By Michele Linn published April 4, 2017

What Do Fast Company’s Innovative Companies Do Differently? 5 Examples for Marketers


For the past 10 years, Fast Company has published its list of the 50 most innovative companies. As Joe Pulizzi recently mentioned on the PNR podcast, all content marketers should study this list. (His favorite example from the list, which he detailed, is BuzzFeed.)

Tea in hand, I browsed the March 2017 issue. While the entire issue is worth a read, my favorite examples for content marketers are below. As you will see, many of these businesses have been built and expanded using the fundamental content marketing practices we have talked about for years (they’re great to use when you need to get support or build a business case). Other businesses are implementing ideas we marketers can learn from.

Become the go-to resource for a topic not covered in depth elsewhere

Casper, which sells only four products (mattresses, pillows, sheets, and the newly introduced dog bed) has built its successful brand on content.

As Luke Sherwin, Casper’s co-founder and chief creative officer, explains, “When we talk about becoming a lifestyle brand, it really is about the idea that whatever question you have about sleep, Casper will have an answer.” These answers are published on its Van Winkle’s blog.


The team of five co-founders realized that sleep, similar to exercise and diet, is something that is essential if people want to feel at peak productivity – and this thinking is part of everything Casper does. Neil Parikh, another co-founder and COO, adds, “The fact that people actually want to talk about sleep is pretty interesting.”

This is exactly the philosophy that Marcus Sheridan has been preaching for years, and it’s something so many successful content marketing stories are built on:

The moment we stopped saying, ‘We’re pool builders,’ and started saying, ‘We are the best teachers in the world about Fiberglas™ pools and we just happen to install them as well,’ … that was one of the most prosperous days of our lives.

The result? This 3-year-old sleep-focused company has doubled its revenue to $200 million in one year. I agree with Casper’s recent job board pronouncing, “The company quickly struck a chord with consumers in a category that has stagnated for decades.” It’s pretty amazing a business can be built with the simple premise of focusing on sleep and related issues.

It’s amazing a business (@Casper) can be built w/ the simple premise of content focusing on sleep. @MicheleLinn Click To Tweet

Diversify once you have a core product and audience

Headspace is a membership site whose mission is to “teach the world to meditate so that everyone can live a happier, healthier, more enjoyable life.” As reported in Fast Company, Headspace has more than 500,000 subscribers who pay an average of $100 per year for the service. The app is consistently among the most downloaded in the health and fitness arena.

But Headspace hasn’t stopped there. It is diversifying its offering into other content and experiences. For instance, Headspace has or is planning:

  • Partnership with eight airlines, including Virgin and British Airways, to offer an in-flight meditation channel
  • Phone-booth-size relaxation ‘pods’ in airports and other high-traffic, high-stress areas


  • Mini-documentaries on the history and science of meditation
  • Meditation app for kids

This approach is part of the six-step model Joe Pulizzi outlines in his book, Content Inc.

Unlock the power of social to give customers what they want

Who What Wear was launched 11 years ago, under the Clique Media Group. As co-founder Katherine Power explains, “We felt the high-end fashion magazines spoke down to women. We wanted to create this friendly voice that felt more like your most fashionable friend.”

With that mission in mind, the blog grew for years. And in January 2016 the team realized its dream of moving into the physical retail space – selling a line of clothing at Target for millennials who want runway trends.

What is impressive about this story is that the clothing line is updated 12 times per year based on data the team gathers from Who What Wear’s website as well as its social media presence. For instance, Who What Wear asks its audience what type of fabric they prefer.

Another brand from Clique Media group is Obsessee, which is a social-media-only brand. All of the brand’s content lives on social platforms instead of on the company’s website, which is the single page you see below.


One of my favorite stories about this brand is that it offered a pop-up retail store in Los Angeles for a few days in the summer of 2016. Instead of using traditional currency to buy merchandise, people posted and tagged pictures on Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook to earn social currency for their purchases.

Think of a new way of going viral

GoFundMe is a personal, online fundraising website, and, according to Dan Pfeiffer, communications and policy chief, “a content-distribution machine.”

According to Fast Company, the process Dan and his team use to promote causes includes:

  • Constantly monitoring the website to see which campaigns are trending
  • Pitching trending campaigns to the local press
  • Contacting traditional and viral media sites when a story gains momentum
  • Resurfacing the campaign in different ways, such as pulling together campaigns by states

GoFundMe also encourages its users to take actions. For instance, it intentionally doesn’t include “like” buttons on its campaigns. GoFundMe found that even though people may feel they are helping by liking a cause, there was no material benefit to the “like” button. Instead, it provides three options:

.@GoFundMe doesn’t use the “like” button because it doesn’t have a material benefit, says @MicheleLinn. Click To Tweet
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share via Twitter
  • Donate


Build a profitable business on the back of content

Kevin Ma launched HYPEBEAST in 2005 when he was a college student as a way to share his thoughts on fashion and sneakers. What has transpired is nothing short of a content marketing success story.

As you can see from the SEO meta description, HYPEBEAST is both a shopping and an editorial destination.


Following in the footsteps of tech and gadget blogs, Kevin started posting five articles per day, and soon both traffic and cash came rolling in. About six years ago, HYPEBEAST launched a sister site, HYPEBAE, aimed at female consumers. In 2012, it launched HBX, a website selling a carefully curated selection of clothing, accessories, and more. The team uses the insights gleaned from HYPEBEAST to decide what to sell on HBX.

In 2016, HYPEBEAST went public on the Hong Kong stock exchange and, at that time, was valued at $270 million. It also boasts 8.9 milllion web visitors each month.


Innovation truly is built on content-run businesses. What other examples are your favorites?

Want more examples for inspiration or practical application in your content marketing program? Subscribe to CMI’s free daily newsletter or sign up for the weekly digest with an exclusive letter from Joe Pulizzi.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Michele Linn

Michele Linn is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Mantis Research, a consultancy focused on helping brands create and amplify original research they can use in their marketing. Before starting Mantis, Michele was head of editorial at Content Marketing Institute, where she led the company's strategic editorial direction, co-developed its annual research studies, wrote hundreds of articles, spoke at industry events and was instrumental in building the platform to 200,000 subscribers. In 2015, she was named one of Folio's Top Women in Media (Corporate Visionary). You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

Other posts by Michele Linn

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  • Wally

    Awesome post and some crazy awesome ideas! Not thinking out of the box but smashing boxes and making new containers!

    • Michele Linn

      “Smashing boxes and making new containers!” Love it, Wally!

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        ty was truly a great post. The creativity was crazy! I do use the box analogy often. Because I think that the term “think out of the box” is over used and has actually become a new box! Ha! Still I think boxes represent constraint. While I am a huge fan of data backed decisions the ability to explore that crazy “what if?” can and will yield some incite. You don’t have to adopt all but by simply exploring you do gain some knowledge. The way most companies are structured the “what if” can never get heard much less explored!

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    I agree with Wally; excellent piece!! A couple of truly helpful nuggets.

    • Michele Linn

      Thanks, Claudio.

  • Brian Driggs

    Interesting comment on Headspace. I was actually introduced to them as part of in-flight entertainment on a Virgin Atlantic flight between LAX and Heathrow back in 2012. Safe to say, five years later, I still remember a lot of that recording.

    Being the go-to is such powerful advice.

    • Michele Linn

      Really interesting, Brian. More and more, we are all introduced to brands in ways that wouldn’t have happened a decade ago. I really enjoyed my afternoon learning about all these companies. Thanks for stopping by!

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