Branded content is everywhere today, from apps to your local newspaper to that DIY photo you found on Pinterest. When done right, it’s seamless and feels like a natural part of the media we consume. However, when it’s done wrong, it can come across as crass, insensitive, or even fake.
How can we do better? Start by looking at the experts. In this post, we bring 5 examples of brands absolutely excel at content marketing and explain what you should do to bring your content to the next level.
What is content marketing?
Content marketing involves creating useful content for the audience as a way of educating, entertaining, or offering other value can be considered content marketing. It varies somewhat from direct marketing, where the brand pushes a product or service and asks the audience to buy. Content marketing seeks to serve first, then position the brand organically.
Content marketing can take many forms, including entertaining videos, educational blogs, ebooks, case studies, white papers, social media posts, and even apps and video games. If the customer seeks it out not primarily as a shopping mechanism but to consume and enjoy the content provided, it’s likely a case of excellent content marketing.
Ask anyone in marketing or branded content strategy what examples really stands out to them, and each will likely have their own answer. That’s because we are all touched by brand messaging in our lives every day and depending on where we are personally, different messages reach us differently. Each brand has its own audience and target demographic and it really needs to create its own branded content campaign from scratch.
5 companies with the best branded content marketing
What companies are really making a splash with their content? From fish to brake pads, here are our picks for brands that are doing content marketing right.
1. Sitka Salmon Shares
This seafood company gives customers from all over the U.S. a way to enjoy sustainably-caught fish from small fisheries in the Sitka, Alaska area. Their content strategy is focused on two areas, helping customers make the most of their deliveries and telling the stories of the fisheries who participate in their program.
Highlights of Sitka Salmon Shares’ content strategy include their members-only Facebook group, where active users share recipes and the company provides updates, as well as customer service. They also put out a printed mini-magazine in each monthly shipment with company news, fishery updates, and meal prep tips.
Perhaps the most impactful content platform the company uses is its own website, which offers dozens of tested recipes, which are sortable by fish type. Customers can easily see what delicious ideas they can implement at home with that month’s shipment, as well as plan ahead for the next month’s haul.
Sitka Salmon Shares weaves the story of their fisheries into every brand moment and offers solutions for even first-time home chefs who have never dealt with raw tuna before. In solving problems and empowering customers, they have built goodwill without having to sell too hard.
Content strategy takeaway: It’s not enough to provide a quality product. Giving customers endless, inspiring ways to use the product is key to keeping them coming back. Create branded content that both solves a problem and inspires your customers to live their best lives.
2. Squatty Potty
This self-awarded “#1 way to #2” bathroom accessory made waves four years ago with its internet commercial featuring a pooping unicorn, clever wordplay, and bathroom humor. (The video has amassed over 40 million views since its premiere.)
The premise of this product, inspired by the founder’s own poop problems, is to give people a healthier way to evacuate. However, it has become known just a much for its content strategy as the growing line of products, which now include travel accessories, a bidet, and odor-blocking sprays.
Squatty Potty has hit all the content channels you’d expect from a modern brand, with several more impactful YouTube videos since that first one, including those which now appear as social media ads. For those who make it to the website, they’ll see instructional content on how to potty train children and a Pooping 101 visual tutorial.
Content strategy takeaway: For a brand that’s dependent on bathroom talk to make sales, it’s apparent that content can help customers overcome their fears about uncomfortable topics long enough to click the buy button. Squatty Potty claims to have fans from all over, including celebrities, showing that a small product marketed cleverly can make it in a big world.
3. Auto Zone
One of the nation’s top auto parts brands has made it even easier to fix your car or truck at home, thanks to their robust library of how-to videos, articles, and guides, all available on their company website. One advantage that AutoZone has over competitors is their acquisition of car repair manual service ALLDATA DIY, which used a subscription model to provide car owners with repair manuals for an annual fee.
By signing up for AutoZone’s free rewards program, shoppers not only get access to deals and loyalty discounts, but they can also access the ALLDATA DIY library for no additional charge. Auto Zone has taken premium content and made it available as a marketing tool in a very successful way. Once someone gets the info they need to make a repair, they can buy the needed parts directly from the website or even schedule a tool rental.
Their branded how-to videos are also very well done and are hosted on its site in addition to content channels like YouTube.
Content strategy takeaway: AutoZone is just one of many car parts sites offering tutorials, but their content quality takes the cake thanks to the additional content partnership with a premium third-party service. This shows that it’s sometimes very profitable to give paid content away for free and trust your audience will come to you when it’s time to make that purchase.
Branded podcasts are another way to get a company’s name out there but the way GE did it is far from the norm. In season 1 of the GE Podcast Theater (in partnership with Panoply), listeners are taken on a fictional journey complete with alien transmissions and mysteries to solve using – you guessed it – GE technology. This sci-fi genre podcast is reminiscent of old radio plays like “War of the Worlds,” but with the modern listener in mind. Users overwhelmingly favored the debut season over the second, but both earned GE a reputation as a brand that isn’t afraid to try something bold and new.
Content Strategy Takeaway: Did this podcast end up selling any washers or dryers? One can’t really know, but it was a striking marketing goal to try. The association between futuristic fiction tales and technology that powers the average household isn’t lost on us. In fact, this podcast won the Cannes Gold Lion award and has over 3,200 ratings on Apple’s iTunes. It certainly sets the bar high for brand-created podcasts and gives other companies hope that you can organically incorporate your offerings into tales people will really love.
5. John Deere
Once a print magazine mailed out to agricultural families everywhere, The Furrow is now John Deere’s digital-only magazine. Full of general interest stories, advice for the modern farmer, and tips and tricks for surviving the changing agricultural landscape, this magazine is over 100 years old and does an excellent job of positioning the machinery brand as empathetic to farmers while celebrating the American farm culture.
Top stories from the July 2022 issue include a section that busts cranberry myths (they don’t really grow in water) as well as how to keep bees. Specialty ag niches are explored in detail, and farm families are highlighted with touching “get to know them” tributes. With a feel-good vibe and plenty of educational content, The Furrow has managed to maintain its rich legacy right into the online age.
Content Strategy Takeaway: The internet used to be where print magazines went to die, but John Deere has beaten the odds with its beautiful, full-color publication that shines in digital format. The magazine shows that branded content can be journalistic, full of life, and have the customer’s best interest in mind. While few brands have the longevity that John Deere enjoys (and which is certainly a benefit), one can learn from this legend. Sometimes, you can best serve your customers by simply celebrating who they are.
What makes the best content brands stand out?
These are just a few of the best content marketing brands out there today, and as each year brings new, exciting ways to reach people, we’ll see even more innovation from companies. If this list proves anything, it’s that you’re never too new or too small to make a splash with your brand content strategy. Knowing your audience can take you far, even if your content doesn’t directly state how your product is new or different.
The most influential brand campaigns did one of a few things, including:
- Entertained or evoked emotion through laughter, tears, or empathy
- Stirred up a need to take action to right a wrong or become involved in a larger movement
- Offered solutions to common problems or answered questions
- Educated or inspired a new way of doing things to live a more fruitful life
- Reminded customers that a legacy brand is still around
- Announced that the world has changed and a new product or service is there to meet it
- Created a video content strategy that presented the brand in a completely new light
These are simplified themes seen across branded content channels, but you get an idea of how brand messaging can touch audiences in very different ways. In fact, the same piece of content may be entertainment for one customer and education for another. Both types of customers, however, will recognize the content as relevant and memorable.
Remember, if your content is memorable, your customers will keep you top of mind when and if they see a fit for you in their lives.
Looking for guidance with your next marketing campaign? Learn how we can help you stand out with your next batch of branded content.