That title really says it all. We often think of innovation in tangible terms. A product with the latest technology is highly innovative. An innovator is someone with a seat at the table at a Fortune 500 company responsible for delivering millions of dollars of revenue based on hot ideas alone. To innovate, in that sense, is to create something that’s in demand simply because it’s new and cool. But the true definition of innovation is more ephemeral. Innovate means you “make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.”
The companies listed here are big, small, and everywhere in between, but they have a common thread: innovation.
The types of innovation we’re spotlighting here aren’t necessarily new tech or fancy methodology. Is a hotel room innovative? Probably not. Coffee? It’s been around for at least 500 years. But each company does represent a new way of approaching content marketing. Looking for examples? Read on!
1. Patagonia: Content with a Cause
This privately held company pioneered storytelling and brand transparency to excellent effect. Not only does Patagonia give away up to 10% of its profits to environmental causes, they walk the walk when it comes to environmental causes. Case in point: its revolutionary “Don’t Buy this Jacket” ad campaign on Black Friday in 2011 outlined the cost of making a brand new Patagonia jacket and encouraged customers to buy used [Patagonia] jackets instead. The company has seen growth ever since, and it’s now a roughly billion dollar business.
2. Nike: Jumping into a New Reality
Nike is famed for using innovation in its sneakers and activewear. Behind the scenes, they’re just as actively innovating when it comes to content marketing. When launching its Epic React shoes in 2018, Nike teamed up with production company Unit9 to create Reactland – the ultimate immersive experience. It’s a prime example of creative content marketing since it uses an augmented reality videogame where players could literally try the Epic React on for size. It resulted in 48% of the players purchasing the shoes.
3. Marriott: Connecting World Travelers via Stories
Hotel behemoth Marriott International was inspired by its own clientele to create a standalone content platform, Marriott Traveler. The platform documents artists who stay at Marriott Hotels. It highlights food, beverages, and cultural attractions around the world where visitors can stay at Marriott properties. It also gives readers travel tips and trends to peruse. Though the content site is far from a hard sell – most posts don’t even mention Marriott by name – its hotel bookings via the site increased a whopping 80% from 2017 to 2018. The winning strategy is one of organic customer connection, with a delicious dollop of the storytelling savvy travelers crave.
4. Duluth Trading Company: A Little Simplicity and a Big Sense of Humor
From the looks of Duluth Trading Company’s ad campaigns, selling workwear and outdoor gear is simply enjoyable. This company uses slogans like “Crouch Without the Ouch” (meant to sell you on its cheekily named Ballroom Jeans). They pair these slogans with refreshingly simple animations. As one marketer puts it, “the use of animation offers unlimited creative freedom”. He’s right – and it’s probably a lot less budget-heavy and much safer than, say, rounding up a real wild boar to sell its Wild Boar mocs.
5. Aerie: Keeping it Real with User-Generated Content
Over the past six years, American Eagle’s more loungey sister brand Aerie has been a trendsetter for both body positivity and creative content marketing. The Aerie Real campaign began in 2014. The company pledged not to retouch its models, and in turn asked its Instagram followers to upload their own swimwear photos with the hashtag #AerieReal. For every user upload, Aerie donates $1 to the National Eating Disorders Association. They’ve donated over $110,000 thus far. This year, they’re expanding their campaign to offer 20 young change-makers up to $40,000 in grants to affect positive change in their community. The positivity is having a positive effect on the company’s bottom line, as well. As of December 2019 Aerie had just celebrated 20 straight quarters of double-digit growth.
6. Intelligentsia: Carefully Curated for Coffeelovers
Intelligentsia Coffee began as a small coffee roaster in Chicago and has now expanded to LA and New York City. The roastery’s been able to brew up a name for itself in a crowded and somewhat narrow niche market. How? By catering to coffee geeks with meticulously curated and beautifully designed content. On its dedicated educational webpage, Intelligentsia serves up brew guides for every type of coffee it roasts. There’s also a multifunctional web app, a library of coffee-related articles, and links to educational and entertaining coffee experiences to attend IRL.
7: Spotify: Personalization and Data in Harmony
Content marketing that is truly personalized can be tough. We’ve all received that canned email that reads “Hey there, <insert your first name here>! I noticed you were on our website!” and it doesn’t feel, well, personal. With each new marketing campaign they launch, Spotify has proven that they’re truly pros at providing a custom experience driven by user data.
In 2015, the music streaming site revealed its “Wrapped” campaign. This brilliant concept delivered each user a custom-made story that unraveled like a multi-frame infographic, detailing listening activity by metrics like genre, artist, and song. Each year since, the Wrapped campaign has evolved further, including 2019’s nod to the entire previous decade. It includes easily shareable links perfect for posting to any platform. As one Forbes writer puts it, Wrapped “turned millions of people into unpaid Spotify influencers by sharing their own favorites on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.” The campaign is so powerful because it merges the personal nostalgia and emotion of music with fascinating data about human habits and what it means to be a music lover in the age of streaming.
In conclusion, it’s clear that no matter whether you’re at a multimillion dollar company or a tiny startup, creative content marketing is within your reach. When done well, it can be budget friendly, quick to catch on, and pleasantly interactive. In short, it’s innovation at its most accessible.