The best content marketing examples inspire other marketers. All content marketers want to produce content so good that it sparks joy in its intended audience – and performs well as a result. It doesn’t hurt if it earns a little envy from peers, too.
“Unicorn” content initiatives don’t appear out of thin air. Coming up with fresh ideas, aligning them to your strategic goals and audience interests, and supporting them with a thoughtful distribution and promotion plan takes work.
No one else’s map will get you there, but you can find inspiration for your map. Our latest collection of the best content marketing – 35 Examples of Brands That Are Winning With Content – shows leading B2B and B2C companies that exceeded audience expectations – and their marketing goals – with novel content approaches and creative executions.
Here’s a peek at eight of my favorite initiatives and the lessons they teach:
Lesson 1: Document your strategy for agility
Developing (and documenting) your content marketing strategy can do more than just focus your team on content types and channels. It can guide your direction when you must adapt to unexpected marketplace shifts, new behavior patterns, or emerging audience challenges – something we’ve all faced a lot of in the past few years.
Case in point: Leading Through Change
In March 2020, the world changed seemingly overnight. Salesforce responded to the new realities of pandemic-related business operations almost as quickly, launching its Leading Through Change content initiative on March 17. For the record, that was three days before California issued shelter-in-place orders and airports effectively shut down.
Leading Through Change takes a multimedia, multinational content approach that spans broadcast, on-demand video, blogs, audio, online learning modules, and social media channels in over 20 countries and 15 languages.
To develop all that content and tackle topics like well-being at work, upskilling, and vaccine management, Salesforce teamed up with recognized subject matter experts, CEOs, and other business luminaries across industries. For example, they published a series of articles and videos based on interviews with Dr. David Agus, including this one about why companies should consider hiring a chief health officer. Salesforce also created a resource center with guides such as its COVID-19 Response Playbook and a handbook on How To Safely Reopen Your Business.
Lesson 2: Increase content resonance with personalized relevance
Audiences naturally gravitate toward brands they relate to on a personal level – whether they share a sense of style, a passion for a hobby or activity, or an affinity for a value or belief. The more your audience can see themselves in your content, the more likely they’ll engage and act on it.
Personalizing content around their life experiences and the things they care about can plant the seeds to grow deeper, more resonant connections with them – even when you’re marketing a B2B product or service that rarely sparks joy in anyone’s mind. Exhibit an understanding of a relevant topic of concern, then show your business considers it a priority, too. Ultimately, letting consumers know you see them as people can help increase their trust in your brand – and their level of satisfaction with the services they purchase.
Case in point: Bulb Energy Green Impact Reports
You might recognize the importance of energy sustainability, but when was the last time you explored your power bill to see what the utility company had to say about the topic – let alone were entertained and inspired by the way they reported it?
For customers of UK utility provider Bulb Energy, the answer might surprise you. Bulb sends personalized emails summarizing the customer’s reduced impact on the environment when using renewable electricity and green gas. It extrapolates that data with fun illustrations, such as a comparison of the carbon dioxide savings to the weight of a dinosaur breed or how lowered emissions in the UK can help improve the lives of families in Ghana. Whether their customers are merely curious about their carbon footprint or actively implement sustainability best practices, Bulb’s emails provide powerful motivation to amp up their conservation efforts.
Lesson 3: Support the customers who support your business
What’s even more powerful than showing you understand your customers’ concerns and challenges? Providing them with the tools and know-how to overcome them.
Delivering educational insights and tactical advice is a staple of content marketing. But when you present that information so it can easily be implemented, your content becomes a living testimonial that your brand has more to offer than products and services.
Case in point: The Ultimate Virtual Selling Toolkit
Global sales training company RAIN Group fielded a survey to more than 500 buyers and sellers early in the pandemic to find out how its services and expertise might be needed. The results informed the company’s decision to steer clients through unfamiliar challenges. The multifaceted branded content campaign full of data, helpful tools, and targeted advice was designed to acclimate clients and customers to virtual sales.
First, RAIN Group shared a summary of top-line survey findings in its Virtual Selling Skills & Challenges gated report. Then it released the complete findings in an e-book – Virtual Selling: How to Build Relationships, Differentiate, and Win Sales Remotely. Other related assets included a virtual selling checklist, slide decks, infographics, and blog posts, leading up to the publication of its gated Ultimate Virtual Selling Toolkit, which includes guides, conversation planners, and more.
RAIN Group achieved its goal of helping its customers navigate the virtual sales space and earned the 2021 Content Marketing Award for Best B2B Branded Content Campaign. The effort also hit some impressive marketing milestones, including:
- 4,400-plus downloads of its research report
- 9,000 e-book copies sold
- 66,000 views of its blogs, infographics, and slide decks
- 15-plus new closed/won deals
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Lesson 4: Invite influential thought leaders to play with your brand
Influencers have become a hot commodity in the marketing world, with some high-profile personalities commanding six-figure (or more) salaries to insert their partner brands into their social media conversations. Yet, one of the technique’s most common critiques remains: “How do we know the person behind the handle is truly familiar with the product they’re pitching?”
Asking influencers to co-create content with your brand is a great way to overcome those authenticity accusations.
It also can help your content to stand out from other brands your influencer spokesperson may talk about and provide the flexibility to reuse for other purposes and platforms.
Case in point: Experience Points
Customer experience management firm Avtex Solutions set out to stand out by approaching its marketing goals with an entertaining, influencer-driven platform of video content. The resulting online series Experience Points is part game show and part expert discussion.
Avtex partnered with two leading industry influencers to serve as hosts and invited high-profile customer experience experts and practitioners to participate as contestants. Each episode consists of three mini-games in which contestants earn cash for their favorite charity by answering CX (customer experience) questions and sharing insights on what it takes to deliver an exceptional customer experience.
Whether the contestants get the answers right or wrong, the series is a win for Avtex, which exceeded its impression, web visit, and video view goals. It also won the Best Use of Influencer Marketing prize at the 2021 Content Marketing Awards. Even better, Experience Points forged a connection with new industry experts and influencers, which resulted in organic recommendations to new prospective clients.
Lesson 5: Slay your awareness challenges by making a scene on social
A single hashtag might not seem like a high-consideration campaign element. Yet, with the right planning, vetting, and creative reinforcement, it can launch a new initiative into the collective social consciousness and cultivate a thriving, branded community where your audience can share their passions.
But don’t arbitrarily stuff popular hashtags into all your brand’s posts in the hopes of capturing unearned attention. Create and use uniquely recognizable key phrases to provide a space for like-minded fans to gather, express their ideas, and show off their skills.
Case in point: #LegendaryChallenge
In 2020, WarnerMedia launched its new streaming service, HBO Max, and premiered a groundbreaking LGBTQIA+-focused reality competition. The show Legendary takes viewers into the thriving “voguing” scene known as ballroom. To generate awareness and excitement for the show among its youthful target demographic, HBO’s content team took to social media to create conversations and dance-related activities that lean into the shared desire for authentic self-expression.
Key components of the campaign included the #LegendaryChallenge on TikTok, which offered lessons on the choreographies used in the show’s theme tune. Signature moves and conversations about the importance of ballroom dancing for the LGBTQIA+ community were shared on Instagram Stories to amplify show highlights known as “gagging” moments.
The brand also amplified and supported those efforts by engaging trusted LGBTQIA+ influencers and popular media publishers to promote Legendary on their own social channels.
Report: The Neuroscience of Digital Content
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Lesson 6: Give fans something substantive to talk about
Cause marketing has skyrocketed in popularity, as consumers (particularly younger generations) increasingly go out of their way to support brands that put their money where their mouths are – especially when they’re talking about issues like sustainability; diversity, equity, and inclusivity; and giving back to their local communities.
In fact, 2021 Survey Monkey research found 78% of consumers say they made a purchase based on values in the past year, and 55% say they are much more likely to purchase from a company that shares their values.
To compel your audience to use their wallets to vote in your favor, do more than send a press release whenever your brand contributes to the greater good. Use the opportunity to create ongoing conversations that help further your philanthropic missions.
Case in point: A Nut Above
After killing its venerable Mr. Peanut mascot – and resurrecting it as an infant, baby-Groot style – for its 2020 Super Bowl spot, Kraft Heinz snack brand Planters sat out of the media circus the following year in favor of a more fulfilling, cause-centric marketing approach.
Instead of spending the estimated $5 million on a flashy one-time ad, Planters used that money to reward people (and organizations) whose “little acts of extraordinary substance make the world a better place,” as the campaign’s kickoff video explains.
Lesson 7: Highlight the people behind your products
Behind-the-scenes videos are a great way to make your company and team personable and relatable. Highlight day-to-day operations, your offices, your manufacturing processes, or intriguing aspects of the business that audiences don’t always get to see.
To lend your video stories more credibility, consider interviewing employees, talking to your vendors, or filming conversations with your best customers. All these things can give consumers a clearer idea of how your company works, what’s unique about it, and who’s helping to make it a success. If your videos are entertaining as well as informative, the viewers are more likely to share your brand story with others.
Case in point: Behind the Scenes With the Storytellers
Digital asset management platform PhotoShelter developed process-oriented videos of innovative creative campaigns for its audience of marketers, photographers, and artists. The resulting series provides a window into the creative strategies of top brands like GE, the Premier Lacrosse League, and the University of Maryland Medical System.
The videos dig down into what makes the brand exceptional and how creators put its advantages to work – something other on-screen brand showcases struggle to capture and convey authentically. By letting its customers share their use cases and experiences – in their own voices – PhotoShelter gets its message across through human emotion rather than pitchy promotion.
Lesson 8: Spark virtual event interest with the VIP treatment
When social gatherings were paused in favor of social distancing, many businesses pivoted to virtual events. While the transition to digital tours may have been a short-term necessity, brands discovered it takes more than a visual simulation to coax consumers to log on, let alone stay engaged for the duration.
To create an incentive, enhance your online events with unique offers and opportunities – like exclusive downloads, live networking chat rooms, or one-on-one conversations with your speakers and sponsors. Consider adding personalized touches like giveaways or on-camera shout-outs to build anticipation and make the experience more exciting and interactive.
Case in point: Twilight Homes – VIP Virtual Grand Openings
Twilight made its events more interactive and memorable – delivering exclusive, custom-curated Viewer Packs to entice its VIP clients into accepting its Zoom invitations. The packs were stuffed with informative materials on home designs, the community, and the company, as well as Twilight-branded stickers, keychains, hand sanitizer, socks, and face masks. The company also helped support the economy in its native New Mexico by including coffee and gift cards for food delivery from local businesses.
The first VIP Virtual Grand Opening created such interest that Twilight sold out its inventory. The effort also grew the brand’s name recognition among local businesses and helped increase new home sales by almost 62% year over year.
Insights + inspiration = exemplary performance
Want even more creative ideas and helpful tips for applying them to your content program? Download 35 Examples of Brands That Are Winning With Content for 28 more, including looks inside successful efforts from brands like SAP, Oreo, Shopify, and others. Not only have these efforts earned the attention of their audiences, but many have also earned the admiration of their fellow marketers – and the Content Marketing Awards to prove it.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute