows the audience to access content customized for them. And it helps Illumina save hundreds of thousands of dollars in localization and printing costs.

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Steve Rotter, chief marketing officer, Acrolinx | @sjrotter

Want to learn more from these and other experts? Register today for Content Marketing World this September in Cleveland. Use the code “Summer” this week to save $200.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Ann Gynn

Ann Gynn edits the CMI blog. She also serves as the Tech Tools editor for Chief Content Officer magazine. Ann regularly combines words and strategy for B2B, B2C, and nonprofits, continuing to live up to her high school nickname, Editor Ann. Former college adjunct faculty, Ann also helps train professionals in content so they can do it themselves. Follow Ann on Twitter @anngynn or connect on LinkedIn.

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  • Daniel Paul Caughill

    “The best content delivered is that which the end user doesn’t see as content, but as a relatable interaction with the brand.” The brands that accomplish this are the brands that will still be around tomorrow.

    • Ann Gynn

      Most definitely. It’s like putting the medicine in the pudding — the kids don’t know it’s there. They just love the pudding (and they just absorb the “healthy” part).

  • http://www.verticalmeasures.com/ Arnie Kuenn

    Hi Ann – thanks for including my thoughts in this round up. I really like the “disrupt longstanding brands” by David. I guess that is my small business advocacy coming out. 😉

    • Ann Gynn

      I love “disrupting” too — maybe it’s just the rebel in me.

  • http://www.feldmancreative.com/ Barry Feldman

    Great stuff. Thanks for including me. I too loved John Hunt’s idea.

    • Ann Gynn

      Lots of good ideas — thanks for sharing yours!