Content marketing is a little like dating. The strategic use of storytelling is akin to a brand vying for a date with a consumer in order to show its winning personality and desirable attributes in the hopes of sparking a connection and eventually securing that consumer’s devotion. Of course just like with dating, it’s not a cut-and-dry formula. Much to the chagrin of eager managers far and wide, there is no singular format, platform, subject matter, or tone that can be universally prescribed for success. Instead, unlocking the power of content boils down to some of the same simple, but messy, fundamentals that set any relationship up for success. Today we’ll zero in on some of the most valuable content marketing lessons as exemplified by brands that are winning our hearts with content.
The Lesson: Attraction matters
The Brand Doing it Well: Headspace
Just as the subject matter and tone of your content express key elements of your brand, so, too, does the way it looks. Your content’s style and aesthetic is a silent, yet powerful visual voice of your brand—the first impression that, when done right, can speak volumes about who you are and what you represent. The beautifully integrated content of Headspace offers a master class in making sure the visual experience of content supports the desired brand experience.
Headspace is a meditation and mindfulness app founded in 2012 by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe. In an era of digital overload and mental clutter, Headspace aims to help users concentrate and find equilibrium. Even the logo is a simple orange circle. On the company’s blog, The Orange Dot, they offer helpful, conversational yet informative articles on mindfulness and common stressors most can relate to. Presented with a clean and airy design aesthetic, the reading experience feels like a direct and intuitive extension of their mission, and it is consistent across all content touch points. We love the smart use of stark colors against white space, to both maintain order and make the content stand out.
The brand also seeks to cast off the tired notions that meditation is only for yogis at retreats in far-off lands. So the illustrated characters and cartoony designs used on their social media channels support the message that meditation is for everyone and it can be light, even playful.
Some days, life hits you like a ton of bricks… or like a barrage of basketballs. Step back, take a deep breath, and see your worries with clarity. pic.twitter.com/wkY85efy9J
— Headspace (@Headspace) February 5, 2018
The imagery often veers into the abstract, which is a great way get at some of the amorphous concepts they delve into. The lesson here: look for images that invoke a feeling or pull at the emotions. The image is the spark of attraction, the thing that will hook your customers into learning more about you.
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The Lesson: Know yourself and who you want to attract
The Brand Doing it Well: Chubbies
Sometimes the desire to get into the content game quickly can lead businesses to leapfrog over a few key exercises that would help with their branding in the long run. The most fundamental is articulating the key values and personality, and defining who your target audience is. Without these parameters, content efforts, although they may drive some traffic, may be disjointed and inconsistent and ultimately dilute the brand.
Conversely, content that consistently and clearly maps to the guiding ethos of the brand can lay the groundwork for recognition and affinity among customers that transcends the products it offers. Enter Chubbies, the shorts company that doubles as a media juggernaut.
While the length of the Chubbies inseams is an important aspect of the short-short company’s brand, the creators extend their domain beyond typical retailer content. Instead the content is all about the weekend: pining for the weekend, prepping for the weekend, enjoying the weekend (in shorts, obvs). And in doing so they’ve been able reach their target audience of fun-loving weekend warriors on myriad topics including water sports, party moments, and you know, lightsaber combat. The brand’s ability to expand how they connect with customers through content allows them to stay front of mind and build incredible brand loyalty.
Once you have a solid grasp of what animates your brand, testing various types of content will be essential to finding the sweet spot that combines the messaging you want to deliver with what works for your audience. For instance, by comparing engagement on social media posts, Chubbies found that any pop culture reference before 1997 fell flat with their target audience. Such insights combined with a clear understanding of brand attributes and narrative can give shape to style guidelines for content creation, which, if applied rigorously, will strengthen brand identity.
The Lesson: Know when to take the next step
The Brand Doing it Well: REI
Knowing who you want to hook with your content is a good first step. But once you’ve gotten their attention, it’s time to create a path that will help your prospect take the next desired steps with your brand.
Take REI, the outdoor apparel and gear retailer geared for the consumer who believes “a life outdoors is a life well lived.” First the retailer reaches and engages its target audience with inspirational and aspirational content that eschews overt salesmanship in favor of emotional stories about pushing boundaries, conquering fear, and actualizing your (outdoorsy) dreams. Their blog, called Co-Op Journal, features “stories of a life outdoors,” much of which support smart campaigns such as Force of Nature, which spotlights female adventurers, makers and rule breakers and coordinates community-building events. And they have a library of short films that tell stories at the intersection of outdoor adventure, stewardship, and personal growth, such as this touching story about a man’s dying wish to hike the Appalachian trail, and the community of strangers that comes together to make it happen (over one million views on YouTube and counting):
Once readers and viewers have started to imagine themselves in such grand outdoor adventures, REI offers an expert advice hub full of articles on camping, climbing, skiing, paddling, fitness, and so much more to move them a little farther down the purchase funnel. It’s no coincidence that the content hub’s categories correspond both to highly searched for terms and REI’s product offerings.
The takeaway: Make sure you create each piece with goals and purpose clearly defined. Some pieces of content may be aimed at generating awareness; while others might be aimed at conversion or helping your customers be successful.
The Lesson: Be curious and go to their favorite places
The Brand Doing it Well: Grammarly
Grammarly is a proofreading app that plugs into your browser to spot and correct spelling and syntax errors in digital communication. Not exactly the sexiest product description, but thanks to brilliant content marketing, Grammarly boasts around 7 million daily users and has developed one of the largest and most engaged social followings. It didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen without focused analysis of what works with their target audience. They went where their target audience was, Facebook, and developed their voice by testing variations on content and soliciting feedback via polls and focus groups. This ongoing discovery helped Grammarly carve out a niche for itself that now feels like a no-brainer: in a text-saturated media landscape the brand triumphs with bite-sized, humorous lessons on grammar and usage that are jam-packed with witty wordplay and ideal for social media. They also have a blog full of helpful, fun-to-read tips around communication at the workplace.
The Lesson: Don’t take what you’ve got for granted
The Brand Doing it Well: Airbnb
Every brand has core assets and differentiators, but not every brand prioritizes acknowledging, embracing, and leveraging them when it comes to content. This can result in inefficient use of content marketing resources and lead to content efforts that feel a little like reinventing the wheel.
Airbnb, as a business and as a platform, would be not be what it is without the content created and posted by its users: the gorgeous interior shots of dreamy domiciles around the world provided by hosts and the informative and trust-building reviews provided by guests. In expanding its content offerings, it oh-so-wisely takes all of its cues from its core asset: the user.
Mining the company’s wealth of insight into the preferences and experiences of travellers and hosts all over the world, they offer robust location guides, in-depth stories on local characters, communities, or experiences, and, in a grand experiment, they recently launched a print magazine with feature stories on the the must-see, must-do experiences in their top-searched and top-booked locations. Additionally, Airbnb has unveiled a civic-minded vertical called Airbnb Citizen, which showcases stories on the home-sharing movement as an engine of positive social change and economic growth. This move isn’t just because those make for interesting topics; it doubles as a strategic play to build up a wealth of content and advocates that can help sway policy. For a company like Airbnb, influencing public sentiment is paramount to success and longevity, so the focus on community building through storytelling is a smart public relations move that seeks to animate and humanize an emerging, disruptive industry.