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7 Inspiring Lessons from 2014’s Top Content Marketers

content-marketer-awards-2014One of the best ways to learn about the content marketing industry is to study what others are doing. Over the past three years, it’s been our pleasure to observe the field and, more specifically, identify those who are making us think about successful content marketing in new ways.

Today we are excited to announce the finalists for the Content Marketer of the Year, each having already received the following recognition in their individual categories:

  • Visual Content: Brad Walters, Director of Social Media and Emerging Platforms, Lowe’s Home Improvement
  • Content Strategy: Bryan Rhoads, Executive Editor, Intel Digital Media Labs
  • Customer Engagement: Jesse Desjardins, Social Media & Advocacy Manager, Tourism Australia
  • Storytelling: Renee Richardson, Global Brand Marketing Head, Caterpillar
  • Omnichannel: Susan Helstab, Executive VP of Marketing, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
  • Marketing with a Purpose: Karen Girty, Senior Director of Marketing and Media, New York City Ballet

While we’re always happy to celebrate those who are truly advancing the practice of content marketing, it’s even more important to understand what they are doing well — so we can apply these lessons to our own programs.

But before we dive into the key takeaways from our award recipients, take a look at the work they produced over the past year that inspired us:

(Note: If you would like to download a PDF of this slide presentation, select “Save” via the SlideShare link.)

1. Look for new ways to collaborate with influencers

Lowe’s recruited top designers and mom bloggers to take over its Instagram account for a few days at a time. Popular design personalities, like Grace Bonney from DesignSponge, post inspirational images and, in doing so, introduce their fan base to Lowe’s. It’s a brilliant idea from the amazingly talented social media team at the company, led by Brad Walters, Director of Social Media and Emerging Platforms.

2. Don’t be afraid to experiment with a new channel

The #lowesfixinsix series on Vine (6-second videos of easy DIY tips) received much-deserved attention this year for “getting” how to do content marketing on the platform at a time when many of us were still scratching our heads.

mobile examples-lowes vine fixinsix

In addition, Four Seasons’ Pin.Pack.Go program on Pinterest (an industry first) invited guests to co-curate a custom travel itinerary via a Pinterest board with the Four Seasons hotel or resort of their choice.

pin pack go create collaborate-pinterest example

3. To tell good stories, consider a classic archetype

“Marketing has traditionally focused on look, feel, and messaging,” said Bryan Rhoads, Executive Editor at Intel Digital Media Labs. “We believe having a consistent narrative is another critical, connective tissue marketers must consider. We’re going back and looking at classic storytelling and how and why certain narratives and story archetypes work”

Rhoads believes that by teasing out storylines — and, in particular, archetypal narratives such as the hero’s journey –- companies like Intel can create much more moving and memorable content for their audiences. Rhoads certainly wins our vote for his passion in pursuing innovation at the intersection of media, brand, and technology.

For instance, Rhoads manages the partnership with VICE Media that produced the award-winning The Creators Project. A long-time favorite of ours at CMI, Creators Project captures the most beautiful examples of art and innovation made possible through technology.

creators project-photo examples

4. Make your customers the heroes

Tourism Australia manages to expertly handle the 900 fan photos it can receive per day on its Facebook and Instagram accounts — a credit to the efforts of Social Media & Advocacy Manager Jesse Desjardins. It outperforms every other tourism board in the world, and does so based on two primary ingredients: user-generated content and community co-creation. Said Desjardins, “We aim to make our audience the hero. Consumers take us places much faster than we can go on our own.”

animal at keyboard-best jobs example

5. Even “ho-hum” industries can have fun with content marketing

Who says B2B has to be boring? Caterpillar surprised many this year with its bold Built for It campaign. The first video featured the company’s massive earth-moving equipment, positioning 600-pound blocks into a giant game of Jenga — and earning over 2 million views.

giant earth-movers playing jenga

Renee Richardson, the company’s Global Brand Marketing Head, described the new campaign as an important step for a historically risk-averse brand. In an interview with Fast Company she explained, “We wanted to be more brand promoters than brand police. Instead of focusing primarily on enforcing compliance on brand and identity standards, we wanted to facilitate more consumer interaction and use it to contribute to the growth of the brand. The second and third in the series — Gravity and China Shop, are also proving to be blockbusters.”

6. Your branding can speak to employees, as well as customers

Not only was Caterpillar’s Built for It great for prospects, but it had the added benefit of inspiring employees, as well. Richardson explained: “I was surprised how the videos tapped into our employees’ allegiance to the brand. Employees sent the video out through social media, and to their family and friends. I think it brought a new, revitalized sense of pride in who we are.”

7. Consider artistic collaborations

Karen Girty, Senior Director of Marketing and Media, New York City Ballet, led the launch of the troupe’s Art Series, an ambitious program to introduce new viewers to the ballet by inviting collaborations with visual artists. In January, the nonprofit invited JR, a French street artist known across the globe for his massive public photo installations, to install a photo mural that spanned an entire floor of the Koch Theater’s Grand Center Hall.

city ballet-mural example

Girty said 70 percent of attendees at special Art Series performances described themselves as new to City Ballet, and 7 percent of those visited the ballet again. And JR’s floor mural, which featured life-sized photos of dancers, spawned an always-on stream of social media coverage as attendees snapped pictures of themselves on the floor next to the dancers.

** Update: We are pleased to announce that Bryan Rhoads was named Content Marketer of the Year. You can see his (very clever) acceptance video or read his post, 7 Ancient Archetypes Your Brand Storytelling Should Use.