Storytelling Inspiration

Smart Content Marketing from the Next Big Brands

Meg Cannistra By Meg Cannistra February 23, 2016

When we think of innovation in the content marketing world, our minds usually jump to the big companies paving the way with kickass campaigns and programs—brands like Red Bull, Marriott, and GE that have the money and resources to spend on producing killer content. But sometimes, when we’re so focused on the big names, it’s easy to forget about the up and coming brands creating content that’s just as exciting and engaging.

Innovation and content creation require time and creativity, but you don’t need a multimillion dollar marketing budget to make something memorable for your audience. In fact, many rising companies have utilized content to turn their brands into household names. It’s safe to say that 5 years ago, most of us had never even heard of Lyft or Dollar Shave Club. Thanks in large part to smart content marketing campaigns, these brands are now successfully edging their way into the mainstream and giving more well-known competitors like Uber and Gillette a run for their money.

While we’re not all gifted with the same generous marketing budgets, we’re all capable of creating killer content by using creativity to drive success. Let’s take a look at how 5 smaller companies are leveraging content marketing to grow their audiences and become the next big brands.

Casper

Van Winkle's
Source: Van Winkle’s

The mattress industry seemed like one with little room for innovation until Casper started shaking things up in 2014. Driven by the idea that everyone should have access to a good night’s sleep, Casper is an e-commerce company that delivers its award-winning mattress right to your front door. Casper has grown fast, earning $1 million in its first month. Their success is due in large part to its business model and overall message that going to a showroom to pick out an overpriced mattress shouldn’t be a consumer’s only option.

Wanting to continue expanding, Casper decided to experiment with their content strategy. In the spring of 2015, the mattress company announced the launch of a new brand publication called Van Winkle’s. Inspired by brands like Red Bull, Casper’s new endeavor is “editorially independent,” focused on producing engaging and interesting content related to sleep.

Casper co-founder Luke Sherwin says, “Great brands don’t just ride shifts in culture, they contribute to them….[S]marter brands in general realize that their products are just enablers to a lifestyle—changing the lifestyle itself can be more profitable than any change to your product.” Keeping this mentality in mind, Casper has set up a strict division for its new publication and the brand, giving Van Winkle’s editorial staff a completely separate office within Casper HQ. In doing so, they guarantee the publication isn’t just a thinly-veiled attempt to sell mattresses.

And as far as “changing the lifestyle” goes, Van Winkle’s has risen to the occasion, taking on impressive and compelling topics such as MDMA’s effects on sleep paralysis, the ancient Greeks’ relationship with sleep, and the science behind cuddling. By placing a large emphasis on publishing entertaining and educational content, Casper is laying the groundwork for a loyal readership and customer base.

Net-a-Porter

Porter Magazine
Source: Net-a-Porter

Founded in 2000, Net-a-Porter has always been a content-savvy company set on innovating upon the ways people experience fashion. In the early days, Net-a-Porter’s vision was confusing to designers and consumers alike: who would want to buy clothes they can’t try on first? But today, Net-a-Porter’s once novel idea is quickly becoming the norm for even traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. Their original content approach—a pairing of high-quality fashion articles with shoppable images—has expanded to a full-fledged e-commerce site, a men’s site, and a shoppable digital magazine.

Intent on continuing to provide customers with innovative content and honing in on how their audience prefers interacting with the fashion world, Net-a-Porter turned their eye toward revolutionizing print magazines. In February 2014, Porter debuted on newsstands across the globe. But rather than take a traditional print approach with their magazine, the brand used the same content strategies they utilized when building their other mastheads. They were even able to analyze the data from their flagship site to pinpoint their magazine’s demographic. VP of publishing and media Tess McLeod Smith explaines to Contently, “We were in a unique position prior to launch to be able to cross-reference Net-a-Porter’s audience data with global magazine market intelligence to create an infrared, very precise and targeted plan of where we wanted to sell Porter.” Using this highly-focused data gave Net-a-Porter the ability to create a highly personalized fashion magazine for their audience.

With high-quality articles, stunning images, and a long list of celebrities gracing its cover, the magazine is making a name for Net-a-Porter in the print industry. Porter’s circulation is at 152,000 copies per issue, making it hot on the heels of British Vogue’s distribution. With Porter’s success, the brand adds further authenticity to their foundation of solid and engaging content. And by doing so, Net-a-Porter’s reputation among consumers and fashion critics alike continues to grow.

Dollar Shave Club

Dollar Shave Club changed the men’s grooming industry in 2011 with their unique service designed to save time and money. The premise is pretty simple: quality razor blades delivered right to your doorstep on a monthly basis. When it comes to their marketing campaigns, Dollar Shave Club opted to pair their straightforward service with humor and personable content. So far, the pairing has paid off. Their first video, shown above, catapulted them into the mainstream and has become a benchmark by which other brand content is now marked against. According to Econsultancy, the video garnered 5 million views in three months, and in “its first 48 hours, around 12,000 people signed up for the service, by the summer 2013 that number rose to 330,000.”

Though video provides the foundation for Dollar Shave Club’s content marketing program, their brand content has expanded beyond their YouTube channel. The company is heavily active on most social media platforms, particularly Instagram, where they deliver hilarious images to their nearly 50,000 followers. Dollar Shave Club’s distinct brand voice is what keeps their audience engaged. Consistency across all content is the secret to their marketing success. No matter the platform, the brand retains a funny, quick-witted voice their audience loves.

In 2015, Dollar Shave Club began fleshing out an editorial team and developed a biweekly newsletter called MEL The new editorial project features content written for “men who measure themselves by something other than (or at the very least, in addition to) their interests in sports cars, barrel-aged Scotch and designer socks.” Like Van Winkle’s, MEL’s editorial team is independent from Dollar Shave Club, ensuring the newsletter’s number one goal is providing valuable and entertaining content to readers.

Without killer content, it’s unlikely that Dollar Shave Club would have been able to compete against the likes of incumbent brands like Gillette and Schick. They’ve built their entire brand around funny, engaging videos and, now that they’ve established themselves, their foray into more sophisticated editorial endeavors will help them keep their readers fully invested.

BirchBox

Before BirchBox, most of us travelled to our nearest Sephora or Ulta to sample the latest beauty products. In 2010, the company’s idea was rather unique: each month, subscribers would receive a box filled with make-up, skincare, and other grooming product samples. BirchBox has seen major success since their early days, dramatically increasing their reach. In 5 years, the company has grown from 600 to 800,000 subscribers. They acquired the European competitor JolieBox and expanded into Belgium and Canada, making their beauty box available in six countries.

Their Director of Editorial Operations, Bene Cipolla credits content for the company’s growth. She explains at a content marketing event, “Content was there from the beginning. It was never an afterthought. It is core to our business strategy.” By making quality content one of the brand’s main pillars, BirchBox ensured engaging with new and current customers was a top priority. BirchBox’s blog, for example, includes myriad hair styling how-tos, makeup tutorials, and skincare advice. By pairing these articles with step-by-step images or videos, BirchBox personalizes the process of helping their audience select the right beauty products for themselves, making each customer feel important.

By laying a foundation of quality, educational content, BirchBox is ensuring the longevity of their brand. Not only do they value delivering content to their customers, BirchBox also publishes user comments right alongside their articles providing readers with complete transparency. This level of openness is what helps BirchBox create brand loyalty among their customers. By giving them excellent content and a means for their audience to publish their own content in the form of reviews, BirchBox will continue to establish itself as a major force in the beauty industry.

Lyft

Lyft
Source: Lyft’s Blog

It seems like over the last few years, mobile-based ridesourcing services have sprouted up all across the globe. With competition from the likes of industry-dominator Uber and traditional taxi services, Lyft has had to think differently to develop a loyal customer base. And that they have. Established in 2012, Lyft has slowly been creeping up on Uber’s territory by making a name for itself as a friendlier alternative.

Lyft has worked hard to develop a relaxed vibe for its brand. One of the ways they’ve achieved this reputation is through their robust content program. The company strives to create an emotional connection with their customers, one that makes them choose Lyft over other ridesourcing options. They achieve this with user-generated content and inspiring stories from drivers and passengers. Lyft also shows loyalty to their drivers by developing social media campaigns such as #ThankYourLyftDriver and publishing customer responses to their blog. By putting a human face on their brand, Lyft stands out in the ridesourcing industry as a company that cares about both their drivers and passengers.

Lyft’s desire to form authentic connections with their customers is most clearly seen in the stories section on their blog. From harrowing tales of drivers helping passengers deliver babies to heartwarming tales about Red Cross using Lyft vehicles to get to disaster areas, these stories give the company a heart and helps them touch consumers on a deeper level. By infusing their content with thoughtful, emotionally-driven narratives, Lyft is proving how much they respect those who work for them and the passengers that choose their service over other alternatives. Placing such an importance on content during the early stages of growth will help Lyft build customer loyalty and continue to differentiate their brand in the ridesourcing industry.

The Bottom Line

Content isn’t just important for major brands that have already established themselves in their industries. Creating engaging and impactful content is how many up and coming companies are disrupting well-established industries or owning completely new product niches. By focusing time and resources on producing thoughtful content, these brands have forged meaningful connections with their customers, which will help them maintain their loyalty in the long run.
What are some of your favorite examples of innovative content from young and promising companies? Be sure to share in the comments below!

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