By Jodi Harris published November 9, 2016

Creative Sparks That Hit the Content Mark: 9 Lessons From 75 Brands

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Want to know the secrets of building creative, compelling, impactful content — the kinds of powerful, relatable experiences that memories, memes, and Medium articles are all made from and that motivate minions of followers to make a purchase from our brands?

Well, so would I. Wouldn’t it make our jobs as content creators a heck of a lot easier?

OK, so there may not actually be a secret formula; but we can all recognize the signs of marketing magic at play — and it happens any time a brand finds an authentic story to tell and a smart way to communicate it to spur its target audience to take action.

Even without having mapped the genome of content genius, content marketers have been making tremendous strides in their efforts. In fact, as our 2017 B2B Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America data shows, 62% of marketers report that their organizations are more successful at content marketing now than they were a year ago. Of those who are more successful, 85% attribute their increased success to content creation factors (e.g., producing higher-quality content and/or doing so more efficiently).

62% marketers say that their orgs are more successful at #contentmarketing than a year ago via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

To inspire your business to make a little magic of its own, we’ve compiled 75 of our favorite content efforts into our latest e-book, 75 More Examples to Inspire Your Content Marketing Success. Updating one of our most popular e-books of all time, this year’s version illustrates best practices for a wider range of tactics and formats — from content marketing mainstays like blogs and print magazines to visual-centric social media platforms to innovative multichannel experiences.

While there may not be a set path to content marketing success, many valuable lessons can be learned by observing the craftsmanship of some of the best and brightest brands in the content business. Here are just a few of them to help you create your magic formula for success:

Lesson 1: Help fans tell their stories

What’s more powerful than content that tells your brand story? Enabling your audience to share how your products and services are featured in their everyday lives. Give them a way to express their ideas, opinions, or artistic talents — and recognize them for their contributions — and you’ll earn a special place in their hearts.

Case in point: Shot with iPhone

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Apple combed through social media for outstanding photos taken with the iPhone, gathering shots from 77 people in 24 countries. The stunning showpieces were then featured in an ongoing series of videos, TV spots, and outdoor ads, with little to connect them to the brand, save for the tagline: “Shot on iPhone.” Despite the minimalist approach to content creation, the campaign was able to tell complex and emotional stories — without saying a word.

Create #content that helps fans tell their stories says @joderama. Click To Tweet

Lesson 2: Place your products in a practical context

Creating content that provides exclusive tips, reveals hidden functionalities, or offers helpful user hacks and shortcuts can deepen your customer engagement while helping your customers get more out of their investment in your brand.

Case in point: 37 Ways Brands Use Bitly 

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Did you know short links could be used to help marketers track leads or find the best channel to push a particular product promotion to? Bitly leveraged the e-book format to highlight the unexpected ways its link-shortening service can be used to make a big impact on branding, social media, metrics, and content marketing efforts. By including over 30 third-party examples, along with perspectives from marketers who are personally using the service for their business, the company makes a compelling case for marketers to buy in to Bitly.

Create #content that places your products in practical context says @joderama. Click To Tweet

Lesson 3: Solve problems with real-world utility

Answering customer questions and helping them more quickly address problems like service issues or equipment malfunctions is a great way to increase their satisfaction with your business — not to mention it can save some wear and tear on your sales and service teams and call centers.

Case in point: UFix Troubleshooting Tool

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AT&T U-Verse recognizes the importance of responding to customer-service inquiries quickly and resolving phone, television, or internet connectivity issues promptly. Its UFix diagnostic system was designed to offer customers on-demand, self-service access (online and on mobile devices) to some of the same troubleshooting tools its own call-center technicians use. The tool helps the company cut down on wait times by enabling customers to check for local service outages, diagnose the most likely cause of their problem, follow step-by-step instructions to manage simple fixes, and schedule a home visit when on-site support is needed.

Create content that solves problems with real-world utility says @joderama. Click To Tweet

Lesson 4: Immerse your audience in an unforgettable experience

The best content campaigns are those that linger long past the initial engagement and leave your audience wanting more. Those that are most compelling tell an emotional series of personal stories that your customers can relate to or enable them to experience those emotions firsthand. If your content helps them tap into their dreams and desires, chances are they’ll reward you with their long-term loyalty and appreciation.

Case in point: Expedia + St. Jude Children’s Hospital’s Dream Adventures  

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Though cancer-stricken children undergoing treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital may not be able to experience the energizing effects of travel firsthand, Expedia found a way to bring the world to them. Through the use of virtual-reality camera technology, interactive live streaming, and a specially built screening room, Expedia’s Dream Adventures takes St. Jude patients on explorations of places like jungles and exotic seascapes, and helps them transcend their physical limitations by expanding the boundaries of their imagination.

Create #content that immerses your audience in an unforgettable experience says @joderama. Click To Tweet

Lesson 5: Spark a meaningful conversation

Though it may seem awkward to bring up some subjects — like personal hygiene and health — in content conversations, there are benefits to be had by helping consumers overcome stigmas, get reliable information, and conduct open, honest discussions that they may be too uncomfortable initiating on their own.

Case in point: Allergan’s #ActuallySheCan         

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A play on the popular phrase “I can’t even,” used to express speechlessness, Allergan’s #ActuallySheCan campaign for Lo Loestrin Fe birth control pills uses illustration and pop-culture references as a means to empower Millennial women to have meaningful conversations with each other on birth control-related topics. In addition to a digital presence, the campaign includes live events, celebrity endorsements, a branded content partnership with Cosmopolitan magazine, and engagement with physicians.

Create #content that sparks a meaningful conversation says @joderama. Click To Tweet

Lesson 6: Encourage deeper brand explorations

Content works best when it’s focused on building a subscribed audience because this level of support is often associated with increased engagement, loyalty, and brand evangelism. If you have a hot property on your hands, why not reward your subscribers for their passion by giving them exclusive content they can’t find elsewhere — like a sneak peek behind the scenes, Easter eggs for them to discover, or new platforms on which to connect with others who share their interest?

Case in point: Rick and Morty Rickstaverse on Instagram     

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The “Rickstaverse” enables fans of the subversive Adult Swim cartoon to join dysfunctional duo Rick and Morty on an exploration of 11 planets through a web of 80 linked Instagram accounts. Followers can dive in and out of photo-powered versions of locations seen on the show and access a … um … universe of exclusive content, Easter eggs, and hidden inside jokes. It’s part interactive photo album, part hidden-object game, part choose-your-own-adventure experience, and totally fun!

Create #content that encourages deeper brand exploration says @joderama. Click To Tweet

Lesson 7: Deliver on the expectations you set

Your content should serve as an ongoing promise to your audience — one that you never fail to deliver. If you aren’t prepared to provide a consistent, reliable, long-term content experience, you’ll never earn the trust you need to convert their interest and engagement into real business value. To paraphrase Joe Pulizzi, if you can’t commit, maybe you should just quit.

Case in point: Sony PlayStation on Google+

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Sony’s entertainment console division is one of the most active and engaged brands on the Google+ platform, posting nearly every day to keep fans updated on the latest game releases, music tie-ins, playing tips, beta test results, and discount offers. PlayStation’s Google page also features video highlights from e-gaming competitions — like the Call of Duty World League — where fans attend immersive, professional-sports-like live events built around popular PlayStation game titles.

Create #content that delivers on the expectations you set says @joderama. Click To Tweet

Lesson 8: Incorporate the ‘awe’

Working with innovative platforms, interactivity, or other tech-enhanced content techniques is a great way to impress digital-savvy audiences and gain their attention. Being among the first brands to branch out into uncharted territories also can give you a distinctive edge over your competition; but remember: Never rely on flashy features as a substitute for a fully fleshed-out content marketing strategy.

Case in point: Ikea’s Virtual Reality Experience

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Virtual reality is certainly an up-and-coming platform for content experiences that unite the digital and physical worlds, and Ikea is getting a leg up on the trend with a pilot program that enables shoppers with an HTC Vive-mounted headset to see how their favorite Swedish-named kitchen furnishings can be laid out and customized to suit their personal tastes. The developers also included a neat parent-friendly feature — users can adjust the height of the person walking through the virtual rooms, allowing them to view potential remodeling projects from the eyes of a child.

Create #content that incorporates the “awe” factor says @joderama. Click To Tweet

Lesson 9: Never underestimate the power of the ‘aww’

Brands in all types of industries — from beer brewers to business computers — understand the emotional impact of injecting a little cuteness into their content campaigns. While we wouldn’t recommend just slapping a kitty sticker or puppy pic onto any piece of content and calling it a day, if you have a relevant, compelling idea that just happens to tap into the passion people have for pets, why not leverage it to fetch some extra attention?

Case in point: Purina Puppy Chow’s Puppyhood Microsite     

In this series of videos, Max finds his soul mate in Chloe — a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy who not only steals his heart, but also opens his eyes to the fact that dog ownership is equal parts joy and responsibility. And when consumers have had their fill of cuteness, they can head on over to Purina’s Puppyhood microsite for plenty of guidance on puppy training, health, nutrition, exercise, and all the other tasks you sign up for as a puppy “paw-rent.”

Create content that never underestimates the power of “aww” says @joderama. Click To Tweet

For more great examples from companies of all sizes and across various industries, download 75 More Examples to Inspire Your Content Marketing Success. If you know of an example that we might have missed, why not add it in the comments and tell us why it’s one of your personal favorites?

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Jodi Harris

Jodi Harris is the Director of Editorial Content & Curation at Content Marketing Institute. As a content strategy consultant, Jodi helps businesses evaluate their content needs and resources; build infrastructure and operations; and create compelling stories to be delivered across multiple media channels and platforms. Follow Jodi on Twitter at @Joderama.

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